Published: Sunday 31 August 2003

Pick of the post bag

The ecocharade
The article 'Written off' (Down To Earth, April 30, 2003, Vol 11, No 23) by Nidhi Jamwal is very good. It is an acknowledged fact that hazardous industries are not concerned about mitigating the nuisance caused by their units. Their main aim is to earn money at any cost. The Charter of Corporate Responsibility is an eyewash, which I had pointed out in the notice issued under section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code to the President of India, Prime Minister, Union ministry of environment and forests, Central Pollution Control Board and the minister for water resources (dated March 17, 2003). I had emphasised on the urgent need to withdraw this harmful agreement, which if implemented will result in aggravating the pollution of rivers apart from affecting the health of millions of people across the country. All of them signed the postal acknowledgments of the letters. But none of them had the courtesy to reply. Nidhi Jamwal has pertinently pointed out: "The undue haste shown by the Union government in putting together the charter is a sad reflection on its cavalier attitude to a crucial issue like corporate environmental accountability."

She has very clearly shown the 'escape' clauses in the charter. The weak points shown in the table, along with naming the hazardous industries, clearly exhibit that the government and the polluting industries have fraudulently colluded together to bring about this agreement to the great detrimental interest of the people. The major polluting industries like textiles, tanneries, paper and pulp have been given free licences to pollute with the self-enforced unilateral environmental responsibility thrust on them. It is like giving the keys of one's house to a thief. Nidhi Jamwal has exposed several loopholes in the Charter, which favour only the hazardous industries. The article has dealt with this aspect supported by indisputable practical instances of the cases of environmental degradation. Nidhi Jamwal has correctly concluded: "And so far as the concept of Corporate Environmental Management is concerned, the writing is on the wall."

I am of the view that the partners in this shockingly one-sided agreement knew they had either mortgaged or entirely sold the rivers, other water sources and above all the health of the people in this collusive and fraudulent bargain of the alleged 'corporate responsibility'.

I do not agree with some views of Rahul Bajaj ('Out of sync', Down To Earth, June 30, 2003). According to him, in order to protect the environment, there should be sound governance and better regulatory methods along with their implementation. I do not agree with this. There should be enforcement of the stringent provisions of laws to protect our scared rivers and the health of people, unmindful of their serious impact on the hazardous industries, which are making several thousand crores of rupees under the grab of earning foreign exchange.

The illegal, immoral and unholy partnership titled 'Charter on Corporate Responsibility' has made the laws and the several environment protection judgements (with mandatory directions given to the Union and state governments apart from the polluters), a mockery and paper tigers. The Union environment minister T R Baalu, who was really the prime mover and executor of the anti-people illegal partnership, should immediately withdraw the unsound charter.

p s subrahmanian
Vellore, Tamil Nadu...

Yes minister!

The honourable chief minister of Tamil Nadu (in her sweeping order) has permitted hill tribes of the state to enjoy the benefits of minor forest produce (mfp). According to the order, the tribal societies can engage their own people to collect mfp. They need not pay any lease amount and the profit from the sale of mfp will be given to them. Although the government may lose revenue worth crores of rupees by this way, the losses should be borne for the welfare activities of the poorest of the poor tribals, the authorities assert.

By implementing this order, the forest department will be benefited in several ways: firstly, the whole tribal community will come forward to assist the officials to protect the forests. Secondly, the innocent tribes, hitherto used by miscreants for illegal activities, will not undertake any illicit actions. It is expected that the livelihood of all tribal people, who are dependent on forests, will be met through mfp collection. It is said that such a sweeping order has not been passed in any other state.

District forest officer, Tamil Nadu...

The other side of the fence

Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa ('On the forest trail',Down To Earth, July 15, 2003) has pointed out an important issue. We cannot neglect his concern about the demagoguery of our politicians, who are ever ready to bend or even break the law and pander to interest groups, if they perceive that such actions will fetch votes.

