Published: Tuesday 30 September 2003

Pick of the post bag

Giving a clean chit?
Some wording of the article 'Pongamia power' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 4, July 15, 2003) are damaging. It is incorrect to say that the forest department is yet to evince interest in pongamia plantations. The department has taken up many such projects. During this year, a number of seeds were raised for plantations by the public forest department. This list is as follows:

A note by the assistant project officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency clearly mentions that seeds required for the Chalpadi initiative are being collected from the forests of Adilabad.

Conservator of forests, Adilabad,
Andhra Pradesh

Nurseries meant for public distribution
Name of
the mandal
Location of
No of pongamia
seedlings available
(in lakh)
Adilabad Mavala (V) 1.00
Adilabad Mavala(P) 0.30
Boath Boath 0.40
Rebbana Rebbana 0.20
Kagaznagar Kagaznagar 0.10
Kaddam Kaddam 0.50

Geopolitical interests apart, scientific pursuits have to go on unabated. No one can deny the opportunity we have created for ourselves by first having an access and then a strong foothold in Antarctica. Whatever a few disgruntled individuals or groups (scientists and non-scientists alike) may have to say, I have personal experience to assure anybody that Indians are respected by 'Antarcticans' of other nations. I would have loved to see mention of the fantastic work done by our logistic teams -- particularly Indian Army -- and the immense scientific contributions made by the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, and other organisations.

However, it is good to know that scientists from the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, have persisted with their study on lichens and have come out with an idea to measure pollution levels in the area. Antarctica is a big topic. If one wants to do educate the common person about it, one will have to cover a wide spectrum of participants through such honestly written articles.

Geologist, Geological Survey of India,

To all intents and purposes
Neither School of Environmental Studies (soes) nor I have any relation with the articles 'Far-reaching verdict' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 2, June 15, 2003) and 'Dark zone' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 22, April 15, 2003). Siddhartha Ghosh Dastidar should know how soes functions, as he writes: "Have you ever questioned why soes always sensationalises the arsenic scare? Is it because of the scrip, arseno dollar?" 'All about arsenic',(Down To Earth, V.

Fishy business

Apropos 'Knowledge Bank' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 4, July 15, 2003), it is wrongly mentioned that West Bengal produces India's highest number of freshwater fish. The state produces the highest number of fish seeds. Most of the seeds are exported or sold to other states, mainly Andhra Pradesh. When the fish are fully developed, they are then purchased. There are a large number of big and small wetlands and ponds in the state. However, these are not under fish cultivation. Reason: most of them are in private hands. Urbanisation is reducing the size of most wetlands. Since 1987, the West Bengal government has not been able to curb the degradation of wetlands. As a result, despite being the producer of the highest number of fish seeds, West Bengal is not able to produce the maximum number of its staple food. People living around the wetlands should realise their importance.

Malda, West Bengal...

Electric shock

It is a must to applaud efforts to promote electric three wheelers 'Taken for a ride', (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 1, May 31, 2003). Electric vehicles will be successful if they can run on an exclusive basis. If they have to compete with other vehicles, then it is essential that their initial cost should be the same as other means of transport.

However, they are certain abrasions in the article 'Taken for a ride'. Unlike what has been mentioned, Scooters India has sold about 200 vehicles, whereas Mahindra Eco Mobiles has been able to market 100 vehicles. It is also mentioned that electric vehicles after starting with lead acid batteries have switched over to nickel metal hydride batteries and finally to lithium-based batteries. However, electric vehicles are still running on lead acid batteries. Furthermore, strong regulations do exist in India for disposed-off batteries. It is difficult to comprehend how Nepal is dumping its waste in India. It is also stated that New Delhi Municipal Corporation has a tie-up with Mahindra Eco Mobiles to run electric three wheelers in Connaught Place. This is not true.

