Published: Thursday 29 February 1996

Spicy allegations

The interview with P Pushpangadan (Down To Earth, Vo14, No 9) high- lights his achievements at the WHO, UNESCO and other international organisations and committees. But the actual state of affairs seems to reflect some- thing very different. In Uttar Pradesh, the Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) course was introduced soon after independence, to encourage Ayurvedic and Unani medicine. Among those who joined the course were some who had failed to clear the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) entrance examinations. Nearly all the doctors I have come across (including the Homeopaths) prescribe steroids, antibiotics and other medicines without realising their side-effects. Once the person is entitled to the prefix 'Dr' before his name, the generally gullible and naive public considers him a qualified doctor.

Ciba-Geigy, the multinational pharmaceutical firm took advantage of our lack of awareness (both political and professional), by marketing Sarpagandha while the Himalaya Drug Company lacked resources to research the same. Currently, neem is also being exploited. Next would come the turn of turmeric, ginger and other so-called culinary spices. Dabur seems to be the only firm marketing some herbal medicines. It would be useful if your team could do a write-up on Dabur's efforts. ...

False alarms

Certain news items published in Down To Earth, otherwise a very stimulating magazine, are quite misleading if not downright wrong.

One of these happens to be the article 'Warming up to the sun' dealing , with the efficiency and use of solar cells (Down To Earth, Vol4, No 5). The last development on the solar cell mentioned in the article, reporting.the1993 experiment of Barnham and his team, is a pseudo improvement. The group is said to have carried the efficiency of the cells from a poor nine per cent to 14 per cent by incorporating 50 quantum wells of gallium arsenide. But solar cells having an efficiency of23.3 per cent had been fabricated by Van der Plas and his colleagues in 1978 itself. They had used Liquid Phase Epitaxy, a cheap and rugged fabrication technology when compared with Molecular Beam Epitaxy. The former was much more expensive than the technology used by the Imperial College group for making the quantum wells.

Another issue (VoI4, No 9) features the item 'Hot wires' and suggests the use of photovoltaic electricity to heat water. Since the photovoltaic conversion efficiency is currently around 15 per cent, with the rest of the energy being dissipated as heat, would it be wise to use such a costly source of energy? At current prices, the cost of a 300 watt photovoltaic module is around Rs 30,000. So, what makes more sense? A solar collector with plumbing or a photovoltaic module? Incidentally a typical water heater is rated at 1-1.5 kilo watt.

Many research groups like the Imperial College at London, make tall claims about having achieved so-called 'breakthroughs'. These cl-aims should be critically examined before accepting them at face value, without which readers would be led astray and wrong notions might get perpetuated. ...

Good show

I happened to go through an issue of Down To Earth and was deeply impressed by the articles which were informative. In particular, I found the magazine's coverage of the spread of the Ebola virus in Zaire very engaging. The magazine is serving the cause of environmental awareness rather well....


The photographs that appeared along with the article 'Crisis in Krishna' (Down To Earth, Vo14, No 16), carried the wrong captions. The photograph on page 22 showed Kanimerla's villagers who are opposing the encroachment. They are not 'once encroachers' as the caption describes them. Also, the pho- tograph on page 23 shows Vijaya Kumar, the forest range oficer, Nuzvid, and not 'Koteswara Rao: riding high on political ploys'.

The errors are deeply regretted

Officer and an artist

One of my officers, Lt Col K M Srivastava, draws rather well. I am sending herewith an illustration done by him which in my opinion is wonderful. Would you like to carry it in one of your issues?...

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