Published: Tuesday 15 October 2002

Pick of the post bag

Why this farce?
With regard to in-use vehicle emission inspection and the issue of 'pollution under control' certificates, the government and other concerned agencies have been ignoring the central issues:
Is every vehicle being inspected at the specified frequency?

Are the equipments calibrated? What is the quality of emission measurement?

Who is ensuring the above two?

What happens to failed vehicles? How it is ensured that these vehicles come for re-inspection after necessary repairs? Is it left to chance apprehension of offenders? What is the role of the transport department in this regard?

In the absence of any mechanism to ensure the above, the whole exercise is farcical, and ineffective in controlling pollution.

For a number of years, many experts and agencies have advocated establishment of centralised inspection centres, where most of these issues can be addressed.

If the whole exercise were done at a few central inspection centres, the inspection could be better supervised and the programme implemented in more meaningful ways.

There is no point in specifying new standards every other day when implementation continues to be shoddy. Why is that the government cannot establish these centres? Is the cost so huge that the Delhi government will collapse under the burden?

A number of the present procedures appear to be, at best, gimmicks. Especially practices like photographing number plates under inspection with hidden cameras. Why hidden cameras? Why not openly? At any rate, activity at the front of the vehicle is not of any import.

The question is: what is happening at the tailpipe end of the vehicle? How many vehicles are coming in for inspection? How many of them get certificates without an inspection? How many vehicles are being tested correctly?

These are the questions that transport and environment control agencies should ask themselves. Asking questions would be, one hopes, a beginning of sorts.


More than debates

My heartiest congratulations to the Down To Earth (DTE) team that brought up the important issue of the 'War over city lakes' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 3; June 30, 2002) to the fore. Being a lawyer by profession, I can appreciate how right interpretation and administration of law is absolutely crucial in addressing this issue.

I believe that encroachment of water bodies is at the heart of the problem in Ahmedabad. While the story in dte successfully brings out this point in very clear terms, some more words can be said about a phenomenon that is common to rural areas as well. It is imperative that this question is addressed in its entirety. This was brought home strongly when I had occasion to speak to villagers from Chitrakoot, who are steadfastly opposing the district administration's order to clear constructions over 'water bodies'.

While you rightly point out that "we need to devise strategies for each specific water body", it should not preclude efforts to arrive at an agreed policy position on the larger question of encroachment of natural resources, including water bodies. I also feel that policy framers and lawmakers should not see the Ahmedabad case as an overarching conservationists vs builders, or even an environment vs development issue.

Here, taking a cue from what you said, we need specific approaches for each water body that requires protection. In fact the High Court of Allahabad, in one of its decisions last year (the decision is now overruled by the Supreme Court), suggested that water bodies which have been irreversibly altered by duly authorised constructions, by changes in land use under lawfully given permits, and by time, could be seen differently from other occupied water bodies.

Partner, Enviro Legal Defence Firm
NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh

Ignorance or misinformation?

I found your article on endosulfan comprehensive and well-investigated. Since you mentioned the visit of S Ganesan, member of the pesticides association, to Community Health Cell (chc), I would like to add something more. The conversation with Ganesan was basically around the industries' concern about 'misinformed activists' campaign against endosulfan, which they say is a 'relatively safe pesticide alternative' today. As a health training and policy action group committed to community health concerns and action initiatives, I informed him that we were neither anti-industry nor anti-pesticide per se, but pro people's health. Our concerns and interests are around any evidence of dangers to community health. Also, as an occupational health consultant, I have been interested in this issue ever since I conducted an extensive study for the Indian Council for Medical Research (icmr) on occupational health hazards of tea plantation workers, including pesticide hazards. I requested Ganesan to provide us with all the information the association/industry had about endosulfan, which he promptly gave me in a note.

Over the last few months two of our younger team members, Anur Praveen and Rajkumar Natarajan, have done a detailed literature review, which revealed either the ignorance of the industry or a deliberate misinformation campaign by them.

At the end of the last month, we facilitated a very interesting three-day 'community health environment skill share'. Over 100 professionals and activists got together from all over the country to share their concerns about pesticides, mines, industrial hazards and other environmental hazards, and explore ways and means of studying them and collecting health evidence. We had the unique privilege of a presentation by H N Saiyed, director of the National Institute of Occupational Health (nioh), who summarised the findings of their study on endosulfan in Kasaragod. They have submitted their findings to the National Human Rights Commission (nhrc). The findings not only substantiate the literature review we have compiled in chc, but is also a sound, scientific evidence-based contribution to the controversy. As a contribution to people's science, I think Down To Earth should formally write to nhrc and nioh (on behalf of your readers and the affected victims of the endosulfan disaster) to release this report, and make it a public document to support the right to information.

