Published: Saturday 15 January 2000

Science versus nature

For the past two years, I have been following the articles in Down To Earth . I was particularly interested in the article about telco misinterpreting the World Health Organization guidelines ( Down To Earth, Vol 8, No 12; November 15).

However, I feel that the debate and concern about the safety standards and emission control somehow misses the point that the present paradigm of science is built on the quest and exploitation of nature, rather than coexistence. Therefore, science necessarily takes a stance against nature. Thus, standards, thresholds and legislations are mere safety valves that only help to anaesthetise and distract the population from this fundamental problem. To quote Claude Alvares, "The scientific method itself has become not only anti-rational, it has become culturally and socially oppressive and generally anti-life." It is ironic that in the same issue you pointed out that many countries are destroying dams to save the salmon. If one can destroy dams to save the salmon, cannot one also recognise the danger posed by such technology on humans? Or must humans come close to extinction before the scientific community and society at large take notice?

The need of the hour is to infuse science and scientific methods with the values of life, history and culture....

Going bananas

The article 'Fruits of science' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 13; November 30) made interesting reading. It also raises the important question of whether it is right to interfere with nature under the umbrella of scientific research. To delay the ripening process of a banana is one thing, but the safety aspect is an important one. It is stated that colour and taste may differ in the fruits of transgenic crops. Moreover, trying to improve the shelf life should not lead to some other problem. It is better to go slow on such research and not introduce transgenic food crops for mass cultivation without years of field trials....

Powered to pollute

This is with reference to the article 'Power to pollute' ( Down to Earth , Vol 8, No 8; September 15), which talks about pollution from 1,000 megawatt (mw) thermal plants. According to an estimate, "the annual environment impact of landuse for a 1,000 mw coal-fired plant is 3,680 hectares (ha) if the coal is deep mined and 5,650 ha if it is surface mined. Besides, 65 ha is required for processing; 895 ha for transport and 390 ha for ash storage and five ha for coal storage."

"In addition, this generation unit annually produce 99,109 cubic metres of ash, 0.35 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 4.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide." One can imagine the pollution when, plants with a larger capacity of more than 10-12,000 mw are set up....

Nilgiris under threat

Grasslands and the sholas, the twin eco-system of the Nilgiri hills, are a major source for many perennial streams and rivers. But today this whole ecosystem is under threat from film crews who come to shoot for Bollywood films.

A team of environmentalists who visited the sites where the film shootings usually take place observed that constructing huge sets was spoiling the topsoil and is denuding the grasslands. Powerful lights and the sound of generators dibturb animal movement. Compounding the problem is the use of large amounts of urea on the grasslands for a "greener" landscape. Excess use of urea is contaminating the reservoirs.

It is interesting to note that the indigenous people of the Nilgiris, the Todas, support the film crews as they provide them a source of livelihood, even if it means that their habitat is getting degraded. The government must take measures to stop this destruction and ban film shootings in this sensitive environment....

Yeoman service

I am amazed by the information put in every issue of Down To Earth . The Centre for Science and Environment is doing a great service by informing us of our cultural heritage that relates to the environment. I am particularly impressed by Gobar Times , as it is directed towards children and shapes their attitudes towards the environment....

Facts and figures

With reference to the article ' Strangers in their own land' ( Down To Earth, Vol 8, No 13). Certain information about the Great Himalayan National Park (gnhp) is not true. This park is one of the few national parks where the tribals and the local people share an amicable relationship. Moreover, the park receives aid from the World Bank for conservation and development of ecotourism that would provide employment to the local people. Further, the morale of forest officials is the highest in India and the department has conducted trips to Nepal to observe resettlement processes that can be undertaken in similar situations. This has been done to give the local people a feel of the way resettlement can be done. India's only bird collaring programme is in process in the park and this has been possible only due to the encouragement of forest officials. Further, at Sairopa (near Banjar) the forest department has a nursery that houses herbs and tree species that are found in the park.

There is also a rare collection of endangered butterflies at Sairopa. This proves that studies are conducted on a regular basis in the park. I suggest that negative reporting on the park must end. We must strengthen the hands of the forest people of this park since they are the ones who are preserving the flora and fauna of this unique ecosystem.


I have serious objections to the article ' Strangers in their own land'. The article quotes me as saying that: "They will have to give up pastures, sell off their livestock or eat them." This is untrue. I never said anything to this effect.

Moreover, the author has incorrectly said migratory shepherds have been left high and dry after the final notification of the park. In fact, the compensation package has clearly made provisions of Rs 1.5 crore for settling of rights and Rs 7.5 crore (approx) for developing pastures, forest lands and areas for medicinal plants in the coming five years. More than half of the compensation money has reached the affected people living in the buffer zone (eco-zone) of ghnp. The article also glorifies the role of save, a non-governmental organisation (ngo) and paints park officials as villains. save was selected to collaborate with the park management on certain issues. The author has wrongly stated that till July 1999 park officials did not inform the affected people about the resettlement plan. The plan follows the rules laid down in the Wildlife Protection Act. The district administration and the ghnp management has directly collected information regarding the settlement of rights from all villages coming under the resettlement plan and villagers were informed about it. The author also claims to have interviewed a forest guard named Tula Ram. However, there is no such person is employed with us.

In our country, we do not have many good examples of collaboration between ngo and park management. At ghnp we are trying to do so and balanced reporting will be appreciated.

Director, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh

Alka Sabharwal replies:
The popular belief that the local people were not displaced in the ghnp is wrong. They were involuntary displaced and their traditional rights have been curtailed. I discussed the issues written in the article with Sanjeeva Pandey, albeit informally. The article nowhere mentions that there was any formal interview. The monetary compensation cannot solve the problems that local grazers face after they lost their pastures. Since the customary rights over pastures are not recorded, therefore they<>

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