Published: Tuesday 15 January 2002

Water venture

Your editorial 'The water business' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 12, November 15, 2001) is highly commendable. Water is a priceless gift of nature and its conservation is the order of the day. Yet in urban areas one can see water, which comes at a negligible price, being wasted by people.

The need of the hour is to make water a saleable commodity, but at an affordable cost. This will solve the problem of a general apathy towards water conservation. If we are to assure safe drinking water in future, then it is not the government alone which needs to take initiative on this matter.

Hopefully, activists like Rajendra Singh will also work towards promoting public conciousness on this serious issue. Your suggestions regarding 'differential pricing' of water to people of diverse economic standards also deserve kudos.

The rich and the poor, both should realise that what they consume lavishly shouldn't come to them that generously. Without an all-round public awareness, every effort regarding water conservation would go in vain.

Kolkata, West Bengal

Your editorial has once again raised an agonising issue. The World Bank (wb) has been talking about water pricing for too long. It has now managed to get the likes of Confederation of Indian Industry (cii) on its side. Why does the private sector wish to muddy the water by talking of full cost pricing. Does it have any idea about the cost?

How many new plants have come up since power generation was opened to private sector? Even they go in for government subsidies of various kinds. Similarly, local bus transport in Uttar Pradesh, run by private sector, is in a shambles. All the textile mills in Kanpur, and many in Mumbai, have been declared sick. These were again owned by the private sector.

Dozens of new airlines had started in the nineties, and today most of them have flown away. Even liquified petroleum gas (lpg) privatisation has not brought in many companies and the ones that are there are asking the government to increase the price. Tourism is open to private sector, how much has it increased? What has the consumer gained except a variety of cars and soaps to choose from? Hence, cii and others, including the relevant government ministries, would do well to sit up to atleast discuss the failures of the private sector.

J.P. Gupta@Lboro.ac.uk

You have raised on important issue in your editorial on water business. I suggest that we also study the German System for water charging, which is based on the discharge to sewerage line and not on the production, which is either government supply or coming through borewell. Or the charges should be a combination of both -- depending on the consumption from government pipelines and also discharge to sewarage system.


I am delighted to see your views on the water industry. I had worked in this area before entering the pollution control set up. I agree with you that water industry is conceived and implemented to the exclusion of wastewater management and deserves greater attention. The most glaring evidence is that sewarage tax is seldom more than the water tax while, as you rightly pointed out, the cost of wastewater management is several times more than that of water supply.


Grain of contention

Apropos your article 'Outstanding grain' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 8, October 15, 2001). A recent article in New York Times sets the issue of India- us fight on basmati rice to rest, though wrongly. If this rice in the us can become acceptable as 'American Basmati', then labels like 'Bangalore Champagne' and 'Indian Scotch Whisky' should also be permissible.

Even a casual look at this so-called basmati rice, would reveal the grain is much shorter and thicker than that of the original Indian basmati. Further, the American basmati does not elongate on cooking as much as our own. To gain over the Indian legislation regarding geographical indication (gi), Rice Tech has started labelling the rice developed by them as 'American Basmati'.

Our traditional basmati can be protected by using dna markers and registering it under patent laws. If the gi has to be given to Rajasthan, Kerala or Karnataka, then they should satisfy all the dna markers and other elements specified -- like length, breadth, cooking qualities of the grain plus the distinctive aroma. If tasters' verdict can be accepted for the valuation of coffee and tea, then the same should be applicable in the case of rice as well.

Bangalore, Karnataka

Raising the question of protecting basmati rice from patenting in the us and other places in the world, Leena Chakraborty and Nitin Sethi are very convincing when they advocate a geographical indication. India may put forward specificity of the grain parameters and cogent region. In France, we sum up the product characteristics in the notion of 'terroir', that is territory and quality and culture and unicity of the good. It means that it cannot be reproduced elsewhere with the same features. This may apply to basmati rice, as your writers underline, on the basis of "science and political will to use scientific research". I would add: the participation, support and initiative of the industry operators. We understand that a weakness of the Indian situation lies in a section of exporters and farmer-lobbies who stand to lose if basmati becomes a well-defined product with geographical indication.

The french experience shows that success grew out of producers, industrialists and traders intitiative, who put forward the project and enhanced it, so that a bottom-up movement came to meet the political will to build up a protective law. As a result, both aministration and industry operators actively participate in ad hoc committees responsible for quality checking. Would it work for India? It might be for the good of basmati trade in the world, quality wise: in Europe, where rice consumption per capita is low, the revenue elasticity of basmati demand is high!


Losing signals and animals

The Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is one of the endangered reptiles of the order Chelonia apart from the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) that are abundant in the Exclusive Economic Zone (eez) of the Indian waters. Overfishing has been a major threat to these delicate marine swimmers. To avoid these animals from getting caught in bottom trawl nets, it was prescribed that Turtle Excluder Device (ted) be fixed in these nets. Unfortunately, no interest has been shown by the government or the fisherfolk to practise fishing with this device. Today, shrimps caught using these nets are still being exported. It seems that the valuable ted has become a 'Totally Experiment Device'.

Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu...

Dioxin mistake

Apropos 'Paper industry: the big dioxin factory' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 8, August 31, 2001), we were surprised to note certain facts and data mentioned in the article especially pertaining to aox and dioxin released during bleaching of pulp. The data is unrealistic and will tarnish the image of Indian paper industry. We would like to mention that Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) has set no permissible limit for dioxin per tonne of paper produced. So far the permissible limit for organochlorine compounds is two Kilogramme (kg) toci/tonne of paper produced.

When one tonne of pulp is subjected to bleaching, 900 kg bleached pulp is produced with ten per cent or 100 kg appearing as bleaching loss and not unbleached pulp. This bleaching loss is mainly the dissolved product, which comprises degraded products of carbohydrate and lignin. Ninety kg of chlorine is not released but instead consumed leaving 10 per cent of the applied (depending on the consumption which varies with raw material) as free chlorine which may further react with the degraded products to form/generate organochlorine aox compounds. Therefore, only 0.1 of the total aox generated, appears as dioxins.

Director, Central Pulp and Paper Research Institute, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh

Down To Earth replies:
Ref. our errata (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 8, September 15, p3). The article on paper industry should have referred to organochlorines (aox) and not dioxins. We regret the confusion this error has caused....

Green thumbs

MountArunachala, Tamil Nadu, is worshipped as an embodiment of spiritual strength and many pilgrims visit the place every year. What used to be a thickly forested area is today grappling with deforestation, pollution, water scarcity and depleting genetic diversity.

The Annamalai Reforestation Society, an NGO, is working to restore the area to its former glory through the active participation of the people. The society, which is involved in waste land development, runs a plant nursery and a sustainable agriculture demonstration farm that includes a well-equipped laboratory for biological control of pests, soil testing and meteorological observations. It is also engaged in the revival of traditional herbal medicines. It encourages children to participate in eco- conservation by forming eco-clubs in their schools and by making them environmentally aware through lectures, demonstrations, videos and puppet shows.

The society seeks more involvement, both financial and physical, from the community. People who are keen to participate may contact the organisation at Annamalai Reforestation Society, MIG-95, Tamarai Nagar, TNHB Colony, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu - 606 601. ...

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