Published: Wednesday 15 March 2000

Rainwater harvesting

There is a great deal of interest in traditional rainwater harvesting in many parts of the country. But in many places, structures like tanks have become dysfunctional for a number of reasons.

A recent study conducted in Karnataka says that programmes such as soil conservation, watershed development and wells were reportedly affecting the existing traditional tank systems. The study, which analysed around 18,000 hectares of land, said that new structures, like check dams and wells, caused seven out of eight rainwater harvesting tanks to dry up. The streams are now harnessed by storing water at selected points. This helps the people in one area, but denies water to the people living in the lower reaches.

The need of the hour is to examine such issues and invest our money in restoring these traditional systems. We must also assess the hydrology of the region and evolve suitable options to preserving the traditional systems and add newer possibilities....

Vision for the future

Your cover story 'Standing the test of drought' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16; January 15) was excellent. It should be read by those connected with national food security and well-being. I want to congratulate Down To Earth for identifying the issue of water conservation and management as a principal issue needing attention during this century....

Riots for water

The article 'Riots for water' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16; January 15) made interesting reading. The day I read this article, there was a news item in the newspapers about the success story of the Reliance refineries in Jamnagar. Both the articles were in stark contrast. People are killed for the basic necessities of life like safe drinking water, and some kilometres away, one of the world's biggest refineries is being commissioned.

It is a pity that a government, which is supporting such a big refinery project, cannot even supply safe drinking water to the villages. Unless we invest in rainwater harvesting and watershed management projects, similar tragedies will continue to take place....

Free from fluorosis

The article 'Beware! Fluorosis is zeroing in on you' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 6; August 15) is a step towards the sustainable use of our water resources. The article rightly says that water harvesting is an effective answer for areas where there is excessive fluoride in groundwater.

To tackle fluorosis, rainwater harvesting is the best option for those areas that receive enough rainfall. But one needs to look for sustainable alternatives for those areas, like in Rajasthan, where there is little rainfall....

Groundwater depletion

There is growing concern about the rapid depletion of groundwater in the country. As a child, I lived for about a year in a small village called Eethamakanahalli, near the town of Chikkballapur in Karnataka. About sixty years ago, my mother built a well near our house which was about 10 metres deep. A number of wells existed in the village and water from these wells was used for growing a number of crops. A large number of trees, including mango trees, also formed a part of the village landscape.

When I visited the village after a gap of 60 years, I was struck by the absence of any big tree. As I went around, I found that all the wells had also dried up. There were stories about how farmers had invested thousands of rupees in digging wells, but could not find water even at a depth of 30 metres.

Now, farmers have switched to cash crops like grapes and horticultural products that are more lucrative. Tubewells are being dug and water is found only at a depth of over 50 metres to 80 metres. In the process, groundwater levels have gone down. Unfortunately, neither the villages nor the government have realised that the groundwater situation is going from bad to worse. Over exploitation of groundwater could spell doom for villages like Eethamakanahalli in the future....

Going Dutch

Anil Agarwal's article 'Going Dutch' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 7; August 31) raised a fundamental anthropological issue when he rightly pointed out that "behavioural change lies at the heart of environmental management because even technological change is not possible without behavioural change". Anthropologists, who study the science of humankind, do not distinguish between technology and behaviour. For them, technology is only one aspect of the multidimensional entity named human behaviour, which is nothing but an act oriented towards the fulfilment of certain goal(s).

The greatest tragedy of the industrialised nations is that they have failed to grasp technology which they have been able to produce very efficiently as a behaviour that also embodies an ideology. When the Dutch government adopts an environment-friendly campaign, it is backed by some kind of technology and the citizens have to pay both for violating environmental laws as well as for sharing the extra cost that goes for the protection of their country's environment. But the prerequisite for this kind of behaviour on the part of the government as well as its citizens is a well-nourished, educated and uncorrupted population that also has a strong sense of discipline. One can only wonder how the industrialists of our country would react if the Indian government bans the installation of industrial projects on fertile agricultural lands even when the later produce a single crop in a season. Neither the industrialists nor the government in our country would be prepared to restrict their choice for the sake of the environment and food security.

Agarwal's article informed us that in Holland, people would be ready to pay for saving the countryside even for the installation of public transport systems. But in India, the economically and politically powerful lobbies would take all the advantages of the democratic and legal machinery to thwart any legislation, however eco-friendly it may be, which is opposed to their monetary interest. The behaviour of the Dutch policymakers can be called 'technology-friendly' while that of the Indian counterpart can be termed 'profit-friendly'.

The Dutch want to conquer nature with more sustainable technologies (even when low-cost alternatives exist) while in India we extract from nature as long as we can. The reasons behind these differences should be a subject of serious debate and research in political studies, anthropology and environmental sciences in our universities. But alas, our educational institutions still deal with frozen and fossilised courses that have little relationship with the ground realities of the international situation....

Generating pollution

Due to frequent power-cuts, the use of generators is on the rise in industrial as well as residential areas in Delhi. As a result, noise pollution has reached alarming levels. In Okhla, which is one of the most heavily-industrialised areas of Delhi, it is difficult to carry out a conversation as the decibel level of the industrial units is way above the standards. Recently, the Delhi pollution control committee issued notices to the owners of those units that use higher-capacity generators. However, the committee has not taken into account the background noise. It is a well-established fact that background noise is one of the main sources of noise pollution. Unfortunately, the committee entrusted with safeguarding the fast-deteriorating environment of our capital, is ignoring this source....


Your cover story 'Standing the test of drought' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16; January 15) was excellent. Would it be possible to organise ecotours so that subscribers get a chance to witness these success stories....


In the special report 'Micro is big. Talk nano' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 18; February 15, 2000) it was reported that vehicles running on liquefied petroleum gas ( lpg ) were found to emit higher number of particles than those running on leaded petrol. In fact, the study found that lpg- run vehicles emitted much lesser number of particles than those running on leaded petrol. The error is regretted....

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