Community Health Cell Advisor
CHC, Bangalore

Problems and solutions

I am a resident of mcd Colony in Delhi. This colony borders a marshy area, which in the past has acted as a valuable part of Delhi's ecology. In times of monsoons, it acts as a useful water run-off in case the water level in the Yamuna crosses the danger mark. The marsh also contains a diversity of birds, which are slowly declining in number.

Over the years, land-filling operations had reduced the size of the marsh, though not to any considerable extent. Lately, however, the land-filling operations have started again. This time, fly ash is being deposited barely 50 metres away from our colony. No precautions are being taken to cover it. As a result, even if the lightest of winds starts blowing, our house is filled with fly ash. It is a veritable nightmare

As you know well, fly ash chokes the lungs and depending on the duration of the winds, we are hard-pressed to breathe. It enters through closed doors and windows, and for the past six months, has made life hell for the residents of the colony. I subscribe to Down To Earth and have followed your stories with interest and admiration. I now request you to come to the aid of the residents of our colony. This operation endangers not only our well-being but that of all residents in Delhi.


There have been news reports stating that production of fly ash in our country is approximately 100 million tonnes per year. If this were better utilised, it could actually work to protect the environment. Cement companies who use fly ash do so to suit their convenience, usually only because they are close to power stations. A suitable form of subsidising transport would make it available to cement factories far away from power stations. Also, building codes should clearly specify that only fly ash is to be used for road making and in the making of bricks until all of supplies of fly ash used. Clay should not be used because it removes valuable soil required for agriculture. It should also be made mandatory to use fuel-efficient kilns, such as those used in China, the design of which is being popularised by Development Alternatives.


Cool down

It is very difficult to trace the origins of the Earth, but based on literature, one could say that the Earth originated about 4,600 million years ago. The Earth has taken all these years to attain a thickness of about 100 km of crust layer, about 1,900 km of mantle layer and about 3,000 km of core layer. Magma from the core layer finds its path to the surface of the earth through weak joints in the substrata (beds) of the mantle and crust layers. This process causes the material surrounding the region of magma eruption in the mantle region to resettle. This further causes the crust layer to adjust itself. The adjustment causes a movement that is felt on the surface of the Earth as an earthquake.

Annually, there are about 800-1,000 earthquakes in various parts of the world. As of today, the Pacific Ocean is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. This region, in fact, is also referred to as the 'ring of fire'. Going by this logic, one could arrive at an approximation of the day when there will be no more earthquakes. Considering the time that it has take to form the present thickness of the upper crust and mantle region, the time required for cooling and solidification of the entire core layer can be estimated. This time would be approximately 455,400 years. In fact, if there were any way in which the earth's core could be cooled down even today, we would not have any more earthquakes.


If they can

During July 2002 I spent four weeks in some of the South East Asian countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It impressed me that despite the fact that their cities and towns are crowded, there was a high degree of awareness about cleanliness. Garbage bins were placed on the pavements and emptied every morning by a team of two or three persons, including the truck driver. These trucks, in general, used hydraulic compactors, to compact the garbage and thus increase the carrying capacity of the truck. In a few towns, I noticed that there were separate coloured bins for material that were meant for recycling: plastics, metal and glass. Garbage dumps were conspicuous by their absence.

Traffic snarls and pollution were common in cities like Kuala Lumpur as these countries have much cheaper fuel prices than ours, and this makes riding a vehicle cheaper. However, the elevated rail system in Kuala Lumpur, which is fast, noiseless, and pollution-free, is a model for other cities. The rail system is not so developed in these countries. Airport coaches that are air-conditioned and cheap ply city routes regularly. India should also have similar buses to kill the taxi/autorickshaw mafia who fleece the public.

Java does not have many forests left as logging is still going on. However, recently that country has banned export of timber to conserve the forests. Bali's beaches are clean and a pleasure to be on.

In Bangkok, River Mae Nam Chao Phraya provides a faster and cheaper alternative to surface transport. Surprisingly, the river is clean and does not stink at all in spite of the fact that it flows through the city.


Try all means

Although rainwater harvesting will help augment groundwater levels to some extent, it is necessary to take additional measures to use less water. I set out below a system that could help save at least 400 litres per week per person, ie about 21,000 litres in a year. This saving could actually amount to more volume than the water we collect through rainwater harvesting.

Each building ought to have two storage tanks: one for freshwater and another one for the flush system. Both systems will have to be segregated by different feeder pipelines. After use, freshwater will be recycled. For this purpose, water used for bathing, in the kitchen or for washing clothes ought to be collected in a tank with provision for filtration, and then pumped up to the flush tank. Needless to say, any shortfall of water in the flush tank will have to be augmented with freshwater.

I feel this system ought to be made compulsory by law in new buildings. It is the responsibility of citizens to ensure that water resources are well-utilised.

New Delhi...

No private vehicles

Big cities are choking, thanks to the emissions of motor cars and othervehicles. Travel is getting slower and more difficult, if anything. Developmental efforts that call for high infrastructure investments should be preceded by regulations.

