Published: Monday 15 January 2001

Right or wrong?

Apropos, 'Tea, pesticide flavoured' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 11; October 31) Darjeeling planters' association strongly objects to the observations made in the article that tea estates in Darjeeling use large amounts of pesticide, that are hazardous to human health. Tea manufacturing, being an organised industry, follows scientifically experimented pest control measures that have been approved by Assam-based Tea Research Association (TRA).

The statement made in the article that children in many tea estates suffer from physical deformities due to pesticide spraying is completely and totally unfounded. Though, in the report a number of representatives from the industry have been named, we have no such record and it appears that the sole purpose of the article is to vilify Darjeeling tea industry as a whole. We can assure the consumers that their morning cup of Darjeeling tea is naturally flavoured and can be safely consumed as a health drink.

Darjeeling tea, which is mostly exported to health conscious developed countries like the uk, Germany, Japan, France, the us among others, uses integrated pest control measures specially developed by TRA.


Our correspondent replies:
The story attempts to raise awareness and better understanding of the link between the "pattern of diseases" and "overuse of pesticides". Lack of research on the matter cannot be denied. The people quoted are not fictitious as mentioned in the letter. ...

Killing drink

I went to school in Darjeeling for eight years and about 25 per cent of my classmates were tea planter's children. There is no tea like Darjeeling tea. It's not today's filthy rich tea planters that I am concerned about, or even the London tea brokers. It is the common people of India who are my main concern. At least 90 per cent of the tea grown in Darjeeling is consumed in the country itself. The rest 10 per cent is exported to Europe, England and the US.

A friend of mine, who manufacturers commercial colours in Pune, had got a large order from Varanasi to produce a brown colour. He got curious and, therefore, went to Varanasi to check things out. He found a thriving industry based on once-used tea leaves. The leaves, which were clearly marked as not fit for human consumption, were being dried and then repackaged for the market.

The wider implications of your story are quite devastating as tea is such a fundamental part of Indian hospitality and the poor man's only solace on a cold winter night all over the subcontinent and elsewhere in the world. Down To Earth should try and carry out a far more widespread investigation into the matter....

Who takes the credit?

I truly appreciate Down To Earth focussing on the extraordinary manner in which the Karnataka government is subverting the process of statutory environmental public hearings in the article entitled 'Louder Please' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 10; October 15). However, I am a little surprised by the sentence, "Interestingly, the reason for Cogentrix walking out of the project is not public protests" (attributed to Ranjan Rao Yerdoor of the Environment Support Group, a project of Nagarika Sewa Trust, Bangalore). Cogentrix power plant was the third successive coal-fired thermal power plant that the people of Nandikur-Padubidri and other project affected villages of Udupi district in Karnataka have successfully resisted for over a decade now without letting a brick to be laid. In the case of the Cogentrix project, two parallel efforts were initiated legally: a public interest litigation initiative on social and environmental grounds by Janajagriti Samithi and Environment Support Group, and another on corruption grounds by Arun Agarwal. Both sets of petitioners worked in tandem, contributing to each other's research. And neither have claimed the exclusive rights to being the cause for evicting Cogentrix, for that was never the point.

Leo F saldanha

Ranjan Rao Yerdoor replies:
I stand by the statement that the writ petition filed by Arun Agarwal and S K Kantha was the cause for the delay which caused Cogentrix to pull out. The petitions filed by Janajagruthi Samiti were dismissed by the Karnataka high court and the Supreme Court in 1997. It was Arun Agarwal's petition, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court only in December 1999, that made the Union government hesitate to go ahead and give the clearance for the counter guarantees. All this is on record. I am also aware of the popular resistance to the Cogentrix project. Here again I am of the opinion that more than the popular resistance of the people of Nandikur-Padubidri area, it was the persistence of one person -- Balakrishna Shetty -- who kept the issue alive. As a social activist, I too would have loved to see more people meaningfully involved in the process, but that did not happen. The popular resistance of the fisherfolk community against Mangalore Refineries and Petroleum Limited was far more significant than any resistance against any other project, including Cogentrix. Even though these are my personal opinions, there are not many who would contradict them. ...

Missing facts

Apropos 'Now it is floods' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 9; September 30), it is surprising that the Centre for Science and Environment's information collection mechanism missed out the July 13, 2000, downpour and consequent floods in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Rainfall was recorded to be between 18 to 20 inches in less than about 12 hours. This downpour was the worst ever in the last 50 years. Ironically, none of this rainwater was harvested and Ahmedabad was forced to revert back to the system of water rationing....

Invited trouble

Anil Agarwal makes an authentic mirror image of the present day management of natural water both in urban and rural areas ('Now it is floods', Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 9, September 30). I agree that the 'village centres' in rural areas are to be blamed for the floods. For the past decade, I have been closely watching the transformation of villages into 'small towns'. The underground hydrology is often not understood properly and are ignored by local authorities. Illegal building constructions, encroachments, unscientific garbage disposal, siltation among other things are choking the natural drainage channels. There are many instances where encroachments have been given legal status by local authorities, panchayats (village councils) or municipal corporations. Villages having a population of less than 2,000 people have also experienced floods during the 1999 monsoon. As it has been mentioned by the author, proper maintenance of natural landscape patterns and adopting rainwater harvesting techniques are the only solutions to counter the flood problem. Unless panchayats are trained, empowered and activated to do so, such a comparatively easy agenda also looks difficult....

A different reality

I disagree with your editorial, 'US Tastes Cream Paste'(Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 14, December 15). You note that you found the International Herald Tribune coverage deficient then went on to generalise that "the US media blatantly avoided telling the citizens the reality." This is simply not true. Firstly, the International Herald Tribune is little read in the us and it is naive to depict it as representative of the US newspapers.

Majority of the US and the regional newspapers; as well as the electronic media covered the COP-6 extensively. This included news and photographs of Frank Loy, head of the US delegation at the recent climate talks in The Hague, receiving his pastry and a great deal of editorial criticism of the US position on the issues. My impression is that the US public was as distressed by the US stand at The Hague as are you. We hope that the us position is in conformity with the actions that are required to combat the threat of climatic change, prior to the reconvening of COP-6.

Minneapolis, USA

The editor replies:
Many thanks for your kind mail. I must say that you read Down To Earth very carefully. Your letter has definitely caught me on the wrong foot. You are quite right that the International Herald Tribune is hardly read in the US or is the complete representative of the US newspapers. I am delighted that other papers carried extensive coverage of COP-6 and reported the anger of the other nations against the US. ...

Dying birds

The special report on vultures 'Droopy dead' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 11; October 31) is timely and informative. The white backed vultures (Gyps Bengalensis) were found in large numbers in the Kolleru wetland complex. Presently, not even a single vulture can be spotted. Scientists believe that the decline of these birds may be due to a viral infection. The disease is suspected to have originated somewhere in Southeast Asia and travelled west to India. It has a parallel in a viral disease that resulted in large scale mortality of feral populations of fishes. The fish disease, known as epizootic ulcerative syndrome, originated in Australia in 1972. It then spread to various other places. In view of the importance of the disease, data on mortality rate of vultures from the Asian countries could be gathered to find out the possible sources of origin and its spread through various populations....

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