Politicians have destroyed the basic structure of the rule of law and with that the vital institutional set-up that sustains the society. The perceived needs of any social group cannot become the criterion to interpret the law as one likes. However, this does not apply to tribals and other forest dwellers, who do not have political leverage.

Mohanty's strong plea that forest dwellers should be forcefully evicted severely lacks factual support. He seems to be ignorant about how deforestation has taken place. Deforestation was done 'legally' by the forest bureaucracy, politicians and the timber merchants. The tribals are being blamed for the sins they have not committed. Urban-based lovers of environment, like Mohanty, seem to have naively accepted the vicious propaganda of the forest department against the tribals.

He fails to understand that dynamics of corruption and the logic of bureaucracy have ensured that the forest department will, and cannot, reforest areas. Anyways, forests can be revived only by the tribals, if they are given rights over them. We are extremely lucky even at this late stage of department induced disaster to have a vast reservoir of knowledge in the form of tribal people.

This brings us to the issue of rights over forest resources. Even in this regard, Mohanty has got his facts of history wrong. It is a positivist argument that whatever is the existing law is right. This is a false and dangerous way of looking at the most vital institution of regulations, considering law holds the society together and determines at least in part, the shape and form of the society. It is imperative to know the genesis of the forest law, which empowers the forest department to take possession of 22 per cent of the land and arbitrarily, in our opinion, evict and dispossess the poor people, who have lived in forests for decades.

The established property rights, which Mohanty sees around him in cities and even in the villages, became inviolable private property rights of tribals because they were actually using the forest resources and were in possession of them. This roughly is the basis of the great evolution of the Common Law in England and elsewhere, including India. The British, who created and nurtured this grand tradition of private property rights based on evolving Common Law, just discarded it in India when it came to the forests. Why? All because of timber.

The mercantilist imperialist ruling faction of England dominated the scene, when the Forest Act was first enacted in 1878, which was modified for the worse for the tribals in 1927, when the idea of state intervention dominated, and which the independent Indian state blindly and cynically followed.

Mohanty is blissfully ignorant of all these important facts and is siding with the predators without perhaps realising that he is doing so. India cannot escape a thorough review of property rights and the laws of forests, which are in fact the dictates of the powerful and arbitrary state. It lacks the legitimacy of the Common Law. We hope he is able to grasp this fundamental point.

Bharuch, Gujarat...

Vermitoilet is the best

For the past 15 years, I have been a practitioner of solid waste management using vermicomposting biotechnology. I have a unit of worm production and distribution for those genuinely interested in this innovative field. Experimenting with various materials like surgical waste and dung of elephants, led me to composting human excreta with the help of earthworms. A model unit in my house is based on the compost latrine system practiced by Paul Calvert. But it entails the use of earthworms to convert human excreta into vermicompost. The advantages of using worms are as follows:

The conversion of excreta into compost is very quick

No foul smell is produced during the process; therefore the toilet can be constructed inside the house

The compost produced using earthworms is very rich in essential nutrients as compared to the ordinary compost produced in compost latrine

The organic matter can be used as manure

I request New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment to take steps to popularise the vermitoilet.

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala...

Ashes to wealth

The article 'Is it all grey' (Down To Earth, June 30, 2003, Vol 12, No 3) is informative, but not complete. Some more uses of flyash have been described in 'Preparation of some useful substances utilising flyash' (D Goswami and A K Das, Indian Journal of Environment Protection, Vol 19, No 12, p928-931). The low cost methodologies for the preparation of ferric alum, washing powder and chalk from flyash have been stated in details in the article. Flyash can be utilised as a filler material in the asbestos and paint industries. Artificial zeolite and cryolite can be prepared from flyash (A Das, Environment: issues and challenges, Vol 2, Academic Staff College, the University of Burdwan, p192-201, 2000). Low cost removal of toxic elements -- arsenic and mercury -- has also been reported by using modified fly ash bed (D Goswami, B C Mondal and A K Das, International Journal of Water, Vol 2, No 1, p40-48, 2002). Complete characterisation of flyash (containing as many as 58 elements), by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, indicates that it is an excellent environmental sample to gauge pollution levels, as it contains a profile of major, trace and ultra trace elements (vide A K Das, R Chakraborty, M de la Guardia, M L Cervera and D Goswami, Talanta, Vol 54, p975-981, 2001).