Director (technical), Scooters India Limited, Lucknow

DOWN TO EARTH REPLIES: Electric vehicles in Taiwan are running on lithium-based batteries. Ford's e-Ka model and Nissan's future vehicle (FEV-II) use lithium ion batteries. It is well known that regulations in India are lax. This was even admitted by an official of the Union ministry of environment and forests, who is in-charge of battery disposal. Regarding the New Delhi Municipal Corporation-Mahindra Eco Mobiles partnership, the photograph of the article is enough of a proof!...

We have a clean soul

Apropos 'Bad in law' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 4, July 15, 2003), it has been stated that out of the 3.03 lakh hectares of agricultural land in Maharashtra, more than one lakh ha, mostly tribal land, has been declared 'private forests'. The fact is that the forestland that was under the terms and conditions of a notification issued under section 35 of the Indian Forest Act of 1927 (or which were issued notices under the said section), and those that were voluntarily handed over to the state forest department for management, have been acquired by the state government. Moreover, the land was in fact inam or jagir territory owned by non-tribals. This is even more true considering that no land below 12 hectares could be acquired under the Maharashtra Private Forest Acquisition Act, 1975, and tribals are known to not possess extensive cultivable tracts.

Further, the appointment of a fresh Forest Settlement Commission in each state as a remedy appears to be worse than the malady, because while endeavouring to help tribals in straightening their land records, other classes of people will also make wild claims. This will add to the present chaos of the increasing litigations about land and rights.

Ex-principal chief conservator of forests,


It was shocking to learn about the breach of johad at Lava-ka-Baas 'Split wide open', (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 6, August 15, 2003). It is well known that this johad was built due to the efforts of volunteers of Tarun Bharat Sangh (tbs) and the villagers. It is also appalling to know that even after the lapse of two years, the engineers of the state irrigation department of Rajasthan speak the language of their masters. When tbs volunteered to repair the johad, the 'worthy' engineers of the irrigation department brought police and hampered their work. This is the example of destructive approach of the irrigation department in a so-called defunct democracy. The engineers should at least understand the importance of rainwater harvesting, as it is the only way to combat the problem of water scarcity faced by arid regions like Rajasthan. Johads play an important role in rainwater harvesting. The repair work need not be stopped.


Bird watch

We have a small garden. In recent times I have been noticing two pairs of kingfishers in my garden regularly perching on the fence or on the lower branches of trees. This was really a pleasant surprise for me. All the more since my house is the only place in the entire Gandhigram that was honoured by the royalty. Out of curiosity, I started watching what my royal guests were doing. My younger brother is called the earthworm man in our area. He is culturing earthworms in our garden. I discovered the birds came to feast on the earthworms.

Incidentally our area is drought-prone and with the failure of monsoon for three consecutive years (now fourth), all the ponds are dry. The kingfisher cannot get any fish. So it has switched over to consuming earthworms. Perhaps it is feasting on other insects as well. Incidentally our house is privileged with a bore well, which again is rare in this area. Food is also kept for them on a small elevated platform. There is also a bird-bath on the roof, a few trees and lots of potted plants. Because of these factors, a number of birds visit our house. In the late 1980s, I could count at least 20 different species of birds including the blue-jays, sunbirds, woodpeckers, drongoes, mynahs and sparrows. Now there are no sparrows, woodpeckers, blue-jays and sunbirds. In the wake of this, the survival of kingfishers is a surprise.

Gandhigram, Tamil Nadu...

Mail box

The letter 'Your attention, please!' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 1, May 31, 2003) is interesting. An ecofriendly and effective mosquito repellent is a mixture of eucalyptus and citronella oil mixed in the ratio of 5:1. The oil can be used in the same manner as the repellent 'All out'. Its vapour has a nice fragrance.


Help is on the way

It is good to know how multinational corporations (Coke/Pepsi) take Indians for a ride due to our politicians and bureaucrats. The society can change only if its role models change. After reading 'In search of the missing', (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 7, August 31, 2003), I have decided to fund the purchase of some motor boats for the tribal people of Orissa.


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