Published: Sunday 15 December 2002

Pick of the post bag

Appeal to sanity
I have just seen the special report on the Cauvery dispute (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 12; November 15, 2002). May I congratulate those responsible for the report? It is the most perceptive article on the subject that I have seen. May I, however, add a comment?

Undoubtedly, the root cause of the conflict is the excessive demand on the waters of the river by the farmers in both states, and undoubtedly too, this has been fostered by the building of dams and reservoirs in both states. In the long-term, this kind of approach has to change. However, we are not writing on a clean slate. Mettur, Krishna Raja Sagar and other structures exist. We cannot now say, "Abandon these structures and go back to rain-fed farming." Given the existing structures and the patterns of irrigated agriculture that have developed over time, some kind of river-sharing between the states, whether through an agreement facilitated by civil society initiatives or through the process of adjudication by the tribunal, is necessary. The ground has to be prepared for an acceptance of reasonable sharing, and the damaged relations between the peoples of the two states have to be repaired.

That has to be the short-term objective. At the same time, the longer-term goals of a reduction in the draft on the Cauvery waters in both states, the integrated management of water from all sources -- river, groundwater, rainwater, soil moisture -- and a saner and more harmonious relationship with nature, need to be pursued. In the long run, we cannot live in harmony with our neighbours until we have learnt to live in harmony with nature. The short-term objective of a reasonable and peaceful sharing of the river waters, and a formula for bad years (which, one hopes, will find a place in the final report of the tribunal), will necessitate adjustments in both states that can lead to the longer-term objectives outlined above.

Incidentally, the madness of projecting a putative shortage in some rivers and trying to find a solution to this perceived problem by transferring waters from other rivers, with a grandiose vision of the linking of Indian rivers, needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, that idea has now received judicial blessing. Politically too it seems likely to find favour: the Bharatiya Janata Party is probably formulating a grand announcement on this subject. A campaign for sanity is badly needed.


No oustees

I refer to an article that appeared in Equity Watch ('Go by the rule', Vol 3; October 28, 2002). See also: 'Cheap fix' (Down To Earth; Vol 9, No 9; September 30, 2000). The Norwegian company referred to in the article was permitted to carry out an afforestation programme in a government protected forest reserve in Uganda. At the time the forest was declared protected, there were no people living there -- this was more than 50 years ago. However, due to an increase in the population of the area, some local community members started using the area for growing their agricultural crops, leading to both deforestation and degradation.

In 1996, Bugosa Forest Company (bfc), a local subsidiary of TreeFarms, was permitted to start an afforestation programme in the area under reference.

The area on which bfc is carrying out its afforestation activities is a degraded forestland that supported little economic activity.

At the onset of the afforestation programme, the local people have gained employment from the programme, and continue to grow their agricultural crops ahead of afforestation activities.

They do not have to incur any cost towards this end, as was intimated in the report. This was one of the conditions under which the company was allowed access to the land.

Local people, who wished to participate in afforestation in the area, have also been allocated land. This does not find a mention in the report.

In order to ensure biodiversity conservation in the afforestation programme, 20 per cent of the area shall be kept in its natural state. This covers the hilltops, sides and valley bottoms as well as designated nature reserves.

Fishing communities have been least disturbed, as these operate in certain specific areas (landing sites). In fact, they stand to gain, as the project will bring more people to buy their fish.

Minister of state for environment
The Republic of Uganda

We dissent

We are placing before you our response to Viswanath Dash's article on post-cyclone preparedness initiatives in Orissa 'Wither winds of change' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 10; October 15, 2002). This response to one particular article should in no way be construed as a comment on your magazine, which we greatly value. We have been regular readers of your magazine for over 10 years now, ever since we were students at Delhi University! dte has provided a forum for discussion and a medium for highlighting positive initiatives in the field of development. We feel it should encourage articles that appreciate plans and programmes that seek to strengthen participation of civil society organisations and communities despite all odds, instead of playing down the same.

