Published: Monday 15 December 2003

Pick of the postbag

Revamp the water policy
The article 'Apt arrangers' ( Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003) proves beyond doubt that the water policy of 2002 and the water-related constitutional provisions are inept to overcome water scarcity and resolve inter-state conflicts. If the authorities continue to adhere to these provisions, then the situation will worsen. Keeping in view the constitutional provision for ensuring equal rights to all citizens, we should develop a new water vision along with redefining water priorities.

The vision should incorporate the concept of a primary priority sector and a secondary priority sector. The primary sector should prioritise the use of water in the following order: drinking, water for livelihood, foodgrain production and maintaining the flow of rivers and streams. The allocation for each use should be fixed for 10 years, after which the scheme should be re-examined.

The demands of the secondary sector should be considered only after meeting the needs of the primary sector. The priorities for the use of water by this sector could be fixed in the following order: recycled water for industrial and domestic use, cash crop production, electricity generation, navigation and recreation and area-specific demands.

To manage water in the most appropriate manner, we should also introduce the concept of community regulation. The National Water Policy ( nwp) should delegate water rights to the communities. If this happens, people will own the resource (water), and also deal with its conservation and equitable distribution. They will even maintain and operate related assets. The primary water needs of each village will have to be first assessed, and the water should then be allocated from the total rainwater falling in its area The above allocation priorities will ensure minimum water disputes among various states. It will also help in allocating water in a just manner.


Industry's hypocrisy never ends

The letter 'Modified reality' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 9, September 30, 2003, p4) exposes the hypocrisy of 'trade-science'. The reaction of Ranjana Smetacek, director of public affairs of Monsanto, India, is the perfect proof of the industry's double standards. When the cotton hybrids were tested so vigorously during 500 trials, why and how did they fail to perform at the field level? Is it not true that they succumbed to the attacks of wilt and sap-sucking insects, as well as bollworms? Surveys conducted by scientists from regional agricultural research centres clearly indicate the 'less than required suitability' of the hybrids both at field and market levels.

Is specialisation required to predict that weeds can develop resistance to herbicides, and bollworms can become resistant to toxins, particularly when the complexity of the ecosystem is disturbed? Inefficiency of the Indian regulatory system is evident in the fact that the Navbharat b t cotton is being sold illegally in Gujarat and b t cotton seeds are freely available in Andhra Pradesh.

The biosafety of toxins released by b t is also disproved by scientists in the international arena. There are more than 50 research references for this. If the national institutes had really played a role in developing advanced techniques for crop improvement, and made commitments to integrate biotic stress management, then the situation would have been different. It is meaningless to cite the role played by national institutes to justify the claims that are made about genetically modified crops. Monsanto should not react so wildly on behalf of Mahyco to mask the lapses of b t cotton, especially when the farmers are realising the dilly-dally nature of the government.


Are Ladakhis prepared for a change?

Apropos 'Apt arrangers' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003), I would like to raise an important question: has the 25-year-long battle of Helena Norburg Hodge succeeded? She has been struggling to empower the local non-governmental organisations (ngos) so that they can help people revive their lost culture. But are the ngos and people strongly inclined towards reintroducing their traditional lifestyle? Even in Bastar, tribals face the same fate; but there is no Helena Norburg Hodge to fight for them. When will we learn to religiously follow the principle of 'live and let live'? Never. The tribals themselves have to be fight for their rights.

Calicut, Kerala...

Inappropriate solution for arsenic

The proposed solution to the arsenic menace in the article 'Well-wishing' ( Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 6, August 15, 2003) is frightening. Once the deep aquifers are used, there is no way to recharge them. On the other hand, the aquifers found at 50-100 feet can be recharged with the help of rainwater harvesting. The upper layer of these will be free of toxins; they can become a sustainable source of water. Moreover for deeper wells, the power requirement to pump out water will be very huge and it would be impossible to meet the demand.

The power plants also pollute the atmosphere, land and water. A television programme on a thermal power plant in Rajasthan rightly portrayed the plight of the local people; their health is adversely affected due to the plant's activities. There is an urgent need to adapt measures to control pollution from power plants, or else they may soon become the fountain-head of diseases.

New Delhi ...

Shop for natural dyes

With reference to the letter 'Help' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003), Gandhigram Trust is involved in the research and development of natural dyes for the past 18 years. At present, the Centre for Research Documentation and Training, funded by the department of science and technology of the government, is functioning in Gandhigram. It provides training to women about the art of using natural dyes. It has standardised many natural dyeing techniques. Around 130 fast shades are available for dying textiles and 24 shades for leather. Multiple colouring options have been evolved from almost all the natural materials, including palm leaf, koragrass , coir, banana, sisal fibre, jute and linen. Some of the natural dyes, which are soluble in fat/oil/wax, could be an ideal choice for colouring candles. To dye wax, we have used annatto to get the golden yellow colour, moss to get the green shade, indigo for blue and hibiscus for pink.

