Published: Thursday 15 November 2001

States of disaster

Apropos 'Tottering on tragedies' (Down To Earth, October 15, 2001), presents a very frightening picture of Orissa, which is reeling under serious floods, droughts, cyclones and heat waves. It should serve as an eye-opener for experts in the information technology, science and engineering so that they can chalk out appropriate remedial measures for improving the environment. The educated elite and the environmentalists should organise debates on how nearly 40 countries in the world are using weather modification techniques to augment the annual rainfall by 10 to 30 per cent, as well as mitigate the impact of hailstorms, cyclones and floods. They should also create awareness among people and their elected representatives on how to use cloud-seeding for providing adequate water for drinking, irrigation, hydropower generation, forest growth and moderation of climate.

One Thousand Million Cubic (tmc) feet of water is used for irrigating 2500 hectares of land to grow food crops costing about Rs 12 crore. More than 2000 tmc of water is allowed to go waste into sea by the central and state governments of Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra while large tracts of land in India are facing drought and heatwaves. On most of the days during south-west monsoons, there is abundant deep cloud cover passing over India. During the past few months the monsoon trough persisted over the Gangetic belt with the result that low pressure in some parts of Bihar and Orissa unusually attracted most of the cloud cover which caused floods while other parts faced drought conditions.

If the chief ministers of the southern states had attempted to use the information on weather conditions, they could have easily copied the cloud seeding technologies adopted by several states in the us and other countries like Israel, Australia, Pakistan and Ukraine. They could have made artificial rains out of the dense clouds regularly passing over the hills in their respective states....

Mangrove forests

Large-scale encroachment and various other activities in the name of development are posing a threat to the mangrove forests along Orissa's 482 km-long coastline. The disappearance of the mangrove forests may spell doom for these areas, leaving the coast vulnerable to cyclones and floods. Besides, the saline water of the sea and the tidal waves will then affect the shores. Realising the rich bio-diversity of the areas covered with mangrove forests, the Indian government had declared the Bhitarkanika mangrove forest in Kendrapara district as a sanctuary in 1975. A total ban was imposed on felling of trees, killing of animals and fishing in the creeks.

However, the mangrove forests in the Mahanadi delta, Balasore, Puri and Ganjam districts are fast depleting. The principal reason is the increased biotic pressure and short-sighted and imbalanced activities in the name of development. Mangrove forests provide a formidable natural barrier against cyclones and storm surges, thereby playing an important part in stabilising the shoreline. They also serve as the meeting and breeding grounds for various terrestial, arboreal, benthic and aquatic organisms.

These forests control soil erosion and protect watersheds. The decaying twigs and leaves make the soil more porous enhancing its water retentive capacity. Immediate steps should be taken to protect the mangrove forests in the country's own interests. For this, the local people need to be made partners in the conservation efforts....

Biodiversity act

The news item on 'Biopirates in the dragnet' (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 9, September 30, 2001) made an interesting reading. It should, however, be pointed out that the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (wpa) of 1972 amended till date, has been able to protect less than one per cent of country's biodiversity. Out of more than 50,000 insect species, less than 100 may find place in Schedule II, Part II of wpa . The proposed Biodiversity Act, awaiting clearance in the Parliament for over a year, is the only comprehensive legal instrument that can offer total protection. It calls for transfer of any genetic material only on prior-informed consent and mutual agreeable terms. Delay in passing the act is helping mass scale smuggling of material by so called scientists often in nexus with locals. Since all confiscated material is sent to Zoological Survey of India (zsi) or Botanical Survey Of India (bsi) in case of any doubt, I fail to understand as to why the 26,000 insects, reportedly caught from two foreigners in the first seizure in 1994, were not sent to zsi by the custom authorities. zsi has 17 regional centres and bsi has 10 regional centres-both with headquarters in Kolkata. In service training to both forest and custom officials, including inspectors of wildlife directorate of government of India, it is absolutely essential to empower them for proper understanding of the provisions under wpa and export-import policy. Otherwise we would continue to lose invaluable genetic resources....

Grow for self

This is with reference to 'Untapped potential' (Down To Earth, September 15, 2001). I am working with baif Development Research Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (ngo), as a rural development officer to promote sustainable agriculture for the past 12 years. Since then I am observing that farmers are never taught to grow for themselves, and eventually to produce and earn more, fertilisers and pesticides are used without knowing their ill effects. By use of chemicals and improved hybrid seeds, farmers produced more in the initial 5-10 years. Later, however, they were unable to even recover the cost of fertilisers and chemicals.

Let us educate the farmer to grow for himself first to look after his family needs. For example if a farmer has four acres of land, instead of going for a single commercial crop, he should go in for some part for cereals using vermicompost or any other compost and herbal pesticide sprays. He should also use local good variety of seeds instead of buying hybrids. By adopting this method, he will be able to reduce the overall cost of production. Since these are low-cost organic products, they can automatically capture the local market....

Rotting issues

Apropos 'Untapped potential' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 8, September 15, 2001), it is neither a well researched nor a well thought article. There was no in-depth analysis of the real problems involved. Rotten and wasted food (especially vegetables and fruits) is not unique to organic efforts and initiatives. It is a common problem for all fruits and vegetables in India. At least 35 per cent of farm produce gets rotten even before it leaves the farm gate. It is a question of logistics and infrastructure or rather absence of it. Your article makes it appear as if organic initiatives alone have this problem and that it is inherent in the "techniques" unique to organic methodology. That is hardly fair. You need a follow-up to clarify!...

Organic woes

I very much appreciate the article 'Untapped potential' (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 8, September 15, 2001). It adequately reflects the problems faced by farmers doing organic farming, especially in context of the certification process. One option tried by a veteran organic farmer here is worth mentioning. He has signed a contract with an organic food exporting company to sell part of his mango harvest to it. In return, the company completes all formalities and bears the cost related to organic certification. Despite this, he was not able to get premium for his remaining mangoes or the mango pulp he had processed. In fact his mangoes were condemned by the middle-person in Mumbai for being undersized.

I had translated the Down To Earth articles for a number of farmers practising organic farming. The veteran organic farmers mentioned one point: in the long run, organic farming becomes more profitable. So if there is a support mechanism for small farmers for the first five years, when yield reduces drastically due to shifting from chemical farming, this movement can spread faster....

Plastic problems

Plastic is one of the worst inventions of the last millennium. It is popular due to its durability, flexibility and low cost but responsible for extensive environmental degradation since it is neither biodegradable nor environment friendly. The invention of plastic carry bags, which have replaced our traditional paper and jute bags, poses innumerable environmental and health hazards.

Plastic bags can be found everywhere -- in garbage dumps, drains, gardens, on roads and even in bird nests. I once observed some colourful plastic carry bags in the nest of asian pied starling (sturnus contra). The pair later failed to raise any chicks due to abnormal temperature in their nest, caused by these killer bags. Similarly, a house crow (corvus spendens) died when it swallowed a piece of fish wrapped in a plastic bag. I have also witnessed the death of stray dogs and cattle due to ingestion of these bags in Malda district of West Bengal.

Several drains and sewage pipes are also frequently blocked due to their improper disposal in the town. If no action is taken, the entire sewage system of Malda will collapse very soon....

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