Published: Wednesday 30 April 2003

Pick of the post bag

Smoked out

I read with great interest the article 'Up in Smoke' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 17, January 31, 2003) on smokeless chulhas (fuelwood based cooking stoves). The 'Stree Sanghshema Trust', Andhra Pradesh has been working closely with rural women in 26 villages over the past 15 years. We have been onlookers of the smokeless chulhas programme launched by the Non-Conventional Energy Development Corporation of Andhra Pradesh (nedcap) in our district. Our observations are as follows:

Women were not given any demonstrations prior to the installation of the chulhas. At a price of Rs 20, the chulhas came almost free, so everyone grabbed the offer. Women from the poor families installed the chulhas in their huts. After one hut caught fire from the embers and sparks from the chimney, majority of the chulhas installed in the huts were dismantled.

Although the blame was put on the state, the Union government's lack of proper planning in the implementation of the scheme at the grassroots level makes them more responsible for the programme's failure.

1 Improved metal chulhas were given at various subsidised rates to women depending on their caste. However, the metal used was of such poor quality that after a few months the top and the bottom plates cracked, rusted and broke into pieces making them unusable.

1 The smokeless chulha models distributed in our area had a cement top with two holes. The hole for the outlet pipe did not work. So the smoke did not pass through the chimneys, but instead filled up the room. This forced the women to remove them and to revert to their traditional methods.

Some suggestions...
The idea behind providing smokeless chulhas to improve the fuel efficiency, provide a cleaner and healthier working environment for women is brilliant. However, to achieve such a goal, a more committed and detailed work plan needs to be evolved. Our suggestions, are derived from our experience during the implementation of the programme from the period 1987-1990:

Prior orientation and awareness about the programme and demonstrations of each model of the fuel-efficient products is essential.

Stoves supplied to the women who participate in these camps are better utilised, as they are the real participants of the process.

Solar cookers are impractical in rural villages as they cannot be left unattended while the women and men go to the fields to work. Providing community parabolic cookers is a more practical alternative.

Non-governmental organisations, associated with grassroots level activities can deal with various parts of the programme such as awareness building, identification of the users/beneficiaries, training of local youth in repairs, maintenance and support during installation process.

Project Director, Stree Sanghshema Trust
Andhra Pradesh

The shower

The letter 'Answers Please' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 18, February 15, 2003) raises some baseless questions. It is meaningless to say that famines in India during the British regime were a result of the failure of water harvesting methods. Even a cursory study of the history of British rule in India will tell you that the famines were fallouts of exploitative policies of the East India Company.

Famine is not merely a question of shortage, but of the inability to save or purchase. Before British rule monsoons often failed in India, but absence of rain in a single year did not result in loss of so many lives. There were always enough reserves to feed people even in lean months.

The famines happened because the likes of Lord Lytton exported wheat to England while millions of Indians survived on mango seeds and tree barks. There were famines also because British Viceroys financed military campaigns in Afghanistan and Burma out of state relief funds. The East India Company too disallowed nawabs (rulers) and kings from constructing wells, talabs (lakes) and reservoirs.

Chetan Pandit's question about the increase in groundwater availability after implementing rainwater harvesting can be answered even by a child. All one needs to do is multiply the geographical area by the annual rainfall. In fact, we should be thankful to the Centre for Science and Environment. There is no institution in the world that has given such importance to water.

Industrialisation, cultivation of water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane and rice and lack of water-harvesting methods cause water shortage. It is really sad that a person working in the r&d wing of the Water Resources Department is raising these doubts. To my mind this is the real cause of water shortage. Wisdom is not dying, to me it is dead.


This is with reference to Chetan Pandit's letter 'Answers Please'. I believe statistics are like a spider's web. The more you weave them into your arguments, chances are you will get enmeshed in them more.

Pandit tries to debunk the traditional systems of water harvesting with an overdose of statistics. He has tried to obfuscate the relevance of centuries-old systems such as johads, baolis, kundis with irrelevant queries about their "quantitative estimates" and "ultimate potential". Worse still is the evident sarcasm about these systems.

