Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

Pick of the post bag

Leh's power problem
In Leh and some of its adjoining villages, every fourth day power supply is cut-off in order to rationalise the supply 'Ladakh -- all stones turned' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 13, November 30, 2003). To date, power is not being supplied to most villages of Leh. The annual power demand of Leh at present is 59 megawatts; it is predicted to increase to 94 megawatts by 2010. The chief councillor of Ladakh recently presented these statistics in front of a joint parliamentary committee. He also suggested that efforts should be made to tap the district's geothermal energy resources.

The only hydel power station at Stakna has an installed capacity of two megawatts. The situation worsens during winters, when the power station ceases to operate due to extensive snowfall. This situation will not improve even if the Alchi hydel project starts supplying power. Diesel generators are used during winters. The government is planning to increase the number of diesel generators to meet the energy demand. The present installed power generating capacity of diesel generators is 13 megawatts. Power generation through diesel generators is very expensive since diesel is airlifted to Leh. After being heavily subsidised, the cost of power in Leh is about Rs 7.50 per kilowatt-hour. The subsidy cannot sustain for long; it will not even improve the socio-economic situation of the district. In winters, more than 30 per cent of the available power from the diesel generators is used for heating. Wherever such a facility is not available people use traditional methods to heat the houses, such as burning of wood or animal dung.

Success rates of the photovoltaic systems in this district is also low, due to inhospitable terrain, harsh winters and lack of infrastructure to maintain the system. The average age of a photovoltaic system is only 2.4 years. One should know that setting up of more hydel power stations or increasing the number of diesel generators will not solve the problems of Leh.

The Chumathang and Puga areas of Leh are well known for their high temperature geothermal systems. The systems have been existing for the last 65 million years. They will continue to exist due to dynamic tectonic environment of this region. The world's geothermal energy production in 1990 was 5,033 megawatts and in 2000 it was 7,994 megawatts. Yangbajing geothermal province, located 1,200 kilometres from Puga, is generating 25 megawatts (installed capacity) of power at present.

Geothermal energy resources of the Himalayas can be utilised for space heating, greenhouse cultivation as well as power production. It has been demonstrated that using geothermal energy instead of conventional energy for food processing, heating and greenhouse cultivation saves 80 per cent of the fuel cost and about eight per cent of the other operational costs. This energy has not been utilised by the rural community and army personnel in Leh.

Today the country has the technical and scientific manpower to solve power problems. What is needed is a change in the attitude of policymakers towards technological development. When all the countries in the world are trying to exploit the freely available green energy of the Earth, India is looking backwards. It still wants to depend on non-economical solutions. The policymakers should solve problems rather than create them. When civilisations can evolve around rivers, why can't infrastructure be put in place around sites where free heat energy is available?

Head, Centre of Studies for Resources Engineering,
Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Maharashtra

Fuelling the controversy

The article on fuel adulteration 'Overhaul' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 12, November 15, 2003) once again highlights the organised criminal activities of those responsible for the availability of 'liquid fuels' in India. Concern about the masses, national security, environment and technology is not a priority for these 'rapists', often found hiding under a variety of 'government aliases'. The resistance to non-hydrocarbons and non-liquid energy sources, like compressed natural gas, is nothing less than a national calamity. The fact that the directives of the Supreme Court in this context are blatantly defied is not a surprise for those aware of the ground reality. The automobile manufacturers shielding the oil companies is an understandable fact, despite the fuel ruining their vehicles. The rot of liquid fuels impacting the defence forces is a fact that cannot be published due to security concerns. How can we talk about dealing with external enemies when we cannot tackle those within the nation?

One solution that can be implemented right away, if the industry is really serious, is to sell liquid fuel in factory-sealed containers. Filling stations could sell multiple brands of fuel. This would also enable the market forces to play a crucial role in deciding the fuel prices. The packaging technology to do so is available in India. But will our oil companies do this, or will they always find refuge behind laws that are twisted around? They will opt for the latter, as fuel sold in single-use disposable containers would make them accountable for the quality and quantity of fuel; and this is what they are unwilling to accept. Makes one wonder why. Workers in oil companies must be having family members dying due to environmental degradation.

New Delhi...

Multilateral trade rules are a must

Apropos 'World Trade Outcry' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 10, October 15, 2003), as far as India is concerned, multilateral trade rules are necessary as they are the only way to protect our interests. India intends to continuously remain engaged in the negotiations and work with like-minded countries on specific issues so that a balanced and equitable trading system is evolved, keeping the development dimension as the primary focus.

Special secretary,
Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry,
Government of India

The editorial 'How not to lose all' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 10, October 15, 2003) is interesting. The article gives the best blow-by-blow account of the World Trade Organisation meet held recently at Cancun. I totally agree with Down To Earth's assessment. Cancun was not a failure, but it could be one if bilateralism is allowed to overtake the multilateral approach that was adapted by the developing countries at Cancun. The editorial aptly states that "we have no choice but to engage ... we need multilateral rules to protect our interest".

Ambassador of India to Lisbon...

Hazards of a new treatment method

The envisaged water management system of N K Kuttiappan has a serious flaw 'Harvesting rainwater is not enough' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 12, November 15, 2003). If the water is not treated up to the tertiary stage, then many pollutants would remain in the effluent of the sewage treatment plant; they can pollute the groundwater sources. Moreover, if the industrial water is mixed in the sewage, as is the case in the treated water harvesting (twh) system of Kuttiappan, then heavy metals would also be harvested.

If the twh system is to be successful, one should insist on the tertiary stage treatment along with the elimination of heavy metals. As per a system designed by the New Delhi-based Paani Morcha, biological/botanical absorption takes care of the problem and treats sewage up to the tertiary stage. The system has been adapted for ecoparks.