I respect Dash's right to express his opinion on issues that he has tried to discuss. However, a good article is one that makes an in-depth analysis of issues at hand instead of painting an entirely negative picture through selective interpretation of facts. Therefore, we thought it appropriate to put the record straight, in order to dispel misconceptions that the article may create in readers' minds.


Globalisation and realism

How is globalisation associated with the environment? This question was put to many renowned environmentalists, including Vandana Shiva and Sunita Narain, during a bbc talk show. It is a big question, and a ready answer might not be available.

Globalisation literally means open trade, unbound by any hard and fast rules, carried out irrespective of political issues between any two countries. However, developed countries have had the opportunity to define and to justify globalisation at their leisure. As per their definition, "Globalisation means unhindered trade flows, capital and technological flow."

Many developing countries, including India, have joined the World Trade Organisation, and the consequences are becoming clear. The emerging affluence among a certain strata of society in these countries has caused indiscriminate industrialisation and a considerable increase in the number of vehicles. Things have now come to a pass where the economic well-being of a country depends on whether it has the capacity to define itself as a 'problem free state' by fulfilling the requirements and recommendations of the leader countries.

The point to remember, though, is that the actions of a poor country enhancing its export capability raises questions of global concern. In order to get more foreign exchange, a country would have to elevate the production of its aboriginal merchandise. This means an extra burden on the natural resources of that country. Assuming a less developed country does manage to enhance its production capabilities without over-exploiting its natural resources, the quality of the products and labour standards could become issues in world trade. Unfortunately, all these concerns hold true for India. In the World Trade Report 1996, India's share of the global market was very tiny, as compared to countries like China, South Korea and Mexico.

Besides, not only are developing countries punished for their lack of technological expertise, but also for their inability to procure the more ratified and environmentally sound, needless to say expensive, technologies from developed nations. And developed countries punish this lack by imposing duties on products, thus affecting export prospects and thereby the whole trade system.

Can one be blamed for concluding that globalisation appears to be the simplest way to pick the pockets of the poor? Why must developing countries follow restraints imposed on the manufacture of products that have been banned by developed countries in the guise of issues such as environmental degradation?

In the bbc talk show that I mentioned above, there was an environmentalist from Zambia who advocated the use of genetically modified (gm) crops in her country. Her logic ran like this: "The farmers have no money to spend on pesticides and herbicides for their crops, nor do they have fertile lands to enhance production without the use of chemical fertilisers." This seemed incredible in a context where well-known environmentalists had suggested subsidised farming as an option to the yet untested gm crops. Subsidisation could be a solution, but if gm crops are the solution to hunger in Zambia, then it is a matter worth considering.

This raises a larger question: should gm crops be encouraged in developing countries? No quick answers. What is important to remember though is that no country would allow its people to live in poverty and die of hunger. Sometimes this becomes the key to compromise with others.


The debate rages on

I went through a letter sent by Hasrat Arjjumend to this magazine (Vol 11,No 9; September 30, 2002) in response to 'Paradise under fire' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 2; June 15, 2002) written by C P Kala. I am closely associated with forests and know much about them. My reading of Arjjumend's letter led me to the conclusion that he does not quite understand the reality of the forest ecology, and is dead-biased against foresters, whatever his reasons for being so. I cannot go into the matter in great detail here for fear that this letter might become an article in itself.

Firstly, I would like to say that as a researcher and consultant, Arjjumend should be aware of the fact that grazing is one of the major causes for the degradation of forests, and is thereby related to environment, biodiversity, micro and macro climate, soil, water resources etc. India has a very large number of cattle. This number far surpasses the carrying capacity of forests. If cattle were to graze unfettered, they could completely destroy our forest areas. A ban on grazing in any forest area is bound to bring about great improvement in a very short time. This is in spite of the fact that even after a ban on grazing, there will be controlled grazing by wild animals as well as by some cattle, which manage to enter forest areas. Therefore, there will always be an ecological balance.

