Published: Sunday 15 September 2002

Pick of the post bag

Damning evidence
Let me congratulate you on having exposed the true story behind the endosulfan conspiracy. The crusaders Mohanakumar, Shree Padre and Jayakumar richly deserve our thanks and congratulations. There is a very strong case for a ban on endosulfan, not in only Kerala but the whole of India.

A recent Japanese study has shown beyond any doubt that this pesticide has serious genotoxic effects on human cells. Environmental Health Perspectives (journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Vol 108, No 6; June 2000) carries this report. The study was carried out by Yuquan Lu, Kanehisa Morimoto, Tatsuya Takeshita and Toru Takeuchi of the department of social and environmental medicine, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka, and Takeshi Saito from the department of preventive medicine, Hokkaido University School of Medicine, Sapporo. They observed the influence of alpha and beta endosulfan on the frequency of sister chromatid exchanges, micronuclei, and the dna (deoxyribose nucleic acid) damage assessed by single-cell gel electrophoresis in HepG2, a target cell-line that expresses estrogen receptors, and is able to metabolise xenobiotics like S9 in vitro or in vivo. Their repeated in vivo experiments showed that both alpha and beta endosulfan induced dna strand breaks.

Any student with elementary knowledge of genetics would know the consequences of these genetic changes in human reproduction. The mutations reported in the selected victims of Kasaragod are most probably due to the genotoxic effect mentioned in the above scientific study.

I feel ashamed of the scientific community in my own state, Kerala, who in spite of their expertise in this particular field of scientific study, ignored such a damaging report on endosulfan exposure. Now that the National Institute of Occupational Health (nioh) study has also pinned endosulfan down as the culprit in Kasaragod, the way is clear for governments to ban the pesticide forever.

The authorities responsible for allowing the use of endosulfan spray in the state deserve punishment. The pseudo-scientists and the minister who publicly proclaimed that endosulfan is a safe pesticide also deserve to be taken to task. The Kerala Agricultural University should take criminal action against its scientists who supported pesticide manufacturers in this debate. It is a pity that the government is still unaware of something called the 'precautionary principle', which should have been the guiding principle in such matters.


Apropos the report 'Misleading report on endosulfan' (The Hindu ; July 19, 2002), we wish to bring to your notice that we are in possession of a used container of endosulfan on which it is clearly written 'an organochlorine insecticide'. It is, therefore, a Persistent Organic Pollutant (pop) (according to the United Nations Environment Programme's assessment report; unep/pops/inc.1/inf/10; June 15, 1998)

This pesticide is very obnoxious. It used to be liberally sprayed on cashews in and around Auroville until a year ago, and the inhabitants, especially mothers, children and the people who spray to earn their livelihood were suffering due to it. We would like to ask the executive director, Endosulfan Manufacturers and Formulators Association, that he bring proof that endosulfan does not create cancer and that it has no longterm ill-effects. After the tragedy in Kasaragod, Kerala, came to light, the spray of chemical pesticides, especially of endosulfan, has declined. Local farmers are beginning to use neem-based biological pesticides.


Your expos on endosulfan is very ti.

Read the report

I was going through the editorial marking the completion of ten years of Down To Earth (Vol 11, No 1; May 31, 2002). The concerns that find articulation therein are the felt reflections of the decade-long strident endeavour that Down To Earth undertook to both understand and voice the multitude of typical paradoxes and dichotomies that our society is willy-nilly subjected to. Your editorial is more reflective than prescriptive -- a tradition we hope you will maintain.

At the moment, I shall reinforce only one point mentioned in the editorial: about 'knowledge proof' state-controlled institutions. In fact, in my own humble way, I have been working towards promoting the cause of transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the state towards the citizen.

In this context, I must mention that going through the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution was a highly revealing exercise for me. My instant reaction was that this is the only commission in post-independence India that attempts to speak the truth about the state of both political and civil society from a common citizen's perspective. Then I thought: this is perhaps the main reason why almost all political parties, and leading judicial and bureaucratic lobbies, along with mediapersons, maintained an uneasy, even a conspiratorial, silence over the report. Even the event of its publication was not news worth reporting.

