Published: Monday 30 September 2002

Pick of the post bag

A few tips
We are working on the Kali River (in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka), and are planning to conduct a study on the issue of pollution. There are three major sources of pollution: West Coast Paper Mill in Dandeli, open case mining in Kali watershed area and Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant.

We would like to comprehensively study the danger to Kali River from these sources. Would it be possible for you to give us a background on what kind of pollution studies we should undertake, and which institutions can help us do this? We are particularly worried about radiation levels in the water (because of the nuclear power plant), and would like to know how to measure this.


Editor's response
West Coast Paper Mills is based on the kraft process, using wood as its main fibrous raw material. The effluent generated has high organic content, which is characterised by high bod (biological oxygen demand) and cod (chemical oxygen demand). The unit has an effluent treatment plant with secondary treatment to reduce the organic load of the wastewater. It also has a chemical recovery system; thus the potential problem of black liquor disposal is taken care of.

The bleaching sequence adopted uses elemental chlorine, alkali, hydrogen peroxide and hypochlorite. By using chlorine the company could churn out absorbable organic halides (aox) that are harmful as well as persistent.

The following testing can be conducted to assess the quality of the effluent, and its impact on the river:
Treated effluent at the point of discharge from the mill: ph, bod, cod, total suspended solids, chloride, total residual chlorine, aox.

At the point of confluence of the effluent and the river: ph, dissolved oxygen, bod, cod, total suspended solids, chloride.

One kilometre upstream and downstream of the river from the point of discharge: ph, dissolved oxygen, bod, cod, total suspended solids, chloride.

Most of these tests can be conducted at any laboratory authorised by the state pollution control board or academic institutions, such as the Indian Institute of Technology. However, all laboratories might not have facilities for some tests, such as aox, which can be conducted in institutions like National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Central Pulp and Paper Institute etc.

The principal pollutants in the case of open cast mining are heavy metals. Please contact Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad.

The principal pollution caused in the case of the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant are:
Thermal pollution of river water due to discharge of cooling water.

Nuclear waste disposal technique likely to have an effect on river water/ groundwater.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, and the nuclear energy centre of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, can be contacted for help with this....

Vocal about the valley

This refers to the letter 'No ban on grazing' by J D Negi (Vol 11, No 4; July 15, 2002). While I do appreciate the concerns raised by Negi, I believe they are based on speculation. He points out that Polygonum polystachyum has increased in numbers after the ban on grazing in 1982. During my decade-long research on the Valley of Flowers, I have not come across any data on density, frequency and numbers of Polygonum that had been taken prior to the valley's inception in the national park.

If Negi has any such data, it may be very useful for comparison and also for developing strategies for future conservation. Moreover, any single factor, such as grazing, is not responsible for changes in the vegetation pattern of an alpine meadow. There are other factors, such as climatic change, edaphic and topographical factors, that determine the vegetation distribution in any given area. The palaeobotanical study mentioned in the article 'Paradise Under Fire' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 2; June 15, 2002) is explicitly indicative of this trend. I understand that Chandi Prasad Bhatt is a noted environmentalist, but I don't think he has conducted any research on Polygonum in the Valley of Flowers. Such remarks only lead to controversies, not solutions. And one of the aims of the article 'Paradise Under Fire' was to convey this message.


'Paradise under fire' or paradise under siege! I seriously went through the article written by C P Kala of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. The author discussed the 'weed controversy' surrounding the Valley of Flowers as though he had set out to resolve the one between the Forest Research Institute scientists and the conservationists. He observes that the controversial weed, Polygonum polystachyum, in the Valley of Flowers grows on disturbed habitats, such as eroded slopes, boulder areas, avalanche-prone areas and fragmented tree line zones, and that flowering plants thrive on stable, undulating areas and slopes.

Although I concur with his observations, I believe he has not successfully established how the ban on livestock grazing has impacted the growth, diversity, richness and regeneration of different flowering plants. To my knowledge, in almost all protected areas and so-called primary forests where grazing has been banned, studies on how the complete ban on grazing would impact ecosystems positively are almost non-existent. Even post-ban studies on grazing-ecosystem relationships are absent. The few studies that do exist are probably stage-managed to prove foresters and conservationists right. Their conservation thoughts and their deep ecology opinions are always right. They rarely attempt to look at the other side of the coin. They choose any variable in their studies that highlights the growth, abundance, colonisation, fire proneness, nutrient intake, phonological characteristics etc of the grass or weed species, and their influence on the associated plant and animal species.

