Published: Thursday 31 July 2003

Pick of the post bag

Global challenges
This is in response to the article 'Coercion of the unwilling', (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 23, April 30, 2003). It is neither advisable nor possible to solve all the problems in the world with force. To meet the challenges of globalisation, three principles seem vital to me: legitimacy, sharing and justice.

The legitimacy of an action is based on democratic values and on law. The new international community aims towards this. It asserts a legitimacy, which is not founded on power, but on collective action with clear rules and efficient decisions.

Each nation, each community, each culture makes a unique and essential contribution in the creation of tomorrow's world. The demand to share is at the heart of European and French ambition.

Finally, one last principle: justice. Who today does not see that all our efforts at security are in vain if we do not first attack with resolution the scourge of poverty, diseases, environmental or regional crises? In this regard, France has decided to double its efforts towards development aid within five years.

I know that I can count on institutions like yours to move forward together.

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Republic of France

I wish to respond personally, and not as the chairperson of the Bundestag Environment Committee.

At the next World Trade Organization (wto) ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, developing countries are likely to refute any strengthening of environmental criteria for the world trade regime. To them, it is Northern protectionism. The wto positions of the North are indeed highly problematic. Farming and textile protectionism is still around (in the us not less than in the eu, although in a clever disguise), and Global Agreement on Trade in Services demands from developing countries are also highly unilateral.

Nevertheless, environmentalists from the North and the South hope that the wto's free trade ideology will be matched by a global environmental regime one day. The first step can be to declare the mutual relations between the wto and the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (meas) as symmetric. What the eu and juscanz (Japan, the us, Canada, Australia and the New Zealand) tried at Johannesburg, South Africa -- to subordinate mea s under trade rules -- was shameful and dangerous for the poor people of the world who are more dependant than the rich on an intact local environment.

Concerning agricultural protectionism, the eu could enlarge the range of countries obtaining preferential access beyond the "Cotonou" or acp (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. It should by all means phase out its destructive export subsidies and should gradually remove its (beet) sugar protectionism altogether. What would remain would be the protection of domestic farming chiefly against cheap mass production from countries such as Australia, Canada and the New Zealand. Considering the farmland-based cultures of the eu nations, such concessions would be seen as extremely painful. But if it is the price for obtaining a healthy balance between trade and environment, it should be paid.

Member of the Bundestag
Chairperson, Environment Committee

I liked the article, 'Coercion of the unwilling', (Down To Earth

Focus on clean transport

I read the cover story 'The Anatomy of Congestion' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003) with great interest. The article rightly points out that the focus should be on clean transport, and in big cities, it should be on public transport.

I feel, in India, two conditions are favourable to develop a clean public transport. Firstly, India has big densely populated cities, with a potential for an effective and profitable public transport system. For instance, in the Netherlands an effective transport system exists only in the bigger cities. In the rural areas, the transport system is not feasible as the density of population is too low.

Secondly, compared to the Netherlands, India still has a relatively low number of private cars. Though the number of private cars in India are growing rapidly, there is still a chance to steer this trend in the direction of limited growth and increased use of public transport. These observations show that India's initial position for clean public transport system (in cities) is good.

The subsection 'Jammed!' mentions that the transport system in India is of low quality. However, I was impressed by the transport system, when I had travelled across India eight years ago by buses. I admit that the quality of the buses and their exhaust emissions were low. This could be an indication of the attitude of most travellers; for them reaching their destinations on time is more important than the pollution caused by the vehicle.

The article makes an effective statement. I hope that you will succeed in following it up with activities that help in achieving your goals.


I liked the broad coverage in the article 'The Anatomy of Congestion' (May 15, 2003). But surprisingly, there was very little written about compressed natural gas in the article. I fully agree with the points in the table 'The 6-4-2 rule'. Keep up the good work.


Old is gold

This is with reference to the article 'Atta adventures' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 1, May 31, 2003). I strongly believe that we have lost the good grains, which were nutritious for making chapattis.

Traditional wheat such as the Pb, k and np series had bolder amber grains. Therefore, the dough made from them did not darken on keeping and even the chapattis were creamish in colour, soft and sweet to chew.