A symbiotic relationship, as he sees it, can only exist if people act wisely and use their resources in a proper manner. However, if people do not go about things wisely, and present a danger to the ecology, a total ban must necessarily be imposed. All governments work for the betterment of their people. Everyone should understand this. Excesses by people will only result in regulation of things by the government. Forests and ecology are world concerns today, and are required to be maintained as commons for the people residing all round the globe and for the future of the Earth, which invariably includes the local residents. If a handful of people try to destroy forests for their personal gains at the cost of the entire civilisation, there certainly is a need to deal with them properly. A ban on grazing is one such attempt.

Secondly, Arjjumend should know that forestry is a highly neglected sector in our country, and the financial provision for research and study projects under forestry is so meagre that it is almost impossible for foresters to carry out any detailed study. Managing a forest cover without allowing it to dwindle further under very hostile conditions, that too with very modest budget allocation and toothless laws, is a great achievement on the part of foresters. I strongly believe they should not be criticised for the sake of criticism alone. What Arjjumend means by monopolisation of conservation ideologies is not clear. Leading personalities are always involved at every level in all government business, whether forestry or otherwise, and thus the question of monopolisation of ideologies by foresters does not arise at all.

Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh...

Quick note

This refers to the item ' uae: Environmental Data Centre' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 5; July 31, 2002) in 'The Fortnight' section. I request you to send me the address of uae 's Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (erwda). We would be interested in an exchange of data with this organisation.

Project manager
Shaktinagar Special Area Development Authority
Uttar Pradesh

erwda address and contact numbers are as follows:
Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency
PO Box 45553
Abu Dhabi,
Telephone: 971-2-681 7171
Facsimile: 971-2-681 0008
Email: erwda@emirates.net.ae


The editorial 'Rivers of discord' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 12; October 31, 2002) failed to move the subject in the appropriate direction. The observations in the editorial are likely to cause more harm than the stances taken by the two chief ministers involved. As elected representatives of the people, chief ministers are charged with the primary responsibility of assuring its citizens of at least one round meal a day. The problem lies elsewhere. We suffer from an inbuilt inadequacy of patriotism. Technologists, economists, policy planers, administrators and elected representatives suffer from lack of holistic vision. Every segment comes out with its own 'vision 2020', completely ignoring all other perspectives.

The Cauvery problem is not new to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It has, however, reached a breakpoint now, thanks to reports of starvation deaths. Mettur dam was not built in a day, and certainly not to satisfy anybody's greed. With more than 10 million mouths to feed in that area, the short-term kuruvai crop was introduced. Tamil Nadu has no perennial river of its own. It cannot ask its farmers to sit idle while Karnataka's farmers are is flourishing. Neither can the Karnataka government tell its farmers to stop sugarcane farming. Would anyone dare advice Andhra farmers to stop tobacco cultivation to give water for rice cultivation in other states?

Water conservation and augmentation measures are essential, no doubt. I disagree with Sunita Narain in her assertion that it is the only solution. If Tamil Nadu has to depend on Karnataka's 'flush water' alone, as Mani Shankar Iyer rightly observed, we have difficult times ahead. Why do people attach so much importance to aquaculture when even the barest minimum food requirement is unavailable? It is amusing to hear statements such as: Farmers grow more rice than the godowns can hold.

The culprit is the one who converted our agrarian economy into an industrial economy at a time when 90 per cent of our lands were lying fallow. A slow and steady growth of the panchayati raj system, as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, would have taken our economy forward in the right direction. However, we did not have an adequate short-term, mid-term or long-term policy. There should be a three-tier policy for every tangle, including the Cauvery one. Situation-based control measurescannot put an end to the prevailing nonsense.



We read a lot about deadly dioxins, their poisonous effects on human health. But frankly speaking I do not know what EXACTLY is a dioxin... is it a family of chemical compound, containing chlorine among other elements? Or, is it a group of poisonous pollutants not specifiable with any formula? Kindly excuse me for my ignorance and clarify. Thanks....



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