As a matter of fact, at a time when hardly any pristine ecosystem exists in our country, and when a number of studies have recommended controlled human interference for maintaining the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem, these conservation missionaries deny the human presence in a natural ecosystem. It is also a fact that the National Forest Policy 1988 has accepted the human-nature relationship as 'symbiotic'.

The author compares the ecosystem of the Valley of Flowers with that of the Great Himalayan National Park (ghnp) (where I have also spent about two years). First, I do not think the comparison is valid. They are totally non-identical ecosystems.


I have read about the government and industry conspiracy to lift the ban on the use of endosulfan at all costs to human and environmental health. Cashew is a lucrative crop, no doubt. If you cannot do much in India to force a bit more honesty, perhaps your best approach would be to go to the un, World Health Organisation and the European parliament. You may be able to persuade the countries that import cashews to refuse to import them. I recall the bad press about dolphins being caught in tuna fish nets, and all the 'dolphin friendly' labels on cans of tuna. The European parliament banned the importation of produce from Spain for a while because of the use of Lindane. The study showed contamination of people and water by endosulfan. Were there also residues of this pesticide found in or on cashews? If it were, it would probably help to have their importation banned or suspended until endosulfan use is stopped.


Calm waters

The early part of the 21st century shows a picture in which almost all the countries of the world are trying to achieve sustainable development by making the production-consumption system eco-friendly, irrespective of economic differences. As an effect of globalisation, all problems today are considered global. But the harsh reality that we are yet to accept is that the solutions are necessarily regional. One of the causes could be differences regarding power-sharing between the North and the South, and the resultant conflict. Thus we find that security issues get directly linked to sustainable development.

Water in the 21st century has become a parameter for development, and the fact that it is a shared resource has made things more critical. Water could act as a catalyst for peace or an issue of conflict. With increasing water scarcity, water conflicts are becoming more frequent. Historical evidence is that water conflicts have never been violent. This is proof that sharing water could act as a catalyst for development among neighbours. Thus, the challenge today is to use shared water basins as a means of lessening hostility rather than increasing tensions.


Plastic power

I read the views of Prasanto Banerjee, representing a firm having business interests, and Bharati Chaturvedi, representing a non-governmental organisation (ngo) concerned about the environment. They were pleading for and against the use of plastic. Issues like plastic vs trees; plastic vs paper and plastic vs environment are frequently discussed and propagated by the media. Banerjee's views sound closer to reality than Bharati's. However, the ultimate sufferer or beneficiary is common person, and neither of them included this point of view in their pleadings. What does a common person think about the ban or continuance of plastic (more specifically the carry bags, locally called panni, for that is most commonly used)?

I represent a common person, and my views are as follows:
Plastic is a wonderful material. Plastic articles are not only cheaper, but also hygienic, strong, attractive, convenient, easily available and easy to handle. There appears to be no drawback from the point of view of its use.

Plastic bags are tremendously useful at home as well. From storing green vegetables to developing a nursery to packing household garbage for disposal. At present, there is nothing that could replace the panni.

Being a poor society, we are mostly driven by economics. If a cheaper option is available, no other consideration is important.

The use of plastic cannot be stopped (banning may reduce its use for the time being) until a more convenient, useful and cheaper option is given to the common person. Banning such a useful thing, and putting everybody to great inconvenience is not good governance. Petrol, diesel, production of electricity and numerous other things have an adverse bearing on the environment, but none of them have been banned.

Most plastic articles are not thrown but sold to the local raddiwalah (person who goes door to door collecting tradable junk). Panni, pan masala pouches and other pouches, none of which have any economic value, are perhaps the only items that are thrown away. And these items are the main cause of concern for us.

Sincere efforts ought to be made to develop a practical methodology for effective collection of plastic panni. Options based on economic considerations have a greater chance of wide acceptability. Attach some value to such waste, and every rag picker will go after it. The government is yet to establish an effective disposal system for the collected plastic panni and other similar articles.


Fighting on

About four or five years back, there were reports that the Delhi government proposes to start water harvesting schemes in the Yamuna bed, Bhati mines, Najafgarh drain and a few other places, and that intach will look after this work. I had written to intach about this matter. I am not aware of the progress, but hope that the project would have been completed by now.

