Published: Monday 30 June 2003

Pick of the post bag

Out of sync
This is with reference to the editorial 'What about privatisation, then?' and the article 'Written off' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 23, April 30, 2003). The last paragraph of the editorial says that the real issue in water treatment and supply is about governance and a regulatory framework to secure the rights and access to clean water to all. In fact, I fully subscribe to this view that there is a need for effective governance and regulatory framework for better management of our system, be it in the service sector or environment management itself.

However, the article 'Written off' on Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection, states: "The charter has not given any time frame to the chlor-alkali industries for switching over to membrane cell technology and it has asked industries to limit their mercury consumption to below 50 gramme/tonne of caustic soda". We in India tend to appreciate western countries on many issues. And I found this in various articles in Down To Earth (dte) too. Europe has not set any targets to date, though there is talk of 2015 as the deadline for switching over to membrane cell technology. On the consumption issue, Chandra Bhushan, coordinator of the Green Rating Project, Centre for Science and Environment says in the article that western Europe consumes only eight to nine tonnes per 60 lakh tonnes of soda. I admit it is good, but don't you think that rather than changing the whole technology you should push for an improved level of performance as achieved by European countries? If they can improve their performance, why can't Indian industries? One reason could be the weak implementation of our regulatory mechanisms that have been highlighted several times in dte.

The issue of governance and regulatory framework is contradictory in both the articles.

I believe pushing for a change in technology will not solve India's environmental problem. The only way out is sound governance, better regulation and implementation. Unfortunately, I found that in your projects associated with the industries, you have not tried to push the regulatory authorities to mend their ways. The reason behind this could be the huge amount of donor money India gets through the Union ministry of environment and forests, or other regulatory agencies. And it is evident that donors eye long-term businesses in developing countries, in this case possibly by influencing policy makers to recommend for a change in technology.


Norms for safe usage

Chlorpyrifos is reportedly an organophosphorus insecticide with a huge demand the world over and in India. It's commonly used during construction in India and is applied on cement floors, slab floors and foundation bases to control termite infestation.

However, no guidelines/ instruction manuals/ leaflets about the proper use of this insecticide for construction activities have been issued by the government or its related bodies. Chlorpyrifos is commonly used in regions with widespread termite infestation like Uttaranchal. In this state usage of chlorpyrifos is recommended to control insects in vegetables, fruits and even flowers, by experts in state sponsored activities such as 'Diversified Agriculture Development Projects'.

Unfortunately, while the adverse effects of this insecticide on the environmental chain and human beings were reported in 'Pestilence at birth' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 21, March 31, 2003), the article lacked expert opinion on correct and safe usage of this insecticide. In particular attention is needed to be paid to its use for agricultural purposes. The metabolic fate of most organophosphates is mostly similar in insects, animals and plants.

Information about chlorpyrifos in soil, groundwater and human beings is increasingly available. I suggest that Down To Earth should publish an article on the proper usage of chlorpyrifos.


Water views

I would like to draw attention to various interventions made by the government in the water and related sectors. These interventions, which were made some 55 years ago, were made effectively to solve pertinent national problems.

Dams: this intervention pushed the nation to a variety of problems -- from decline in the groundwater table to displacement problems in catchments, water logging and salinity and alkalinity of soil in command areas.

Development of groundwater to provide irrigation to rain fed agriculture forms: this intervention resulted in serious drinking water problems, early drying of rivers and loss of aquatic life.

Watershed programmes in the rain fed areas: such projects augment the natural resource base of the treated area for a short period, but after a while the area becomes unproductive.

Use of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides to improve agricultural production in irrigated areas: this led to a serious nationwide groundwater quality problem in rural areas. This hazard is threatening the health of people using this water. Foodgrains and milk are also polluted due to this menace.

Surprisingly, once the ills of an intervention are detected, the concerned people become wise and start suggesting remedial measures. Therefore, with the help of Down To Earth I wish to appeal to water managers, policy makers, academicians, bureaucrats, technocrats to adopt technologies which are free from negative effects and are sustainable. If they accept this challenge, they will provide a great service to the civil society.


Controlling congestion

The article 'The Anatomy of Congestion' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003) is informative and alarming. One need not be a "planner" to realise the importance of using an efficient, pollution free and widely accessible public transport system.

I saw a perfect example of this in Munich. Though their public transport system runs at a loss, they uphold their commitment to people as well as to nature. In India politicians are ignorant. I wonder if they even see the necessity to encourage public transport systems.


Opposing mandates

The article '2 sites to the story' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 1, May 31, 2003) raises a debate on the tourism policies and conservation mandate of national parks in India. There are two national parks in Uttaranchal's Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve -- the Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park.

However, the mandates for both the parks are not same. While the Nanda Devi National Park is closed for mountaineering and tourism related activities, the Valley of Flowers National Park is open for both. If tourism and mountaineering are believed to pose a threat to the survival of animals here, then such activities should be regulated to a certain level in the Valley of Flowers too.

During the flowering season many animals migrate from the Valley of Flowers to safer destinations because of disturbances from tourists in the valley. This will upset the ecological balance in the long run. It is not clear on what basis two different mandates have been framed for two equally important national parks located in the same geographical area.


