Published: Wednesday 15 January 1997

Would a greenish tinge do?

This refers to your editorial ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 9). H D Deve Gowda, the Prime Minister of India, is not an expert on the environment. I do agree with Norman E Borlaug (the renowned agricultural scientist) who feels that the concept of a clean or polluting environment is largely a matter of opinion. According to him, "In attempting to arrive at a conclusion about the quality of the environment, one has to establish an order of priorities. For example, the idea of what constitutes a good or bad environment, to an American business executive working in an air-conditioned office, is different from the criteria applied by a factory worker in Detroit or a landless peasant in a Pakistani village. Therein lies one of the dilemmas of our times, in trying to come to grips with environmental issues on a worldwide basis." If environmental concerns are not properly expressed, they could be carried to unreasonable extremes and lead to the sacrificing of development....

Out of focus

The article 'State of confusion and double-speak' ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 9), has neither done justice to the subject nor to the stature of the journal. I would have expected a serious analysis of the disturbing situation revealed by the State of the Forest Report 1995. The report states that "Fifty-three per cent of the total inventorised forest area is affected by fire, 78 per cent by grazing and there is no regeneration in 74 per cent." There cannot be a more damning picture of the future of Indian forests than the one painted by this sentence. Yet, instead of introspecting on the death sentence pronounced upon 74 per cent of the forests, the item chooses to call the planting of the exotic Prosopis juliflora in the degraded tracts of the Aravalli hills, an environmental crime.

As long as the deficit of firewood (presently around 200 million tonnes) is not made up, there is no option but to go in for a species like P juliflora . In parts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the availability of fuelwood from it has resulted in the improvement of degraded forests through natural rege neration, thanks to the respite provided. Without bread, we cannot think of cake.

And what is wrong with P juliflora ? It is a leguminous species which, if allowed to grow, provides quality timber. It could also yield firewood of high calorific value. P juliflora 's pods constitute fodder of high nutritive value. And what is more, it is a species that can thrive in degraded sites offering little carbon, nitrogen or phosphorus.

As for N D Jayal's concern about the clubbing of plantations with natural forests in computing the total forest cover of the country, it is a purely statistical one that is not of the damning variety. Sweden is a country that is green, with no ecological problems. But, going by Jayal's definition, it has practically no forests. Is it not time our environmentalists questioned the state of Indian forests lying in the 45 per cent of land outside the reserved area, instead of picking at the forester?...

Blurred distinctions

This letter is in response to the article 'Models in mutilation' by Mihir Bholey ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 11), an interesting piece about industrial design. Although the article sincerely critiques the concept, it has not looked at it as a problem-solving process. Industrial design emerged in early 19th century Europe primarily due to the industrial revolution and the resultant interaction between the manufacturer and the consumer. The question of industrial design being a 'Western fad' is redundant because both technology and industry, with which it deals, would then be 'Western fads' too.

And if one were to view the industrial designer as someone who would work for the craft industry, models of education and practice suited to that sector would have to be developed. Despite its excellent idealistic stand, the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, has not really identified indigenous design practices. It is also interesting to note that not a single Indian language has an equivalent to the word design. Who, in such a case could be called the traditional Indian designer? The Vishwakarma community traditionally performed the equivalent of this role. But the principles adopted by them were incredibly different from what we call design today. What we do need to develop are design practices for us Indians.

Bholey has frozen the 'traditional' within tight intellectual boundaries. The 'preservation' of traditional crafts has prevented them from dying out, but it has also restricted them from rising to the challenges of modern India. The notion of 'developing' crafts is but a means of squeezing the very life out of them. Times change, cultures transform and so does the perception of tradition. For instance, the ivory bangle-makers of Rajasthan have adapted their techniques to the medium of plastic. So, does this constitute the 'traditional' or not?

On issues regarding the morality of the design process, I do agree with Bholey. Design today has become a tool in the hands of managers who use it primarily for improving their sales figures. Management professionals are the ones in command and the last thing they want to buy from a designer is a philosophy. Hence, it is upto a designer who is 'aware' of the issues to work with industry for the development of sensible products, rather than pretend that they do not exist. There has been plenty of talk about eco-friendly design. Well, green design may be here, but the arrival of 'green management' is long overdue....

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