In Delhi, there used to be a Najafgarh Lake. It was so big that one could not see the other shore of it, but sadly, it is no more. I remember boating on this lake during my days as revenue officer. I had recommended that intach try to revive it. It was a casualty of our bad planning. All its water was drained out through the Najafgarh drain. Iam not sure if the government has initiated any moves to bring the lake back to life.

I am of the view that we are not doing enough on the water issue. I suggest that all the old water bodies, such as Najafgarh Lake, Hauz Khas Shamhi Talab, all the baolis in Delhi, the dried up Najafgarh drain, the unused drain at Okhla, be used for water harvesting.

The fact is we are not sincere people. I want to refer you to a case in New Friends Colony. In the Ashoka park, they constructed a big lake. It remained dry throughout. I suggested that the dda use it for water harvesting. The reply was, we are going to fill it up to develop an ornamental garden. I wrote to them asking why public money was wasted to construct it and is now being wasted again to fill it up.

In my native Aonla, district Bareilly, a big fertiliser factory -- Indian Farmers' Fertiliser Cooperative Limited, one of the largest in Asia -- has been working for the past 10 years. This factory is extracting groundwater for its fertiliser-manufacturing purposes. The water table in the area has gone down by 10 metres and the farmers are worried. This big establishment could have brought water from Ramganga, which is a few kilometres away from them, but they are using groundwater. I had written to the Central Groundwater Authority, but no action seems to have been taken.

New Delhi...

Not the enemy

The article 'Sacred context' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 6; August 15, 2002) was very knowledgeable. I have been working on tribal development issues for a long time now. We know that tribal people are important conservators of the forest ecosystem, and that their social customs, traditions and behaviour are based on nature's laws.

However, we are forced to admit that some tribal persons are also destroyers of forests due to external pressure, lack of awareness, poverty, starvation deaths and illiteracy. In conditions like these, the balance between their livelihood and the ecosystem is lost. Therefore, I write now to request that you put special emphasis on their traditions, and relate that with ecological safeguards and economic aspects in every issue of Down To Earth.

Utkal University
Bhubaneshwar, Orissa


I could not go to Jo'burg, for reasons better left unsaid, but I watched BBC World. I was quite happy when I heard Mugabe telling Blair to keep off Zimbabwe. Then I saw a journalist of the BBC trying to make a Minister from Central Africa say that Mugabe was not speaking in the name of All Africa! I used to think that BBC was a reliable source of information. Should I change my mind. Sunita, you and Vandana Shiva were great at this roundtable where the same lady journalist was giving the microphone more to some people of her choice than to others.Thank you for this editorial. It puts things into perspective. I feel brainwashed in France, just like I felt brainwashed while a student in New York, and again in Africa where I worked some time for the Panafrican News Agency: why do some people feel they have to hide the truth? A Fulani proverb says that "hynae always end up being caught because of their bad breath"...


I could not go to Jo'burg, for reasons better left unsaid, but I watched BBC World. I was quite happy when I heard Mugabe telling Blair to keep off Zimbabwe. Then I saw a journalist of the BBC trying to make a Minister from Central Africa say that Mugabe was not speaking in the name of All Africa! I used to think that BBC was a reliable source of information. Should I change my mind. Sunita, you and Vandana Shiva were great at this roundtable where the same lady journalist was giving the microphone more to some people of her choice than to others.Thank you for this editorial. It puts things into perspective. I feel brainwashed in France, just like I felt brainwashed while a student in New York, and again in Africa where I worked some time for the Panafrican News Agency: why do some people feel they have to hide the truth? A Fulani proverb says that "hynae always end up being caught because of their bad breath"...


NEPAL HOMOEOPATHIC INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL SCIENCE RANGELI ROAD ; BIRATNAGAR - 12 NEPAL ] - 56601. PHONE NO. 977 21 26882 / 25361 E-mail :- sanchetitea@hotmail.com ============================================ Dear Sir, It is our great pleasure to inform you that for the first time in Nepal this teaching Institute for the purpose to produce qualified Doctors is in the process to accept application forms for admission in the first year course of B.H.M.S. For total help to the humanity at large cheap, side effect less Homoeopathic medicinal system, this Institutions has decided to request to the generous people and Institutions of the World to help in the establishment of this Institute . Requested to you kindly send complimentary copies of Magazines / Journals for Institute Library ,so that we could plan for subscription and advertisement. As this is a first venture in the Country, Your support and good wishes will be highly encouraging for us . Awaiting soon your reply . Best regards, Tarun Sancheti. ( Chairman ) ...

News Release

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