Pandit writes: "This wisdom is dying, we are told, when was it last seen alive?" I would like to point it out to him that we, the common people of India need directors of r&d, Water Resource Departments to answer questions, not pose them. Can you enlighten us about depleting mangrove forests, problems of increased salinity in coastal areas. Finally, can your statistics reveal the number of lives saved in the famine of 1896-1897 because of the existing water harvesting systems?

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu

We came to know about the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) when we bought the book, ' Making Water Everybody's Business'. This publication and the extensive information we found on the cse website has helped us define our own educational efforts.

We run a landscaping company called 'Outdoor Environments' in Texas, the us. A couple of years ago we began installing rainwater harvesting systems along with the landscapes. As a result, was formed 'Save the Rain'. But we found that people often don't have money to pay a contractor to install a rainwater harvesting system and nor do they know.

Time to clean

I read the article on clean coal technologies (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 19, February 28, 2003). The story gives the impression that the author has done proper research.

I would like to give some information about Jharkhand's north Karanpura coalfields. Coal from this area is sent to different thermal power stations in northern India especially to states such as Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. This coal contains arsenic, large amounts of lead, strontium, chromium, nickel, manganese, zirconium, rubidium and traces of uranium and selenium. Hence, I would like to draw the attention of the governments of these states to the necessity of conducting surveys in the surrounding areas.


Up in arms

This letter is in response to the recent approval of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess (Amendment) Bill 2000 in the Lok Sabha. On behalf of the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum and its unit Consumers Protection Council, I would like to express my displeasure and shock about this recent decision of the Lok Sabha.

The bill permits industries, which consume water below the specified quantities to use potable water sources. This decision comes at a time when several parts of the country are facing a severe water shortage. The Union minister for environment and forests, T R Baalu's argument that an increase in the water cess will push the industries to reduce their use of water is not only highly questionable, but ludicrous. A minor hike in the water cess will not affect these industries financially. If the bill becomes an act it will allow the industries to draw unlimited amounts of water by paying the cess.

Section iii of Schedule i of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 states that the cess will be based on the consumption of water by the specified industries and the local authorities. But this act passed in 1978 does not empower the concerned officer or the authority to order closure of any industry for non-payment of the cess. The act has provision to impose a meagre penalty only. The proposed amendment does not suggest any improvement to the 1978 act. It only directs collection of more money.

This draconian bill should be nipped in the bud. We request all those interested in the welfare of our nation to oppose this dangerous and unjust bill.

Honorary Secretary
Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum

Choice of flower

As an inhabitant of Uttaranchal, I support Lokesh Dasila's view in the letter 'Think again' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 19, February 28, 2003) that the state flower should have been Buransh (Rhododendron arboreum) instead of Brahmakamal (Saussurea obvallata).


Penalise, not raze

This is with reference to the letter 'Prevention is better' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 19, February 28, 2003). All sorts of construction activities are harmful for the environment. Clearing any site for construction disturbs the micro-environment and micro-ecology of the area. Even the material used for construction is mined at various places, where again the ecology of that particular area is at risk. And after causing such damage to the environment to erect a structure, it is nothing but criminal to order their demolition for contravening some arbitrary rules. The dust and debris generated during demolition of the structures again affects the environment locally.

Hence, it is advisable to impose a fine on those contravening the town planning rules rather than inflicting further damage to the environment by demolishing the built structure.


Field tips

I read with great interest the article 'Alternative Remedy' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 18, February 15, 2003). Essentially the programme aims to increase the area under cultivation of alternative crops over a period of five years. The programme will be coordinated by the state-run Punjab Agro Industries Corporation (paic).

For the scheme to succeed, some essential factors need to be taken into account. Care should be taken in selecting the crops to help retain the soil's fertility. Estimation of family labour, family labour income and farm business income in the cultivation of various crops is required.

In the larger interest of Punjab's agriculture, a comprehensive plan should be drawn up taking into account all factors. This should include agro-climatic conditions of the area, soil fertility and the best cropping pattern to get optimum results.

Yojana Vihar, New Delhi...

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.