Conservation measures

Let me congratulate Down To Earth for the excellent and informative cover story 'Afterwards an eerie silence' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 21, March 31, 2003). The main problem of conservation in northern Bengal is due to fragmentation and degradation of the habitat and pressures from adjoining villages and tea gardens. To conserve wildlife one has to draw a line between protecting the animals and people who stay in and around the park. On one hand there is free access to the national parks for people and less stringent control over illegal activities in the park, on the other hand there is talk about wildlife conservation. The slack administration is the main cause for the degradation of the habitat.

I would like to point out an error in the article. The name of our organisation is wrongly written as Asian Elephant Conservation Centre. It should be Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre (aercc).


Governance model

The article 'Ordering the new world' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003) was excellent. The whole notion of 'corporate board style of managing a country' is very powerful. For such governance we need dedicated people from diverse fields such as macroeconomics, finance, foreign policy, law etc.


Don't burn that waste

I happened to read the article 'Flawed follow-up' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003). The United Nations Children's Fund representative suggested open burning of syringe waste. Many speakers emphasised the installation and use of small-scale incinerators (ssi). Just imagine what will happen if ssis are installed or open burning is resorted to at each primary health centre (there are more than 22,000 in India).

These spewing monsters can and will pollute the atmosphere. So, one solution will lead to another massive problem. It will happen more so in the rural areas, where availability of health care measures is weak.

While Auto-Disposable (ad) syringes cannot be reused, their disposal remains a problem. The waste must be disinfected before it is carted for final disposal. Autoclaving the ad syringes will not be effective. Due to inadequate space, it will be difficult for the steam to penetrate and any pre-shredding will give rise to aerosols carrying germs. Traces of body fluid remain in a used syringe. This fluid can contain germs responsible for Hepatitis b, aids, and other diseases transmissible through blood and body fluid.

The perception that viruses do not survive when not in contact with living tissues is rapidly changing since studies have shown that the Hepatitis b virus (hbv) survived in the lumen of a needle for as long as eight days. And so does human immunodeficiency virus. Lack of awareness and a poor economic situation in the rural areas will guarantee that people will pick and sell the infected needles as plastic waste without treating them.

Land-burial too has its disadvantages and problems, which may surface many years later. Centralised treatment is costly and it does not even ensure hundred per cent safe disposal. Burning the waste is clearly damaging for the environment and human health.

These problems persist, as there is no alternative to plastic syringes. But is that the real reason? Or is it a trade pressure? Plastic syringes replaced glass syringes with the hope that it would reduce nosocomial infections. It achieved its objective in the developed world but failed miserably in the developing world.

The Madhya Pradesh government has now taken a bold decision to direct the use of glass syringes in place of plastic syringes. But any impact will be visibly evident only after some time. With the same budget to treat the plastic waste (in case of use of ad syringes), measures can be adopted and enforced or ensured that the glass syringes are properly sterilised, and reused. The cost of ssi is about us $ 600 to us $1000. Add to it the cost of collection in the syringe boxes and transportation and the sum required for the waste treatment alone will be astronomical.

Sixteen billion injections are given the world over, out of which 4.2 billion are given in India alone. The universal immunisation programme for hbv will add to another 48 million. The number of injections given for all the immunisation programmes including hbv will generate syringe waste of 128 million per year.

There is an urgent need to constitute an expert group to devise implementation strategies for waste treatment without causing any harm to the environment and human health.


Arsenic clean-up

This is with reference to the cover story 'Dark Zone' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 22, April 15, 2003) about fluoride and arsenic poisoning in groundwater. As a resident of West Bengal, I have witnessed people suffering due to arsenic poisoning. I have been working for more than a decade on the monitoring and particularly on the removal of arsenic from groundwater in West Bengal.

There are several international publications, which have reported on these issues, such as 'Removal of arsenic from drinking water using modified fly ash bed', D Goswami and A K Das, International Water Journal, Vol 1, No 1, page 61-70 (2000).

Our method of arsenic removal has been marked by the un as a technical application in the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific Water Resources Journal (vide st/escap/ser.s/ 210, September 2001). Our method is very effective and is the cheapest in comparison to other ways to remove arsenic from water.

West Bengal...

Watch out

'Ordering the new world' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003) makes for good reading. Are you saying that Jacques Chirac, the guy who screamed at the us for cleaning up Iraq, is now extolling the virtues of intervening in and destabilising other rouge tyrannical regimes? I believe you, but I don't believe him. He has proven before that he has several mouths, one for each of his listeners. Beware the ones without principles.

Malibu, California...

Back in focus

Tribal arts and crafts are no longer fossils of great interest, fit only for anthropological museums. Revival of these artifacts -- though is a small step -- is a giant leap forward for ensuring sustainable development in the tribal belts of Orissa.

The concept of making a livelihood for these tribals without them venturing into the forests or practising shifting cultivation or food gathering is largely the brain child of Bhubaneswar-based non-profit organisation Anwesha Tribal Art and Craft. The organisation has helped form self-help groups among the artisans and has given them support in production and design of their products. The self-help groups have attracted a large group of people interested in the production of the handicrafts.

This trade gives indirect employment to the tribals in the form of raw materials supplier or assistant to the artisan in his studio.

Bhubaneswar, Orissa...

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.