Published: Friday 30 November 2001

Inadequate compensation

The write-ups 'Tanned order' (Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 23, April 30, 2001) and 'Follow up' (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 10, October 15, 2001, pg 16) relating to Tamil Nadu tannery pollution effectively highlight the deliberate violations of the Supreme Court's directions and the shockingly slow action by the Loss of Ecology (Prevention and Payments of Compensation) Authority Cell constituted by the Union government. You had pertinently pointed out that "the apex court had also asked the tanneries to pay compensation to the affected people. But even after five years, the cell has not assessed the damage in Trichy, Dindigul and Erode districts and most of the tanneries are yet to pay the compensation".

Apart from these three districts, the Supreme Court had named Vellore and Kancheepuram districts. The assessment of damage to the health of the affected people, loss of ecology and pollution caused to Palar and Cauvery rivers and other water sources, especially the wells around tannery clusters, has not been made.

The Supreme Court had observed that "the leather industry has no right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment and pose as a health hazard. It cannot be permitted to expand or even to continue with the present production unless it tackles by itself the problem of pollution created by the said industry. " That the leather industry was unable to tackle the problem of pollution is seen from the admitted realities apart from the suggestion of the tanners that the effluents from the tanneries can be discharged through a giant pipeline at a cost of Rs 225 crore into the Bay of Bengal at Chennai for which they had volunteered to contribute Rs 25 crore!...

Gigantic issue

In the article 'Struggle for existence' (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 7, August 31, 2001) Arun Venkataram writes "Further west, in Duars of Northwest Bengal, nearly 45 people are killed each year by the elephants. The forest department staff are specialists in dealing with conflicts here and offer simple, pragmatic solutions. They have advised the villagers to keep their compound low so that they can see any elephants approaching their houses. Sure enough, wherever this recommendation has been implemented human mortality has reduced significantly."

It must, however, be noted that the problems faced by the pachyderms of North Bengal are quite different from what is perceived by the writer. The forest officials are not experts in warding off the elephants rampaging the tea gardens, cornfields and human settlements in and around the area. Human-elephant clashes have become a regular feature in the tea gardens of Jalpaiguri district. Habitat destruction, vehement encroachment on elephant corridors, space constraints due to shrinking home range of these corridors (the most crucial aspect of elephant conservation), poisoning and electrocution of the elephants are some of the problems that confront them. These conflicts are on the rise and the forest department has to pay a huge sum to the kins of the deceased as compensatory grants (in 1996-97 an expense of Rs 56 lakhs was incurred on this account).

The incidence of raids by the elephants has gone up with the number of clashes increasing from 130 in 1990 to 200 in 1999. At the same time the number of the tea gardens has gone up from 136 in 1930 to 189 in 1999. Certainly, the latter was at the cost of affecting the home range of the pachyderms. In the six reserved forests in North Bengal, these ranges are spread over an area of 3000 sq kms but face encroachment by the owners of the tea gardens.

In North Bengal and beyond (i.e. Assam), there are reports of elephant deaths due to poisoning and electrocution. In Nameri forest, located along the eastern bank of Brahmaputra river, five elephants were poisoned to death by the local farmers who were desperate to save the fields from destruction by these animals. The metre gauge railway track passing through four reserved forest areas (Mahananda, Baikunthapur, Buxa and Raidak) in North Bengal is another death trap for the pachyderms. Several elephants, including a pregnant one, were reportedly crushed to death on this track during 1999-2000. Despite such ghastly incidents, the North-Eastern Railways division is moving ahead with the project of converting the metre gauge track into a broad gauge one....

Lone battle

The report about the apex court's firm decision to convert Delhi's diesel buses to cng (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 10, October 15, 2001) is indeed gratifying especially when it is noticed that the judiciary is fighting the battle single-handedly. The shameless efforts being made by different agencies to scuttle the conversion programme should make the people indignant and some form of action to express their gratitude towards and solidarity with the judiciary may be a welcome move. Perhaps, the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) could consider organising a silent rally with participation from all sectors of the society to express their anger. A situation is fast emerging where the judiciary turns out to be the sole custodian of 'public interest', the legislature and executive being unable to protect it probably due to their vested interests....

Deep knowledge?

I cannot agree more with your editorial "Murli's musings" (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 10, October 15, 2001) that there "is no place for Oxford and Cambridge" in imparting education relating to water harvesting -- a life-saving technology perfected by India's numerous communities.I am afraid, Murli Manohar Joshi might ask the University Grants Commission (ugc) to induct the 'water divines', who like astrologers can predict the location of groundwater resources for teaching the subject!...

Plethora of problems

In the last thirty years, the Hyderabad Urban Agglomeration (hua) comprising the Hyderabad city, Secunderabad and their environs covering an area of about 300 sq kms has witnessed a prolific growth in population. The population, according to the 1991 census, is 43 lakhs -- an increase of 68 per cent since 1981. A direct result of unbridled population growth is the development of about 500 slums in the twin cities.

Hyderabad "is a casualty of haphazard growth". The city has infrastructure to provide civic amenities only to a limited part of the population. Piecemeal and adhoc arrangements are made now and then to tide over difficulties of water, power supply, garbage disposal and slum improvement. The city is also threatened by polluted air and water as much as heat radiation, caused by the rise of multi-storeyed concrete buildings.

A massive cloud of smoke and exhaust fumes hangs over the nearly 200 sq km expanse of the city and its neighbourhood, consisting of nine satellite municipalities. Almost 95 per cent of this suffocating cloud is caused by about five lakh vehicles that consume about 1,000 tonnes of fuel a day.

Even the ambient noise level in Hyderabad is quite high at 68 decibels -- almost reaching Bombay's 71 and much higher than that of Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi.

Another serious problem is the contamination of water -- both surface and underground. Drinking water for the city comes from protected water sources -- Osman Sagar, Himyat Sagar and Manjira river. Hyderabad has only a few lakes on its otherwise rocky terrain. Among them Hussain Sagar and Mir Alam Tank have already been polluted, while the Musi river looks more like a massive drain today. With a number of chemical units continuing to discharge toxic wastes at Patancheru, water in innumerable bore wells and open wells in the adjoining villages has changed colour and become smelly. Unless remedial measures are taken on a war-footing by government authorities and the concerned people, the city's decay into an urban nightmare will only be hastened....

Food 'secure or insecure'?

I find that your magazine publishes useful statistics on its last page. However, the Food Scarcity maps (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 9, September 30, 2001), set me wondering whether the statistics pertaining to food scarcity are correctly presented. It may be noticed that some areas which are shown as moderately surplus in the first map (dealing with ratio of cereal consumption to production) are shown as 'extremely insecure' in the last map (dealing with cumulative mapping index for food insecurity). Though all the maps do not show the state boundaries and it is difficult to relate to the deficiency, state-wise, but on a rough visual estimate, one can say that the fourth map depicts parts of Bihar, northern and western areas of Madhya Pradesh. To my mind these represent comparitively better off areas of Madhya Pradesh and therefore cannot be categorised as 'extremely insecure' areas with regards to food security.

Down To Earth Replies:
While Madhya Pradesh does manage to produce as much cereal crop as it consumes and is relatively better off than some other state's, food security connotes more than just meeting production averages. How reactive is the state's agricultural, ecological and social structure to positive as well as negative influences have a larger parametric role in defining food security. This is why one notices the apparent anomaly in the two maps....

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