As most of the people consume chapattis and rotis in various forms, it is high time that the government should stress on growing the old varieties of wheat for people to get required nutrition rather than eat chapattis made from wheat varieties meant for animal feed. No wonder wheat exports from India are usually used for animal feed. We hope that appropriate measures will be taken without further delay.

secretary general
Vegetarian Society of Delhi

copy: Som Pal, member (agri), Planning Commission, Yojna Bhawan, New Delhi-110001...

Green plastic

Ecofriendly plastic, the latest discovery of Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory (ncl) is impressive 'Honey, who shrunk the plastic' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 2, June 15, 2003). It will be very beneficial in reducing the plastic menace in our country to a considerable extent.

Though photodegradable and biodegradable plastics are readily accepted in some developed countries, the developing and under-developed nations cannot afford them. Through Down To Earth, I would like to congratulate the ncl team on their discovery.

Vadodara, Gujarat...

Reroute the corridor

It is common knowledge that a section of the proposed east-west corridor (from Siliguri in Darjeeling district of West Bengal to the Assam border) will be passing through natural forests. These include the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Garumara National Park, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Buxa Tiger Reserve in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal.

Following are the large-scale environmental hazards of constructing the corridor:

Destruction of over 2,000 hectares of forests

The rich biodiversity of the region will be adversely affected

It will be an impediment to the intra-regional migration of elephants, rhinos, gaur (Indian Bison) and big cats

Increased possibility of accidental death of wild animals

Heightened risk of floods and riverbank erosion.

Considering the above mentioned environmental hazards, we suggest that the corridor should be constructed through the non-forest areas of north Bengal (such as Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar). We have also written to President A P J Abdul Kalam highlighting these issues.

I request the Centre for Science and Environment to investigate the matter and create public awareness by writing about it in Down To Earth.

Jalpaiguri Science and Nature Club
West Bengal

Sanitised measures

The editorial on the need to take care of human waste before venturing into space travel makes for good reading (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 2, June 15, 2003). I think Sulabh International's efforts in handling the dual problem of sanitation and of providing dignity to the scavengers is notable. I believe that the technology used by Sulabh could be further updated. To date, theirs has been the only genuine effort made in this direction. Why can't more steps be taken along with Sulabh's?

Ambassador of India to Portugal, Lisbon


Let me congratulate Down To Earth (dte) for some brilliant editorials.

I particularly liked reading 'Waste by any other name...'(Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 2, June 15, 2003), and also 'A lesson not learnt' (May 31, 2003).

As I read dte, I often shudder about numerous policies gone wrong. Just a few years ago, I too was (and am) the same 'obdurate bureaucrat' working in Rajasthan who missed many a new lesson, just because I forgot to learn. Thanks for some real incisive edits.


Dubious decision

It's disheartening to know that endosulfan has been given a clean chit. 'Dubiously acquitted', (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 23, April 30, 2003).

The composition of a high power expert committee comprising of pesticide manufacturers is a joke on the suffering people.

From the very beginning, people have doubted O P Dubey's intentions. Five members of the eight-member expert committee were known as pro-industry people. Moreover, environmental groups were not represented.

The study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (taking in account scientific analysis of blood, water and soil in the whole village) had concluded that the whole village was contaminated. In spite of such concrete evidence, Dubey gave a clean chit to endosulfan. One wonders if he did conduct a study or was looking through someone else's eyes.

But we are determined to fight the pesticide lobby till the end, for the sake of the future generations.

Kasaragod, Kerala...

Not worth the costs

The article 'Destination moon' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 2, June 15, 2003) makes one wonder whether the proposed launch of an unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon is really worth the costs involved. I feel the estimated cost of Rs 385 crore for the project could be utilised to improve the quality of life of millions living 'below the poverty line'. Moreover, inspite of spending a huge sum of money, the success of the project remains uncertain.

It is understandable why K Kasturirangan, chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation, is upbeat about this project. After all, if the launch meets its objective, he and his team members would be in the limelight. One wonders what the project's objective is when there is little left to discover about the moon. A developing country like ours cannot afford to fritter away scarce resources on a project, which is neither in the public interest nor cost-effective.


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