Elimination of bacteria also takes place in nature through percolation from the first active aquifer to the lower ones, located at least 40 metres below the Earth's surface. Water may be pumped for consumption from the lower aquifers. It is crucial to have a sound groundwater management policy. Unfortunately at present, it is non-existent in our country.

Paani Morcha,
New Delhi

Escapist attitude of pesticide industry

The letter of the executive director of the Pesticide Association of India is disgusting 'Feeling pestered...' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 10, October 15, 2003). It is astounding to know how people connected with activities harmful to the environs seek to justify their actions.

The lobby groups of the industry have always tried to play down the adverse effects of products such as pesticides and fertilisers. Their mantra is money. The lure of 'filthy lucre' dictates the attitudes of these people. They will stoop to any level to achieve their aim. It is quite apparent in the letter of the executive director. Such letters only belong to the bin.

Coimbatore, Kerala...

The midday meal crisis

The article 'Food for Taught' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 13, November 30, 2003) gives insight into an important issue. The midday meal system needs to be revamped, not only in Karnataka but across the country. The midday meal programme was initiated to provide nutritional supplement to children. It soon became a bait to draw children to the schools. But in remote places, children thronged to the schools just before lunchtime and left shortly after that! Today, an unjustified motivation drives the system -- the government needs to plug the huge cost of storing foodgrains in the warehouses of the Food Corporation of India (fci). The midday meal system offers the prospect of killing two birds with a single stone: preventing expenditure incurred by fci and cashing in on a welfare scheme that has a 'populist potential'.

The foodgrains doled out for midday meals are generally unfit for human consumption. The reason why they get accepted is because those at the receiving end cannot afford to be choosy. Moreover, in remote, single-teacher rural schools, the system is even affecting the little teaching activity that takes place -- both the teacher and children get involved in the cooking, serving and cleaning-up process. There is in fact a gender factor also: midday meal means more chores for the girl students.

The Madhya Pradesh (mp) government under Digvijay Singh made a right decision to entrust the management of the meals to the village panchayats. Apart from decentralisation, this implies cost-effectiveness and less of malpractices. The mp State Civil Supplies Corporation suggested another innovative idea, which is yet to be adapted. It has been proposed that a mata samiti (mothers' organisation) in every village should manage the meals. The group would comprise three to four mothers staying nearby to the school. They would cook the food in accordance with the number of students attending school everyday. Apart from having endless other benefits, this would prevent the school from becoming a de facto langar.

But why would the mothers do this everyday? The government allocates the funds required for the meals on the basis of the number of students enrolled in a school. Under various compulsions, the teachers ensure that all eligible children are enrolled at the beginning of an academic year. But the attendance is never 100 per cent. At present no one bothers to check the fate of the absentees' share of the meal. This share (10-20 per cent on an average) will become the legal 'income' of the mothers' group, as per the corporation. The benefits of the above innovation could be manifold: it will empower women and children will get better quality food.

Former advisor to Madhya Pradesh State
Civil Supplies Corporation Limited

Mining: bane for the environment

The primary objective of the World Mining Congress was to give impetus to the globalisation of the Indian mining industry 'Quarry hunt' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 13, November 30, 2003). In the developed nations, high environmental and social costs and low metal prices have caused a ripple in the mining sector. But the principle factor responsible for limiting the scope of this sector in these countries is the need to conserve resources. The largest resources of oil are located in us, but it never exploits them; it prefers importing oil.

India does not have rich resources of base metals like gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. President Kalam has exhorted the mining industry to increase its contribution to the gross domestic product from three per cent to 10 per cent. Going by analogy, more than three-fold increase is required in the mining of exported minerals to achieve this aim. This, however, will lead to unsustainable development. It will be more appropriate to export finished products than the raw materials. Unfortunately, India is still following the doctrine of the colonial period, and exports raw material and imports finished products.

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

The recent expos of the mining nexus by the Indian Express has created a controversy during elections. The forest area is dwindling due to various reasons, including illegal mining. Even the world famous Silent Valley is under threat.


Number crunching must be out

I completely agree with the editorial 'The dumber number game' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 12, November 15, 2003). Today, most people easily find readymade counterpoints to argue. When it is alleged that Coke and Pepsi have high pesticide content, the multinationals say that milk and apple have higher levels of pesticides than the soft drinks. These are mere arguments made without giving the matter much thought. And of course, for those at the helm of Coke and Pepsi, it is a matter of financial gains. I never thought the companies could find an answer so soon. Due to their superfluous arguments, the layperson is left confused.

Convincing is an art that takes time. For a common person, it is difficult to evaluate the pros and cons of the situation. To add to his/her confusion, advertisements telecasted during the prime time favour the soft drinks. Since these advertisements show a famous actor drinking Coke/Pepsi, the layperson is easily convinced.

Some people think it is a fight between the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and the multinationals. This is not true. Most people do not understand the difference between the good and the bad. One should know what are the adverse effects of the pesticides. Most people realise the ground reality only when it is too late -- when they end up suffering from diseases like cancer.

Recently I read a news story about some birds found dead on a beach near the Calicut area of Kerala. The birds had been feeding on fish that were dried by a big company using pesticides. What a pity that the toxic chemicals even killed the beautiful creatures. Hopefully people will soon realise the seriousness of the situation.



I am an architect, currently involved in the work of the Sakthan Tampuran Heritage Gardens and Archaeological Park in Thrissur, Kerala. I would like to know about cheap and safe methods of waste disposal that could be adapted for a public park. Furthermore, please provide information about methods to organically control mosquitoes within the park.


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