Technology not given its due

During a recent visit to Delhi, I was delighted to see so many taxis, buses and autos running on compressed natural gas (cng). One wonders whether the technology is appropriate for other large cities of the world. Is the oil lobby too strong in such countries?

What about the cost for modifying the vehicles to run on cng. A taxi driver said he paid Rs 35,000 for a cng cylinder and Rs 35,000 to get his engine modified. So much money. One wonders how much do the auto owners pay and how much cost is incurred by the Delhi Transport Corporation for every bus? In my broken Hindi I enquired if the taxi owner was pleased with cng. He said no. The reason for his discontentment was not clear. Later during heavy rainfall and flooding, the driver pointed out at several auto drivers struggling to start their vehicles. I even saw one cng auto emitting the tell-tale blue exhaust, similar to a petrol-driven engine.


Mine sweeping

The article 'Mine Games' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 12, November 15, 2002) is impressive. After the Supreme Court proscribed mining within five kilometres of Delhi's boundary, it was the Machchingiri valley in the villages of Kote and Mangar (Haryana) that was ravaged. After the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (epca) reported about the failure of the state administration to enforce safeguards, mining activity was shifted to village Khori beyond Kote. However, the hillsides of the Machchingiri valley were already plundered. Numerous full-grown trees were chopped, check-dams broken and an entire mountain range was sliced through to make way. Ironically, the state government had build the dams.

While the mining leaseholders have carried some cosmetic plantation of trees along the road between Mohabatabad and Mangar villages, the region beyond them has received no such attention. At present, rains bring down boulders, and over 800 overloaded trucks carrying quarried stones and felled trees, kick large quantities of dust. This chokes plants and kills saplings planted to restore the environment. It is wrong to suggest that villagers depend on mining for a livelihood. The workers do not have access to clean water. No first aid is available and their children remain abandoned while their parents toil for the "mine of nexus".

Officials of epca should assess the situation. It is in total contrast to Pipavav in Gujarat where Larsen & Turbo mines limestone. The pits are meticulously filled and manured; trees planted and watered; vermiculture is practised to restore the land. The state authorities or the leaseholders who have benefited the most from destroying the ecology must be asked to restore the Machchingiri valley.

New Delhi...

How to recycle paper

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, each tonne of paper recycled saves 15 average-sized trees. The Paper and Pulp Information Centre reports that reclaimed waste paper represents around 63 per cent of fibre used for producing paper and board in the uk. It is estimated that 33.2 per cent of the household paper waste and 16 per cent of the board waste can be recycled.

Paper recycling comprises of two stages: stock preparation and making of paper. Preparation starts with pulping, in which the paper fibres are separated. The stock is then cleaned and ink is removed from the fibres. Bleaching maybe required to improve the brightness of the finished paper. Dispersion is the last step in stock preparation, which is basically a chemical treatment of the residual contaminants to reduce their size to one. This allows their inclusion in the finished paper.

After stock preparation, the consistency of fibres is diluted to approximately one per cent to prevent them from flocculating. The suspension is then sprayed onto a fast moving fabric belt to increase the consistency to about 20 per cent. To remove unwanted water, the paper is passed through pressure rollers, resulting in a consistency of approximately 50 per cent. It is then passed over steam-heated rollers. The Bangalore Paper and Pulp Mills uses waste paper to make handmade paper. This not only converts waste to wealth, but also provides employment. It is estimated that labour charges account for 40 per cent of the paper cost.

Kolkata, West Bengal...

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