Published: Thursday 28 February 2002

Naxalite menace

Your cover story 'Forest war' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 15, December 31, 2001) gives a new dimension to forest and wildlife protection. The Naxalites are taking advantage of the local dissent and spreading their nefarious activities all over the country. As a result, tribal belts in Midnapore, Bakura and Purulia districts of West Bengal are also gradually coming under the grip of these elements. It is surprising that the government remains a mute spectator to the dictates of Naxalites in these forest areas. Unfortunately, even media is projecting these elements as invincible, thereby spreading panic among people. Since the civil police lacks the necessary training, infrastructure and determination to eradicate this menace, paramilitary forces need to be pressed into action. And this requires a strong political will.


Your author did not sufficiently take up the issue of loss of forest cover with respect to protection of land, water sources as well as wild animals. The article seemed to simply support eventual deforestation so that the locals can cultivate the cleared land! There was too much in the article about how Naxals slaughter the police and too little on the ecological aspect of forest management. As for the smugglers and timber mafia, it is not that these entities cannot be brought under control. They manage to go scot free because of their connections with corrupt state officials. Your article, at least, managed to draw world attention to this issue.

Joanna Kirkpatrick

Identity crisis

Apropos 'Growing fences' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 15, December 31, 2001). The article talks about the ethnic groups in Bastar district as "having roots in a population belonging to a cultural unit that was once bound by a stone using technology, but which eventually segmented into various social and economic sub-units". This view is too simplistic and the author should have used the available anthropoligical data for this topic.

The whole article never mentions that these are Dravidian-speaking groups, spread across central and east-central India, but whose ethnic identity is now threatened because they could not become part of a linguistic state. These people moved from Gujarat and Maharashtra eastward in the wake of the Indus valley civilisation. They would have used stone tools, but also knew iron works, as your author states. The central Dravidian languages would have separated from each other probably in pre-Mauryan times, and from the south Dravidian languages considerably earlier. The main premise of the article that these ethnic groups are separating from each other because of contemporary ecological forces is, therefore, wrong and not in line with the premise that a reason for this is population growth.

If these ethnic groups are to have the respect and cultural strength they deserve, state governments must arrange education and literature with modern content in their languages and develop projects with professional anthropological advice, to help them increase their economic strength while preserving the ecology of these areas. India still has no clear and professional vision for its 70 million tribals.

Rockville, USA...

WTO verdict

It is heartening to learn that World Trade Organisation (WTO) has upheld the use of turtle excluder device for vessels engaged in catching shrimps in seas. It is most surprising that conservation policy of the US was not appreciated and some countries went to WTO, challenging shrimp turtle law. It is well known that the number of sea turtles have tended to decline sharply over the years. This is attributed to excessive harvesting of sea turtles and their eggs and to accidental mortality associated with shrimp trawling and other fishing operations. Consequently, many species of sea turtles are now threatened with extinction.

Each species plays an important role in maintaining the ecology, including different variety of fish. The best option would be let live all species in their natural environment except those who have been domesticated.

Animal Rights International...

Cotton controversy

Apropos 'Cotton conundrum' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 14, December 15 2001) Indira Khurana makes a factual mistake, which I hope is just an editing error. In the box 'The Bt Cotton case in India,' under the first of the social drawbacks, she mentions that 'The loss of Bt, if it occurs, will have ramifications far beyond the conventional cotton fields, because it has been widely used by the organic community..." Organic agriculture in its international standards, fully forbids the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) . Thus, Bt is not to be used at all. Organic farmers run the risk of their non-GMO crops being polluted by the transfer of Bt genes from neighbouring conventional fields to theirs. Ironically, some months ago, an American firm, promoting Bt cotton and Bt corn, sued an organic farmer, for the use of their plants, while not paying for them. They found Bt traces in his crop. In reality, the crop had been polluted by Bt corn plants from neighbouring fields. Because of this risk, even organic seeds now have to be tested for GM traces, to ensure that the products bought by customers are truly organic.


Your correspondent has accused implicitly that the cotton farmers of Gujarat are the main accused in the Bt cotton cultivation and that they have to pay for their crimes either by paying to the government or allowing the government to uproot the cotton crop which is blooming and not affected by ballworms! Even if she has not said so openly, one gets the feeling after reading her piece and it is sad that in the entire fiasco the farmer's voice is not heard.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is the main culprit and the issue has been tossed up between the dead department of Biotechnology, the Ministry of Environment and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Gujarat, Andhra and Karnataka are the prime states where cotton is a leading crop and the bollworms have killed not only the cotton crop but also the cotton growing families, many of whom have committed suicide. Against such a scenario, the farmers are prepared to do anything to save their cotton crops from bollworms.

The two seed players Mahyco and Navbharat seeds are rivals and the farmer is not bothered whether the cotton seed is approved by the GEAC or not. Whoever sells them seeds on the 'promise' of good yield they will buy.

Regulation is a process by which the government assures that the uncertainty and risks of new technology like the Bt cotton can be contained within manageable limits. There is enough evidence and consensus now among the agricultural scientists in India that GM crops are safe both for the farmers and the soil. In the words of M S Swaminathan, the power of genetic modification to do immense good to agriculture and food security is no doubt a fact and the research done by his foundation on breeding salt tolerant varieties of mustard, rice and pulses in coastal areas is a clear proof of the GM crop benefits.

Gujarat incident demonstrates that the farmers are happy with Bt cotton and no amount of crying and shouting by anti-GM lobbies would now convince the farmers that GM crops are bad. Cotton farmers have seen that bollworms are not there. Cotton farmers have been taken for a ride by the pesticides companies for decades. Since I come from a cotton growing family, I know of the consequences of the debts incurred by these farmers on chemical pesticides.

One cannot penalise the cotton farmers in Gujarat by telling them to burn the crop or uproot it. If the GEAC is serious, then it should study the crop behaviour and record all the history of Bt cotton crop from sowing till now and see the bad effects on environment. It is the fundamental right of a farmer to buy any seed available in the market at his own cost and sow and reap the harvest which he has do.

Our reporter replies

Nowhere in my article have I stated that GMOs containing Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) are used by organic producers. I fully agree that the use of GMOs cannot be classified as organic. But sprays that use the Bt organism -- and not genetically modified organisms or products -- are being used by organic farmers globally and in India to bring down chemical pesticide use.

Similarly, nowhere in the article has the blame been put on the farmers. In fact, the story sympathises with the farmers saying: "Meanwhile, the farmers, who have witnessed a bumper crop, have to see their crop being burnt for no fault of theirs." The entire article is in the form of a report, giving a detailed chronology of events as they happened....

Your website

Dear editor: Your website is "organized" similar to a magazine i.e. on an monthly issue basis. This is a poor way of presenting the material to an online audience. If you have looked at other examples, you will notice there is a preference to sort by topic also. Infact, i strongly urge you to consider doing this, so that people with interests in a specific area "i.e. sanitation" can go to that area & look at a multitude of articles than search through every single issue. Yours is an excellent service but you must recognize the reality of catering to an online audience. regards sriram krishnan Atlanta, GA...

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