There is a need to limit the population of vehicles in metros so that it remains manageable. There should be a tax holiday for registration of new motor cars. This will aid phase-out of vehicles older than 15 years. Road tax for private motor cars should be heavy, so that purchase of new vehicles is discouraged. Pollution caused by vehicles run on diesel is well-known, and there is a need for a ban on the manufacture and sale of new diesel engine-driven motor cars. Building consensus on these initiatives, by governmental and non-governmental organisations would be an effort in the right direction, notwithstanding New Delhi's experience in converting diesel-driven buses to compressed natural gas (cng).

Sustainable Development Organisation
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Quick note

We are one of the largest manufacturers of earth moving machinery, such as bulldozers, excavators, mining shovels, walking draglines, to name a few. So far, we have been using an emulsion type water-soluble coolant in our machine tools, like lathes drilling machines, milling machines etc. This has to be replaced with fresh coolant once a fortnight since it gets contaminated with metal powder, dust and other shop-floor pollutants. If the machine is not used for more than 50 hours, the coolant disintegrates and gets infected with bacteria due to stagnation. At present, the used coolant is being thrown into the large open fields where our products are being tested. We have tried hard, though without success, to get information on how to dispose of this coolant in a better, more environment-friendly manner. Is there a method that is more practical and economical?

Bharat Earth Movers Limited
Kolar Gold Fields, Karnataka

We publish this letter in the hope that our readers might have some information on this matter....

article permissions

Greetings from California, USA - I'm a published author writing a book on chicken. I ran across an article in Down To Earth Magazine and would like permission to reprint the following passage in my book: "Long before the birth of Christ, a bird, never seen before in the valley of the Blue Nile, reached the court of the pharaohs. Neither the architectural grandeur of the court nor the 'gold-draped' Pharaohs could silhouette its beauty. A bright red comb rested regally on its head and shiny green and red feathers clothed its body, finally ending in an eclipse plume. The Egyptians had never seen a bird which laid so many eggs. When it crowed, they listened with rapt attention. When it walked around the court, everyone made way. It became a showpiece in the Pharaoh's court. Fascinated, they adopted the bird. Everybody used to be shown the chicken, and training camps were set up on how to get this wild red jungle fowl to lay eggs." - Daniel Madhav Fitzpatrick and Kazimuddin Ahmed, "Red Roving Fowl," Down to Earth Magazine, December 15, 2000 It was an interesting article. In my book, the passage precedes a section on the "critically endangered" status of the Red Jungle Fowl. The book will be published in 2003, in the United States. Full credit will be given for the passage as indicated above. Thanks, and congrats on a very well done and fascinaating magazine - Kate Heyhoe Executive Editor Global Gourmet (globalgourmet.com) editor@globalgourmet.com ...

The Unity of Nature

Dr. Alan Marshall Department of Sociology Universitetsky per., 7 Nizhni Novgorod Russia 603000 + 7 8312 376741 Dear book review ed, with regards to your request for suggestions for book reviews let me notify you of a new book of mine which was released by Imperial College Press today which is very relevant for your readership: (http://www.icpress.co.uk/books/general/p268.html). It's called THE UNITY OF NATURE and it examines the idea that to regard nature as a holistic unity is not an environmentally friendly thing to do since it divests nature's living members of value. This book also harshly criticizes some of the popular sciences (and popular scientists) who promulgate unitarian ideas under the guise of 'Chaos Theory', 'Complexity Theory', 'Gaia theory', 'Ecosystems Science' and 'Postmodern Science'. Although they think they are being environmentally friendly, infact their unity ideas are very bad for the environment. People like Paul Davies, James Gleick, Fritjof Capra and James Lovelock are attacked for being needlessly metaphorical and scientistic as they try to demonstrate the ultimate reality of natural unity. In this book, the history and politics of the unity of nature idea is explored so as to expose the concept as one of the most important scientific myths of the Twentieth Century, and one not to be followed in the 21st. If you'd like a copy to preview just write to the following address indicating who you are and why you'd like a copy: edit@icpress.co.uk. Also, if you want to run a feature review of this book then you may wish to consider including an extract of the book which outlines the ideas of one particular chapter that your readers would be interested in. I could write/edit such an extract if you so wish. You may get back to me in the near future if you are interested in doing this. Thanks for your time, Alan. ...

Costa Rica Biodiversity Act principles for water?

Dear Sunita and colleagues, The Costa Rice Biodiversity Act makes me wonder whether the mechanism of 'proof by the agency or big water users' can also be applied for water rights. Big users would have to prove that they do not deprive the poor from basic water needs for health and income - and issue of great relevance for South Africa where inequities are tremendous and water has almost completely be captured by the powerful sectors (large farms, mines, tourism parks). Can you please send me a copy of the Costa Rica Biodiversity Act or advise on how to get it? Thanks! Best regards, Barbara...

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.