Published: Tuesday 15 December 2009

Another way to identify the poor

The article BPL: a difficult line to draw (October 1-15, 2009) should stimulate a debate on the process of identifying the below poverty line (bpl) families in rural India. The committee's recommendations which include categorization based on caste and religion make sense. Identifying the poor is complex as poverty is not an economic phenomenon only. It has socio-cultural and political dimensions.

I would like to share my experience of working with the rural poor through Ahmedabad Study Action Group, a non-profit that devised a simple way to identify the poor. The families were covered under one of the following four categories: destitute; landless labourer; artisan (excluding those who earned well); and small marginal land owners in non-irrigated areas.

The Gram Sabha would vet the village list and strike off families that had migrated to urban areas. The final list was then sent to the District Rural Development Agency. This classification was useful because the strategy to deal with each category's poverty was bound to be different. I second the recommendations of the committee and would not hesitate to adopt them. Our experience in fact substantiates the committee's methodology.


Water, everyones business

The erratic monsoon has hit Indias economy. Concentrated rainfall over shorter durations is causing flash floods in parts of India. Cities like Mumbai faced a severe water crisis this summer though it received plenty of rainfall in short bouts. In the absence of planned storage, this rainwater is mostly wasted as runoff in the drains (Desperate for rains, August 1-15, 2009).

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is opting for cloud seedingwhich is very costlyignoring easy measures for water conservation like reducing consumption and recycling water for reuse.

There is very little groundwater left to tap. Conservation must therefore become everyones business.


Down to Earth Rainwater harvesting in India must be encouraged through incentives like reduced tax for buildings and village establishments that harvest rainwater.


Down to Earth Water is not in plenty. Water budgeting and water auditing should become an integral part of our life and the planning process.


IOCL dumps environment

I fail to understand why the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (iocl) in Assam wants to relocate its marketing terminal in Tinsukia to Digboi, 35 km away. True, this terminal was constructed in 1927, but it is still operational; the Digboi refinery regularly pumps petroleum products to the Tinsukia terminal via a pipeline.

The management cited incidences of pilferage in the Digboi-Tinsukia pipeline, outdated plant layout, increasing human habitation around the terminal, aging equipment and constraints of automation as reasons for the relocation. But these are hardly convincing. There are a number of cross-country pipeline networks transferring crude oil and other petroleum products. And to say that increasing human habitation around the Tinsukia terminal prompted the decision to relocate does not hold water because the Digboi terminal too will face the same situation in a few years.

To relocate, iocl will acquire large tracts of agricultural and forestland. The corporate management has already approved the proposal and a large area has been identified on the outskirts of Digboi town for the new terminal; acquisition of land has begun already.

And I am sure there will never be any attempt to convert the existing terminal site into forestland even though iocl is known for pioneering many environmental development schemes.


Easy solutions

In focusing on long-term, high-tech projects to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby global warming, we are missing out on small and short-term measures that can help ease the problem.

Traffic congestion, for example, results in consumption of more fuel and higher emissions. Apart from heavy traffic flow during peak hours, damaged roads and potholes add to the congestion problem; these are usually caused by leaking water supply pipes and choked storm water drainage systems. Some people also contribute to the problem by dumping construction material along the roads, breaking street dividers to create unplanned diversions and crossing the stop line at red signals, blocking the traffic coming from other directions. Fixing these problems does not require much financial resource or time, but can certainly help reduce pollution to a large extent.

Traffic police and municipal authorities should work together to rectify any blockages or potholes on major roads that might lead to traffic jams during peak hours. At least one weekly inspection is necessary.


Point not taken

The editorial Single drops of water make the mighty economy (September 16-30, 2009) effectively portrayed the problem of deficient rains in India. If deficient rains last for another year or so, our countrys economy will be in a mess.

It is easy for economists to say that such rain pattern may not affect us, but it will surely increase the cost of essential items. Unfortunately, the politicians and people have failed to understand its seriousness.


Celebrate CNG

We should celebrate the day cng was implemented in Delhi like we celebrate the birthdays of politicians. This will have at least two positive effects. One, it will act as inspiration for other such deeds. Two, the so-called experts who opposed the concept will not derail such projects in future.


For one hot meal

It is a pity that even after 30 years and more the Integrated Child Development Services are unable to reach one hot, cooked meal to Indias underprivileged children (Business bites, September 16-30, 2009).

The countrys future depends on the success of this programme.


Treating impurities

Water treatment plants operated by urban local bodies do not use isi marked chemicals. Instead, they use sub-standard chemicals which contain toxic impurities like heavy metals and organic impurities above the safety limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. Due to lack of good labs and staff, potable water is not regularly tested to see whether it conforms to IS 10500:1991 (standards set by Bureau of Indian Standards). There are no national standards fixed for water treatment chemicals.


Infrastructure missing

During my extensive travels through India, Nepal and Bangladesh in 2004 on a Fulbright research fellowship, I found that these South Asian countries were not ready to tackle the social and infrastructure challenges of 24x7 water supply. In Kathmandu, more than one-third of the residents relied on free water. Delhi may be better off, but not everyone living here has a house number or a water meter. The idea of 24x7 water supply is great (The new lords of misrule, October 16-31, 2009) but where is the infrastructure to carry it forward?


Killers walk free

Ministers, actors and sportspersons kill exotic animals and birds to satisfy their tastebuds and go scot free after making headlines for a few days. The latest case is of seven men, including two sportspersons, killing and eating two peahens in Mulshi taluka in Pune.

Relevant sections of the Wildlife Protection Act need to be rewritten to punish such action under the Indian penal system.

Salisbury Park Environment Trust, Pune

The net connection

The 40th anniversary of the Internet is a matter of joy as life without it seems impossible today. The Internet has become an important tool for development and success (Internet sceptic? Go get a life, October 1-15, 2009).

The world has become very small, thanks to the Internet. But then of course there are two sides to every coin. People go out much less than before and spend long hours on the computer. This results in health problems and reduced social interaction.


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