Secretary, Gandhigram Trust,
Gandhigram, Tamil Nadu

Seaweed threatens biodiversity

The article 'Stop gatecrashing' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 10, October 15, 2003) is informative. It rightly highlights the adverse outcomes of cultivating the exotic marine algae, Kappaphycus alvarezii, in the Palk Strait.

Introduction of exotic plants in open seas is dangerous. Pepsi Foods Limited is trying to cultivate a species whose impact on the marine ecosystem is unknown. A regional centre of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute is located near the site of cultivation. It is strange that the government allowed the introduction of the exotic species near a national marine park without conducting proper field studies. It shows how callous and casual we are about environmental issues. Pepsi Foods Limited should not be allowed to cultivate the exotic algae until comprehensive studies prove that it is harmless. This is important, as our wetland ecosystems are already affected due to the exotic weed Eichornia crassipus and the water hyacinth.

Chairperson, Conservation of Nature Trust,
Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu

Why do we have e-waste

The article 'e-Waste' ( Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 12, November 15, 2003) has given me some food for thought. I would like to add to the valid points raised in the article. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes is a legal instrument adapted in 1989. India has also ratified it. Basel ban -- an amendment on control of transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal -- is an affiliated instrument of the convention. Its objective is to ban exports of hazardous wastes for final disposal, recovery or recycling from the annex vii states (mainly the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ( oecd) countries) to states not listed in the annex (mainly non- oecd countries). It shall require a minimum of 62 ratifications for the ban to come into force. To control pollution, it is absolutely necessary to ratify the ban.

yogesh.gupta@npcindia.org ...

Reinvent pollution laws

The editorial 'Reinvent the mobility idea' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003) aptly describes the present conditions. India, deprived of stringent pollution control measures for the automobile sector, is moving in a retrograde direction. It will adversely affect the export of automobiles, which has recently started contributing towards the gross domestic product. It has great potential to continue doing so in the future.

To popularise pollution control measures (such as the introduction of the Euro -iii standards), the government should impose less tax on Euro -iii compliant vehicles. India's pollution scenario is fundamentally different from that of Europe. We have the largest number of two-wheelers that run on two stroke engines. These engines are highly polluting. Some special control measures are required to have a visible impact on the pollution levels. Today, India needs to excel technologically to develop very soon. We should not compromise at any cost.


In the editorial

In the editorial 'Reinvent the mobility idea' ( Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003), it has been rightly stated that we cannot expect much from fossilised government minds in charge of deciding for the general public. The plight of Bangalore is the most illustrative proof of this. Though the city is supposed to be the it capital of India, there are hardly any efforts to improve basic infrastructure like roads or the public transportation system. The government seems to blissfully ignore the fact that such efforts would aid its aim of projecting the city as the it capital.

The investment is inversely proportional to the change in the attitude of people. They are becoming more and more selfish and are not concerned about environmental degradation. This shows a lack of civic sense. There is so much of dust and muck on the roads, and hardly any properly maintained footpath. The dust along with the vehicular emissions leads to adverse health affects such as irritation in the airways. The city accounts for the highest number of asthma patients in the country. Even babies are victims of the disease. Recently, I took my wife to a doctor as she has been suffering from cough and cold for a long time. When asked what could be done to cure her, the doctor said: "leave Bangalore".

But is this the feasible answer to the problem? Or is it the only solution? Awareness needs to be generated so that measures are taken to improve the situation. One should not ignore the importance of human development for the sake of economic progress.


Mercury hotspot

The supplement 'Mercury menace' along with the Down To Earth (Vol 12, No 11, October 31, 2003) exposes how the industry is ignoring public health to make profits. It is slowly killing people and destroying the environment.

The map on p75 shows three mercury hotspots in West Bengal. The first is in Howrah and the second is in Dungapur. The location of the third one, however, is not mentioned. I would be highly grateful if you could let me know the exact location because the place seems to be quite close to my hometown, and I am worried about mercury poisoning.

Malda, West Bengal

Down To Earth Replies : The hotspot is a thermal power plant located in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal...

Vermitoilet may not be the best

Apropos 'Vermitoilet is the best' (Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 7, August 31, 2003), I want to draw attention towards the serious hazards being overlooked by enthusiastic vermiculturists. The earthworms used in this so-called ecofriendly method of handling waste are carriers of many diseases of poultry and livestock such as anthrax.

Vermicompost also facilitates increased entry of heavy metals into the plants and foodcrops via the compost. This means that the metals can enter the foodchain. These hazards are documented in the scientific literature since the era of Charles Darwin.

The claim of vermicomposting being safe and useful not proven as yet. Therefore, vermiculture should not be promoted. Earthworms in their natural habitat have been regarded as 'friends of the farmers'. How they will behave outside their natural habitat, in a vermitoilet, is still not very clear.

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh...

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