Published: Friday 15 August 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 being chalked out and goes on to talk of "declaring an all out war on pollution". Despite these very pious intentions, the ground realities in West Bengal are very different. Calcutta Electricity Supply Company's management has been indiscriminately dumping fly ash from its Titagarh thermal power station into ponds and other water bodies in and around panihati municipality area in North 24 parganas district and, in the process, destroying them. As these water bodies are an important source of water and also help to recharge the groundwater sources, a handful of concerned citizens of Sodepur, North 24 Parganas district, led by Santi Roy, have been agitating for many years to ensure that the power station's management follows the environmental guidelines laid down for thermal power plants by the Central ministry for environment and forests (MEF). Their repeated pleas to the Calcutta Electric supply Company, T K Burman (member-secretary, State Pollution Control Board), Shankar Kumar Sen (West Bengal's minister in charge of power), Achintya Ray (West Bengal's minister in charge of environment) and D K Biswas (chairman, Central Pollution Control Board), have fallen on deaf ears.

The people's commission on Environment and Development, India (PCED) had held a public hearing on environment and development in calcutta in March '93. this group of citizens also approached pced to take up their case. PCED president, Karan singh, wrote to chief minister Jyoti Basu, inviting his attention to this environmental problem and sought his intervention. it was followed up by me at the level of state minister for youth services, environment and tourism, Manabendra Mukherji, in September '96. I did not even get an acknowledgment of my letter. Mukherji says in the interview that "environment should be a people-driven programme". If the people's genuine concerns remain unheeded and unaddressed by those who are at the helm of the affairs of the state, then such claims of "people-driven programmes" are mere lies. ...

Tea for all

In the article 'Back to the future' in the Leader (Down To Earth, Vol 6, No 1; May 31, 1997), you have expressed concern on the use of pesticides, and have mentioned that the pesticides that go into the foodchain without breaking down and which have been banned for years, are being widely used in Indian agriculture -- from the production of tea in Assam and Darjeeling to fruits and foodgrains in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. This statement is not correct.

The tea industry is one of the first industries in India to impose a voluntary ban on the use of chlorinated pesticides. In a circular dated February 11, 1970 it was emphasised by the tea research association (tra): " From now onwards dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (ddt) should not be used on tea under plucking or on shade trees. The previous practice of unrestricted use of ddt on plucking tea should cease immediately. If in some emergency ddt has to be used on tea in plucking or on shade trees then, as a precaution against any residue carry over, two rounds of plucking must be discarded following its application.

The other organochlorines, namely, Aldrin, Benzene Hexachloride (bhc), Chlordane, Dieldrin, Endrin and Heptachlor, must be restricted to being used against soil-borne pests, which means that these chemicals should be applied only on to the soil. On no account should they be used on the foliage of tea or shade trees."

You will thus appreciate that tra had suggested a voluntary ban on the use of ddt and bhc more than 25 years ago. tra and its members in northeast India are equally concerned over the presence of pesticide residues in tea. Members are advised only to use pesticides and weedicides recommended by tra. A majority of the pesticides for which the European Economic Council specifies or is in the process of specifying very low residue levels, are being monitored in sophisticated laboratories in Tocklai, Assam, to establish the relationship between the agricultural practices and possible residue levels. It would therefore be unfair to state that hard pesticides are being indiscriminately used in tea. ...

Editor replies

Pesticides applied to the soil also eventually get into the foodchain, though this is less hazardous than if they were sprayed on the foliage. Despite tra's good intentions, the fact remains that chemical pesticides continue to be used in tea plantations. ...

Turning a new leaf

Apropos the article 'No charity at home' (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 17; January 31, 1997), the author has given some details regarding the steps to be taken for creating an environment-friendly lifestyle. It would be good if you could publish a detailed article on the topic....

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