You might recollect that while this commission was being set up, leaders across parties and ideologies, including the president of India, expressed their apprehension and disliked the idea of a review of the Constitution. But why do they remain silent on the contents of the report? Is it because the report is a radical critique of the system? Could it be that the critique is so radical that the so-called progressive political sect of our country has never had the courage to mouth it in the past, nor can it digest the critique today?

I am not sure whether Down To Earth has covered this report, but a perusal of the report will reveal that the commission has voiced the concerns you raise in your editorial, and which Down To Earth has been voicing for over a decade. We can all derive sustenance from this report.


Translate the message

I am a researcher at the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. The other day my friend and I were discussing the state of environment in India and why it is deteriorating so fast. The answer lies in the fact that the so-called educated persons in our country never follow rules. We do not stop to think when we pollute our surroundings everyday. We read books and newspapers, and watch television-based environmental programmes, but never try to implement changes in our own lives. In my opinion it is tougher to change attitudes in the middle-class than it is to educate an illiterate person.

We were also considering publishing Down To Earth (limited editions) in regional languages. This can be supplied to schools, government libraries and panchayat offices, where a large number of persons might not be able to use English as the medium of communication. This would help spread environmental awareness to such persons as well.


I am a student of mass communications in Assam Central University. I have been a regular reader of Down To Earth . Your articles serve as an eye-opener to the people of this country. I feel that the contents of this magazine should be published in other Indian languages so that more and more people get to read about these issues. I also feel that more work is needed in the conservation and wildlife management of Northeast India, which has a rich heritage of flora and fauna.


Down To Earth provides a free feature service of our articles translated into Indian languages. We have been hoping that media organisations in various parts of the country would wish to pick up these articles for use in their own publications. If you wish to use these articles, we would be happy to send them to you as well....

A bird in hand

The global market for trade in birds is huge, estimated by organisations like the National Geographic to be around us $20 billion annually. It is unfortunate that about a quarter of that trade is met by wild trapped birds. Even developed countries like the us and Australia have been unsuccessful in eliminating this racket. There is big money involved, and powerful stakeholders will always come in the way. It is laudable that in such difficult circumstances people like Abrar Ahmed come forward with such important data.

Perhaps a viable solution to prevention of bird trade lies in captive propagation. But that is difficult enough. However, developed countries have made significant progress in this area, and have taken aviculture to the level of modern science. One of the interesting developments in this regard is a wonderful collaboration between breeders and law-keepers. In the uk, for example, the cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has a body dedicated to the identification of species involved in trade. In certain circumstances they call in private breeders to identify species. They are updated on the latest developments in the field of mutation breeding. Perhaps we can devise something similar to this model.

Another step forward would be creation of dna databanks for species, which is not too expensive, given the rapid development of biotechnology. One can use dna fingerprints to determine whether a species is indeed what it is claimed to be, and even ascertain whether a bird is of captive origin stock. But all these would require active involvement of scientists and private breeders and of course institutions like Traffic India!

I offer my congratulations for your survey.


The last refuge

Judicial intervention should not be confused with judicial activism. It is the duty of every citizen to act, and when someone, either an individual or the state, fails to act as deemed necessary, the courts have acted to enforce the rights provided under law. It is the judiciary then that could create awareness regarding the plight of animals, wildlife and marine life, such as the speechless Olive Ridley turtles.

The courts need to look into the following aspects: the alleged absence of administrative concern for protection and conservation of the Olive Ridleys; fishing-related deaths due to the fact that the breeding period of these turtles and the fishing season coincide; eviction of encroachers on the sea coast; disorientation of turtles due to powerful lights along the coastal zone; inadequate off-shore and aerial surveillance; incidence of illegal and unrestricted fishing activities in the coastal waters; lack of routine monitoring for prevention of poaching and accidental deaths amongst other hazards.

