Published: Saturday 15 December 2001

Water Harvesting

I am a student of class IX, Delhi Public School, Rourkela, Orissa. My entire family is an avid reader of Down To Earth and other publications brought out by Centre for Science and Environment (cse). I was extremely impressed by the your book Dying Wisdom and the articles in the magazine on the traditional water harvesting system in Sambalpur tract of Orissa -- the Kata system constructed by Gond kings of the state. In order to gain a first-hand knowledge on the subject, I visited the Bijepur and Barpali localities of Bargarh district (part of the erstwhile Sambalpur district), which incidentally is my native place. I wanted to make a project on this for the National Children's Science Congress. On submission of the abstract at the district level, I have been selected for the state level congress. Now to go further, I need some valuable suggestions for creating public awareness and educating the people about this water harvesting system. I also need to use your published material for my reference.

Editor replies
Thanks for your fax. Both Sunita and I are delighted to hear about your interests. We are also happy to learn that you have been nominated for the National Children's Science Congress. Please do use our material and let us know if you need further help.
With best wishes

Nipped in the bud

Apropos editorial (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 10, October 15, 2001) on the issue of 'manipulating research'. Ours is a small, private research institute recognized by the Central Insecticides Board (cib) to carry out bioefficacy, compatibility and phytotoxicity (ie causing toxicity to plants) testing on pesticides. Various national and multinational pesticide companies have submitted their samples to us for testing in the past. Our reports could ostensibly be used by them for getting registration to sell pesticides in India. Our testing very often showed that the concerned pesticides did not give any significant advantage over the untreated control in terms of crop yields or had problems such as phytotoxicity. The companies obviously did not like such results and blamed it on incompetence on our part in conducting the trials. We often repeated the trials without extra charge and obtained results very similar to the previous ones. Interestingly, multinational companies did not seem to care how the reports turned out. When this was pointed out to the representatives of the national companies, their reply often was that the results were not of great consequence to the multinationals as they had the means to get their registration without the reports by greasing the palms of concerned persons. As a result our agrochemical programme had to be terminated. To get their testing done, all the companies go to other agencies such as the agricultural universities which they claim are more "co-operative" in giving them the desired reports....

Earthy concerns

In the special report 'Earth matters' (Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 11, October 31, 2001), a reference has been made to the historic event known as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (wssd) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, next year. The summit is aimed at reviewing the progress made since the landmark 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the issues to be discussed at the summit is 'poverty' as a hindrance to the sustainable development. The Central and South Asian roundtable identified income inequality and lack of material resources as reasons for poverty in the region.

I personally believe that in almost all the countries, the root cause of poverty -- both in urban and rural areas -- is not so much the shortage of natural resources but lack of infrastructure in terms of education, primary health services and rural roads. These roads should have better connectivity to other areas so as to facilitate the movement of raw materials and in-puts for industries and agriculture in the rural areas. Last but not the least is the lack of proper perspective and the will to work on the part of the politicians as well as the bureaucrats. Once these shortcomings are overcome, avenues of employment will open up leading to a direct attack on rural poverty. However, all this has to be achieved at national level and little can be done at international level. Most of those attending these conferences are ignorant of the local problems because they live in a make-belief world. It may also be noted that most of the so-called developed countries owe their prosperity to their colonisation of the third world countries in Asia and Africa....

Wetlands are wealthlands

Wetlands function both as reservoirs for storing water and filtering it for recharging ground water storage. Thus, wetlands have a great significance in terms of ecological, economical and social benefit. Economically, wetlands provide a wide range of valuable products, socially a large number of people sustain their livelihood by making wise use of them and ecologically they sustain a wide variety of life forms. Therefore, wetlands are wealthlands. Another important value of wetlands is that they provide habitat for various species of waterbirds and waterfowls -- those which are migrating to our country from the north in the winter season as well as the ones residing there itself.

Almost all wetlands, whether small or big, support waterfowls. But those supporting a large number of waterbirds are degrading and diminishing rapidly. The entire West Bengal, being situated in the Gangetic flood plains, is dotted with a large number of such wetlands -- major and minor. But due to the expansion of agricultural fields and human settlements, these beautiful wealthlands are on the verge of extinction. While going through the important wetland sites of India (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 6, August 15, 2001), I found many important wetlands of West Bengal were not shown on the site map. The state has many wetlands, with Malda district alone accounting for 11 out a total of 23 major ones. These wetlands support thousands of waterfowls everywhere. However, it should be noted that the Farakka Barrage and its upstream and downstream of 20 km in Malda district has created vast waterarea which supports more than 100,000 waterbirds and waterfowls every winter, probably making it the single largest waterfowl watching place in the state. These wetlands also support a few globally threatened species namely ferruginous pochard (Aythya nyroca), Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) blackheaded ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) among others. Apart from this there are many wetlands which one needs to conserve from the point of view of waterfowl habitat.

Since I have an interest in waterfowls and wetlands, I am trying to prepare a map of wetlands of West Bengal. But the concerned authorities should take further step to protect these wetlands. My personal experience and assessment has revealed that many wetlands are fast disappearing from the field, being victims of human settlement and expansion of agricultural land. Also, the way we are exploiting our groundwater resources, there will be little safe drinking water available in the future and we will have to depend on surface water. Therefore, it is essential that we preserve and conserve these resources before it is too late....

Decrying noise pollution

It is heartening to note that activists are raising a collective voice in support of a sound plan to deal with noise pollution in Mumbai. To prevent the citizens from becoming nervous wrecks there is an urgent need to take strict punitive action against violators of the Noise (Control and Pollution) Rules 2000, the Environment Protection Act 1986 and other related High Court and Supreme Court orders.

It is time people belonging to different religions realised the need to restrain from creating undue noise and disturbing the peace and tranquility of the locality -- be it the Ganesh Utsav , the Navratri or the delivering of the Azans over the loudspeakers. The law makers on their part should stop being petty-minded and abstain from breaking the laws to ensure that the rules and regulations formulated by them for the benefit of the public at large are strictly adhered to....

Raising hope and cotton

Your magazine has influenced me to such an extent that I am trying to grow all crops and fruits without the use of any chemical pesticides. After three years of effort I have met with astounding success despite all agricultural institutions dissuading me from carrying out the experiment. I now have six acres of cotton which is far superior to the one grown on farms that use these pesticides. I think the government should subsidise such efforts. I also wish your magazine was published in Indian languages so that the common farmers could understand it....

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