Published: Thursday 31 July 1997

Tall claims

In his interview to Down To Earth (Vol 6, No 1; May 31, 1997), West Bengal's minister in charge of youth services, tourism and environment, Manabendra Mukherji, has stated that a major overhaul of polluting industries is on the anvil. He talks of "declaring an all out war on pollution". Despite these very pious intentions, ground realities in West Bengal are very different. The Calcutta Electricity Supply Company (cesc) has been indiscriminately dumping fly ash from its Titagarh Thermal Power Station into ponds and other water bodies in and around the Panihati municipality in the North 24 Parganas district and, in the process, destroying them.

As these water bodies are important sources of water and help to recharge groundwater sources, a handful of concerned citizens of Sodepur, North 24 Parganas, have been agitating for many years to ensure that the power station's management follows the environmental guidelines laid down by the Union ministry for environment and forests for thermal power plants. Their repeated pleas to the cesc, T K Burman (member-secretary, state pollution control board), Shankar Kumar Sen (state minister in charge of power), Achintya Ray (state minister in charge of nvironment) and D K Biswas (chairperson, Central Pollution Control Board), have fallen on deaf ears.

The People's Commission on Environment and Development India had held a public hearing on environment and development in Calcutta in March 1993. Thereafter, this group of citizens approached us to take up their case. Our president, Karan Singh, wrote to the chief minister, Jyoti Basu, drawing his attention to this environmental problem and seeking his intervention. I followed this up with Mukherji in September 1996. I did not even get an acknowledgement of my letter. In your interview, Mukherji says that "environment should be a people-driven programme". If genuine concerns of the people remain unheeded and unaddressed by those who are at the helm of the affairs of the state, then such talk of "people-driven programme" is mere hype and hypocrisy. ...


I have just become a subscriber of Down To Earth. You bring out a good magazine with a judicious mix of positive and negative news.

I have a suggestion to make: why don't you have a reader's/children's column where people can write in and say what they have done or are doing for the cause of the environment. This will help us realise that being concerned and caring for the environment is not a one-step action. It is a lifelong commitment involving gradual improvements in our thinking and actions -- a ontinuous, ongoing process....

Editor replies:

We are planning to introduce such a column soon in Down To Earth....

Lessons to learn

This is in response to the article Water markets in California; lessons of a drought in Down To Earth (Vol 6, No 3; June 30, 1997).

The reforms in the practice and the law of water management described therein is apparently appropriate for the region where they have emerged. However, in our country, where we do not need a second invitation to copy anything Western, we need to be cautious in applying market economy principles in water use and management. Such water markets, however, have already developed extensively in India in response to cash crop production.

Additionally, state intervention in irrigation management in recent years, particularly in the realm of bilateral aid projects, has promoted the formation of water users' associations which may enter into contracts with the government in buying and selling water. This trend is worrisome because in India, climatic and ecological conditions enjoin upon us the duty of governing the use of natural resources in a holistic manner. Water harvesting practices must precede water use practices, a lesson which we have forgotten at our peril.

The divide-and-rule policy of the British extended to the use of natural resources. Forests, land and water were regulated by diverse laws through different government agencies with little coordination between themselves. This adversely affected our environment. The reforms that are required in India, need to be in the direction of reinstating watersheds as units of governance, with a legal framework which unites the regulation of all natural resources and yields a central role to local communities and bodies in their management....

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