In a situation where these turtles are facing extinction due to non-enforcement of laws -- like the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Orissa Sea Fishing Act, 1982 -- it is most necessary that the state plays a positive role in protecting them. It is, therefore, essential that there is state support for the court's initiative to provide protection for the turtles. It should not dishonour the order of the High Court of Orissa in this regard. The administration should, in fact, strive to maintain the glory of Orissa in the biological map of the world as a unique place for the breeding and nesting of the Olive Ridleys. If the state were to do its duty, there would be no need to approach courts for a remedy on this count.


Tractor trouble

I refer to the article 'Dead end for diesel buses' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 23; April 30, 2002) regarding the pollution in Delhi. However, environmentalists have not adequately considered the environmental degradation being caused by tractors. In 2000-01, 2.3 lakh units were sold and in 2001-02, the sales were about two lakh units. The Tractor Manufacturers' Association refuses to give out the total number of the tractors in the country, in spite of several requests. My estimate, based on sales figures for the last three years, is that the total number will be in the region of two million tractors.

It is high time that organisations like yours conduct studies on the role tractors play in compounding pollution in rural and urban areas, and start campaigns against them. Tractors also cause degradation of land as per a study by Central Arid Zone Research Institute (cazri), Jodhpur. Tractor drivers also suffer from a number of ailments, which have not been sufficiently documented. Nor has the role of pollution from tractors in causing these ailments been sufficiently studied.

All of this should be part of a larger study on how harmful they have been to the economy, and how they have forced many farmers to commit suicides.

Executive Director
Nation Building Forum
New Delhi

Not just ornamental

I was delighted to read in your editorial 'Presidential choice' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 4; July 15, 2002) the well-deserved words of praise for former president K R Narayanan. The installation of a rainwater harvesting system in the president's estate is an example of the love and respect he has for the people of India and their environment. It should now serve as a prototype for water management in India. Narayanan has proved that a president can do a lot without breaching constitutional propriety.



Quick note

In the article 'Reaching for the sun' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 11; October 31, 2001), it is mentioned that Karnataka-based Solar Electric Lighting Company (selco) provides solar lighting system for Rs 15,000-18,000. Kindly let me know their contact details so I can contact them.


The address requested is:
selco Solar Lights Pvt Ltd
No. 26, 1st Main, bhcs Layout
Bangalore 560 076
Tel: 080 678 7906
Fax: 080 678 7908
Email: selco@selco-india.com

Between the lines

I wish to bring to your notice an advertisement appearing The Hindu (June 5, 2002). The claim in the newspaper is by no less a person than Sushil K Verma, director general, Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology, Chennai, which appears to be in direct conflict with opinions given by many in the scientific field and also by authentic sources published in Down To Earth.

The advertisement claims: "Burning or incineration of commonly used plastic articles -- carry bags, buckets, mugs, combs, disposable cups, plates etc, that are made from polyethylene/polypropylene or polystyrene, does not release dioxin at all. When burnt, they dissipate as carbon dioxide and water vapour -- same components found in the air we exhale when we breathe." However, the article 'Swamped' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 21; March 31, 2002) says, "The only way to get rid of plastic is to burn it -- which in turn could emit deadly dioxins -- or to bury it." I do not know if this is a mischievous propaganda aimed at misleading the general public and protecting the plastics industry. I trust you will be able to take adequate steps to counter this disinformation.

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu...


sir, i am interested in subscribing to 'down to earth' magazine for one year period. please give me the mailing address and the name on which demand draft should be taken. thanking you, your's sincerely, r.s.sathish kumar (rssathish@vsnl.net)...

NOW-Bill Moyers PBS Program

Thank you for your forthright comments on the subject PBS Program. Our country (USA) appears to be so self-absorbed and in disregard of its present obligations to the world. Corporations and special interests seem to have taken over our system of governance. Hopefully it will not take a major environmental disaster to wake us up....

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