Published: Saturday 15 March 2003

Dear Miss Narain,

Unfortunately, for many years now, your organisation has lived on cadging grants from outside, travelling to international conferneces (sic) and, in India, doing little other than a very superficial magazine, which is again printed with the help of grants. To add to this, you give its founder the credit for things that other people have initiated and done over the years.

Nothing shows up the superficiality of your research or knowledge than your reportage of the Wildlife Protection Act. Almost everything has been taken out of context and you have obviously not even gone into the background of anything said by anyone -- choosing instead to be smart alecky, a trait that is peculiar to your entire organisation, its founder and you.

For your information, from 1989 onwards, a sum that has increased toRs 90 crores is allocated every year for the Elephant Corridor. This corridor was designed by wildlife and environment experts all over India as the unbroken route taken by elephants. Into this route has come, over the years, large numbers of illegal settlements, which obviously cannot be moved unless the people are rehabilitated. The money is allocated year after year, and disappears without a single acre being cleared in the route. Any attempt to even pay for the land to move or to settle the people anywhere has met with resistance and court blockages. Which is why this suggestion was made -- in the light of lots of litigation that are pending in the states filed by the forest and wildlife department. But, of course, why would you understand that, since it would take a lot of work to research.

The problem with you is that you believe that everyone is stupid except for you. Unfortunately, the contrary view is held by practically every serious person in the field. It is difficult to win allies if one is so selfabsorbed and superficial. But I am sure you have discovered that by now. It is not good enough to brownnose those in the government and be vicious about them when they are not and then go back to brownnosing them when they come back. Anil and you have specialised in that for many years.

M.P. Lok Sabha...

Join the fight

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) has revealed that bottled drinking water contains pesticide residues in quantities well above what is considered 'safe' elsewhere. This study should be an eye-opener for consumers of bottled water. However, given our apathy towards health- and environment-related issues, and the clout that vested interests have in our set-up, one cannot help but be cynical about where this report would lead.

This landmark investigation by cse should attract our attention to health and environmental issues, which go much beyond unsafe, packed water.

Regulation of the quality of bottled water. If the current standards do not include limits for these toxic chemicals, the parameters should be suitably amended.

Making efforts to supply safe drinking water through proper treatment, and by ensuring that the water sources like lakes, rivers and groundwater do not get contaminated. This will also go towards reducing dependence on bottled water.

Banned pesticides are still in use. Someone is manufacturing or procuring them. It should not be difficult to identify the sources and plug them.

Fertilisers and pesticides are used indiscriminately. The pesticide industry should be unhappy about the enthusiasm and ignorance of farmers. Darryl D'Monte in his book Ripping the fabric says, "Cotton, which occupies only 5 per cent of the cultivated area, accounts for half the pesticides consumed in India today." Farmers should be educated on how much pesticide to use, and how, so that maximum benefit is derived with minimum damage to the ecology.

Finally, this aspect was not within the scope of cse's study but is important nevertheless. Used plastic bottles are littered all over the place. I have even seen them clog drains.

People's participation will ensure that this painstaking report does not land up gathering dust in the corridors of courts. We accept the wide publicity that aids and polio eradication get in the country. Safe drinking water and clean air also deserve an equally intensive campaign. Our appreciation of organisations like cse can only be demonstrated by becoming part of their crusade.


Look before you leap

I write in response to the letter 'Change the technology' (January 15, 2003). Changing from gas-based transport to battery-based running may reduce pollution, but it will pose the problem of battery waste disposal. It is essential that a proper environmental impact assessment is carried out. And such assessment should prioritise concerns regarding waste disposal.


Local administrators don't know

I read the news item 'Crippling disease thrust upon people in several Uttar Pradesh villages' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 15; December 31, 2002). We have been working on groundwater quality and fluorosis in Rajasthan and Karnataka. Our experience is that there is lack of awareness among the local administration about such problems.

For example, permission is granted in several villages in Karnataka for 'granite mining' without a study of its impact on local groundwater quality. It is a pity that the quality of borewell water was not tested before being recommended for human consumption in Uttar Pradesh. In such schemes, it is necessary to consult experts like geologists or geochemists. They are the ones who have studied the chemical processes that take place during percolation of water into underground reservoirs.

It is very much possible to defluorinate water before consumption. All that is required is the will to do so. We have the talent, expertise and humanpower required. Administrators should utilise the potential that exists in India.

Indian Institute of Technology
Mumbai, Maharashtra

Going under

The only positive side of licensing is to regulate human activities to the benefit of others around them. That was the intention of 'legalising'! The spirit of the constitution and the 100-year-old municipal act (ours in Mumbai) is wonderful. But the interpretation is completely wrong.

Now, in Mumbai, we are losing community land, play grounds, government and private properties to slum dwellers, who have been 'regularised' from the 'cut off' date of 1995. This date kept stretching from 1985, so that everyone got a fair go at encroaching.

The problem we face is that the lawless have learnt to alter laws to suit them. Nani Palkhivala was right when he said that adult franchise is not working in India. In Mumbai, we are further lumped with the Slum Rehabilitation Authority buildings. These buildings have no provision for support infrastructure, such as school seats, hospital beds, roads, sewage, pavements, electricity and water. Now we learn that a prime forest area will go under just to make a dam.

Green Cross Society
Mumbai, Maharashtra

Sparrow sorrow

There was a beautiful article on the vanishing sparrow by V S Vijayan (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 17; January 31, 2003). When I discussed the article with my 6-year-old daughter, she cried bitterly. She is now seriously considering a change in her career plan: from film star to a crusader for animal and bird rights!


The article on disappearance of sparrows gives a detailed picture about the status of this common bird. Sparrows are also vanishing from coastal Andhra Pradesh. A pair or two is seen occasionally in villages surrounded by paddy fields. They were abundant till the 1990s. They would even nest inside our houses during breeding season. The reasons for their decline and disappearance need detailed investigation.

For a long time, the sparrows were thought to be pollution indicators. Increase in pollution (overuse of pesticides and insecticides), lack of secure nesting places, scarcity of their favourite foods, increase in the number of predators (crows), absence of drinking water during summer, lack of concern for these birds among the present generation of villagers (cultivators) are some of the relevant factors that adversely affected these lovely and tiny creatures.

It is equally surprising that the blue jay or Indian roller, the Andhra Pradesh state bird (Coracias bengalensis) and the little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis) are going the same way as sparrows. The bee-eater was a common sight in gardens and parks. Their population has shown an alarming decline in coastal Andhra Pradesh during the last 10 years.

Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh...

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