Published: Friday 31 March 2000

Killer gutka

The increase in the consumption of gutka in India is a major cause for concern. To assess its spread, our organisation, Society for Environment and Social Awareness, conducted a survey in the district of Palamau in Bihar. What we found was shocking: there was a steady rise in the consumption of gutka among the student population.

It is time for all like-minded people and organisations to come together and evolve a comprehensive plan to create awareness among the people about the health effects of gutka . The government must also be pressurised to impose an immediate ban on the production, marketing and consumption of this deadly addictive pastime.

Daltonganj, Bihar....

For a cleaner environment

I find the articles in Down To Earth very informative. The cover story 'Garbage: your problem' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 17; January 31) says that it is time to clean up our garbage and that the people need to get involved in this endeavour. But you have not suggested how people can get involved. It will be nice if Down To Earth comes up with innovative ways on how people can make a difference.

Chennai ....

Community solutions

This is with reference to the open letter to the prime minister ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16; January 15). Since independence, providing adequate drinking water to the people of India has become difficult due to the increase in human population.

But we seem to be adopting costlier options to meet the demand for drinking water. Therefore, the only way, as you have suggested, is to help people help themselves. Rural communities must be empowered to manage their local source of water and suitably allocate water for drinking purposes.

However, in some cases this is not happening. For instance, in about 1,500 villages of Gujarat, watershed programmes through community participation are being implemented. These programmes have led to harvesting runoff and recharge groundwater. But surprisingly, most of these communities do not feel the need to allocate a part of this water for drinking purposes and prefer to use the last drop for agriculture. The reason is obvious. The community feels that it is the responsibility of the government to provide drinking water.

Therefore, the community must be helped to manage their resources. They should be encouraged to draw up a plan, where the numerous sources are used to meet their requirement as per the situation and based on the availability of surface water, groundwater and rainwater in the village. If such a plan in implemented, the community can draw up a plan to allocate drinking water every year depending on the amount of rainfall, which may include water from wells and tubewells.

The government can help in harvesting water through watershed management and also by creating a distribution mechanism. There should be a plan to use a canal system to fill up the water harvesting structures with flood waters.

But in the absence of such plans, we are likely to aggravate water scarcity, which will surely lead to further conflicts.

Gandhinagar ....

Fuel talk

Petroleum products used as vehicle fuel is a major source of pollution in the cities. Vehicular emissions are the leading source for air pollution in urban areas. The World Bank has estimated that around 40,000 people die due to vehicular pollution in India. In Delhi, the figure is said to be around 7,500.

The major pollutants from vehicular emissions include lead, benzene, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Therefore, the need of the hour is to improve the quality of fuel.

In the early 1980s, the oxygenates began to play an important role in improving octane rating of gasoline. Oxygen containing organic compounds are called oxygenates. By the late 1980s, their role in improving combustion and thereby reducing pollution began to be realised. The major oxygenates are either ether or alcohol based. The most popular and commercially used ether based oxygenates are ethyl tertiary butyl ether (etbe ).

Many countries, including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Sweden and Spain are using these eco-friendly fuel blend, including methyl tertiary butyl ether ( mtbe) , which is the most-widely used oxygenate. mtbe is manufactured from isobutylene and methanol and both these raw materials are derived from raw material such as molasses, sugarcane juice, sugar beet juice, grains, starchy plants like cassava and potato. The new source has a large potential because it is produced from agricultural waste. etbe is derived from renewable ethanol and non-renewable isobutylene.

India has a vast potential for sugarcane production. Molasses, a byproduct of the sugar industry, has been fermented to produce alcohol for many years. Therefore, it is possible to blend petrol and diesel with alcohol fermented from sugarcane juice. Such a step will substantially reduce emissions. Unfortunately, public opinion in the country is not very strong on issues such as air pollution and as a result we are breathing polluted air.

Recently, the Supreme Court took the initiative asking the Delhi government to convert diesel buses to compressed natural gas ( cng ). But there is very little interest in alternative fuels such as alcohol blended transport fuel. Unless the people put pressure on the policymakers, the air in Delhi and other cities of India will continue to remain polluted.

New Delhi ....

The right place

This is with reference to the news item 'Wild buffaloes threatened' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 17; January 31). It is mentioned that fourteen wild buffaloes were recorded in a survey conducted a few months ago in the Indrawati Tiger reserve in Assam. In fact, the tiger reserve is in Bastar, Madhya Pradesh.

Conservation officer,
Bombay Natural History Society,

The error is regretted....

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