Published: Friday 15 November 1996

There's more to it

This is in response to the news item by Himanshu Thakkar ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 6). The World Bank's loan for the Uttar Pradesh Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation Project raises more questions than those raised relevantly by Thakkar.

The Kumaon and Garhwal ( k & g ) Water Act (1975) brought all water sources of every description under state control, abolishing all previous rights. The k & g Water Act has affected the traditional systems of water management. Village communities have lost their rights over traditional sources such as naula s, dhara s and gadhera s. The purpose of the Act was supposedly to 'democratise' the distribution of water and reduce conflict over it. In that same year, the up Sansthan and Jal Nigam -- institutions that have monopolised the supply of water -- were constituted.

A total of 6,369 drinking water systems have been constructed but the outcome has not been positive. According to the government's own estimates, 52 per cent of the systems constructed are not functioning. The systems have got damaged mainly due to poor construction and maintenance, resulting in an acute water crisis.

In fact, the issue of water rights reveals a state of chaos. Village communities deliberately damage pipelines and storage tanks in multi-village systems to assert their old rights, thereby denying water to other villages. Within villages, the water supplied to specific communities is targetted by higher caste groups. Even when water is scarce in the parent village, the government agencies compulsorily divert it to other villages. Greater volumes of water are drawn from rural areas to supply towns and for tourist needs. Corruption lies behind the mismanagement of not just monopolistic water institutions but the panchayat institutions as well.

Contrary to the objectives of the k & g Act, the number of water disputes filed with the district courts and consumer forums has increased. The larger issue of the definition of water rights, and the role of the users themselves in determining the parameters for their access and control of the resource is being overlooked.


Development Centre for Alternative Policies

New Delhi - 110 001...

Give us a break

Apropos the news item 'Gassing the truth' Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 8), which hurls allegations against the Indian Council of Medical Research icmr ), in the context of the disclosure of information following studies on the Bhopal gas tragedy. It is surprising to note that the department of chemicals and petrochemicals dcp is unaware of the 'ban' on the release of information related to the tragedy. After the disaster, the icmr had brought out publications like Health Effects of Exposure to Toxic Gas (1986). Restrictions were subsequently imposed on the publication of studies dealing with the disaster. The ban was lifted only in April, 1995, by the dcp .

An expert committee of the icmr has been reviewing the progress of all these studies periodically. The annual reports prepared for official use (till 1991) were not made public because of the restrictions imposed. However, the data given in the reports was communicated to the relevant ministries of the government of India as also to the legal authorities. An expert committee (constituted in 1992) has been entrusted with the task of preparing the final documents by the icmr . In the meanwhile, the scientists involved in these studies have been permitted to publish the data in scientific journals.

The statement that the medical personnel involved in the study "do not possess a shred of evidence" is totally baseless. In fact, all the information (including the raw data) was handed over on April 27, 1995, to the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies in Bhopal. M P Dwivedi's alleged remark that "all the data is with the icmr ", is particularly puzzling and unfortunate as he, as a member of the expert committee, should be aware that the raw data of these studies is available at Bhopal itself.

The icmr does not have any records regarding any Japanese university approaching it for studying the disaster. The criticism that the icmr is "trying to hide information from the public" is strongly refuted....

Rajat Banerji replies

The second paragraph states that the icmr 's annual reports were prepared for official use and not made public because of the restrictions imposed. This is precisely what the article seeks to question: why is it that information on public health, researched by an institution funded by the tax-payer, has been made a state secret? And if, as the letter states, the scientists involved were "permitted to publish the data in scientific journals", why could A K Prabhakar of the icmr not reveal the findings to Down To Earth ? If these reports could be brought out in a scientific journal, why shield information from a specialised science and environmental fortnightly like Down To Earth ? Although Prabhakar was co-operative, he was very firm in stating that we would have to wait till the final reports were published by the government.

As for the statement made by M P Dwivedi, his sentiments were echoed by another senior medical practitioner who had been involved with the studies at that time. Regarding the Japanese university interested in carrying out the studies at Bhopal, The Bhopal Group for Information and Action is aware of the former having been interested in the same. Finally, the news report highlighted the government's handling of the whole issue. The criticism was therefore aimed at the government and not its agencies....

Dying birds

The special report on vultures 'Droopy dead' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 11; October 31) is timely and informative. The white backed vultures (Gyps Bengalensis) were found in large numbers in the Kolleru wetland complex. Presently, not even a single vulture can be spotted. Scientists believe that the decline of these birds may be due to a viral infection. The disease is suspected to have originated somewhere in Southeast Asia and travelled west to India. It has a parallel in a viral disease that resulted in large scale mortality of feral populations of fishes. The fish disease, known as epizootic ulcerative syndrome, originated in Australia in 1972. It then spread to various other places. In view of the importance of the disease, data on mortality rate of vultures from the Asian countries could be gathered to find out the possible sources of origin and its spread through various populations....

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