Published: Tuesday 31 March 2009

Why be regressive

There are several ways of looking at a problem ('Climate lectures don't make lessons', February 16-28, 2009). One is the approach you have enumerated in your editorial that India expects the developed world to do more. This is fair enough.

The other approach is, with certain timely changes in domestic policies, incentives and opportunities, India can prove even a developing country can act proactively without waiting for the developed world to take the first step.

While the former is a regressive approach, the latter is a progressive one. The opportunity lies in thinking differently and being proactive.

Examples of not-so-affluent Indians switching to compact fluorescent lamps and renewable energy are fine. But just take a closer look at our industries and you will realize how much they are doing to combat climate change. I am surprised your editorial has taken a slightly regressive approach.


Down to Earth It was frustrating to read about global warming and the big nations' outbursts against India and China. Why are we not retaliating?

But then when I look at our own scenario, it is equally frustrating. Our own industries, mining activities and thermal power projects are destroying the countryside. The government is giving benefit to Pepsi, CocaCola, Dow and other multinationals, spreading their evil limbs and tentacles all over the country.

In schools we were taught that there was a time when India was known as a nation with abundant free air, water and crops (Sujalaam, suphalaam, malayaj seetalaam, sasya shyamalaam...). But what about now? The present-day politicians are not concerned about anything but their chairs, rapping the land left and right. Is there any minister at the national or state level who has a thorough knowledge of his or her ministry? Yet they become decision makers.


Now is the time

Now is a good time for the government to initiate sustainable development projects like efficient mass transportation systems and transportation infrastructure. The economic slowdown provides the government a good opportunity to stop pandering to the industry and focus on correcting excesses of rapid urbanization.


Lowfloor chaos

I read your cover story on low-floor buses ('City Bus: In demand, out of supply', October 16-31, 2008). Instead of easing traffic flow, the new lowfloor buses in Delhi have done just the reverse. As a regular commuter, I find the service of these new fleet of buses is poor. The buses are overcrowded and they often don't stop at the bus stop. This causes great difficulty to commuters who have to run to board the bus. If you ask me, I found the earlier buses more spacious.


Beauty tips

I read with interest about parthenium becoming part of folk remedies for skin afflictions ('Biocontrolling congress grass', February 16-28, 2009).

The use of a variety of beauty products is the cause for many skin ailments. Most of these products contain chemicals that damage the skin. I can vouch for natural beauty aids like neem, turmeric, milk, sandalwood paste and multani mitti.


Traditional cuisine

Oil is an important source of nourishment. But it does not seem so any longer. Today, oil is regarded as the main cause of health problems and there is a lot of emphasis to cut down on its consumption.

The credit certainly goes to our wily manufacturers, industry-friendly regulators and some foreign countries who dump their scrap in our market ('Fat of the matter', February 1-15, 2009).

For instance, flaxseed (alsi in Hindi) is an important source of essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6. Instead of deriving them from flaxseed, a commonly found shrub in most kitchen gardens in northern India, we depend on sources such as fish and shellfish. Anyone with a heart problem, who has taken to eating healthy, can tell how rich flaxseeds are as a source of omega 3. It has six times more omega 3 than most fish oil. But for effective absorption, one has to roast the flaxseed lightly and then grind it properly.

Though grown widely, flaxseed is mostly used as a winter culinary tradition. Mixed with garlic and chopped green chilly, it makes a delicious stuffing for chapattis. Traditional Indian food is smarter than what we eat today. I wish cold-pressed oil were available once again.


Desilting no solution

To revive the Upper Lake, the lifeline of Bhopal, the Madhya Pradesh government has undertaken a desilting programme. The lake is nearly 1,000 years old. But before starting the desilting work, I doubt if the government has carried out a proper study to understand the causes of siltation of the lake.

As far as I can fathom, the problems with the Upper Lake is reduced runoff contribution from the catchment area that was once surrounded by forests. Most of the catchment area is now cultivated. This has drastically reduced the runoff contribution to the lake. Low rainfall has worsened the situation.

As the storage capacity of the lake reduced, people started depending on groundwater. This depleted the groundwater table, which also affected the lake's storage capacity. Therefore, along with desilting, adopting measures to recharge the depleting groundwater is also important to revive the lake. Some of the additional measures are:

  • Less dependence on the Upper Lake for water supply

  • Changing usage of the catchment area, such as introducing social forestry in the uncultivated area

  • Introducing water harvesting structures in each of the localities and making them an integral part of the town planning system

    Retired Advisor, Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Development Mission, Madhya Pradesh

    Spot on

    You have hit the nail on the head. Today it is packaging and managing that matters in this democratic, people's republic of ours ('The public relations republic', January 16-31, 2009). Who cares for the content, be it man or any product. Hopefully your sane advice would not go in vain.


    The Australian lesson

    The worst-ever bushfires in Australia, which killed over a hundred people and gutted several communities, followed by an unusually hot summer, is a grim warning to the world that one cannot remain complacent about the threats of global warming and climate change.

    India, which faces recurrent floods and droughts, should take this as a cautionary warning. Lawmakers should design policies keeping such eventualities in mind and have the vision to carry forward the mission for sustainable development.


    Most effective safeguard

    The article rightly states that breast milk is better than formula food, even with toxins ('Toxic or not', January 16-31, 2009). Breastfeeding in the first year after birth, not only keeps infections away from the child, it also protects the mother from breast cancer and lowers the risk of diabetes.

    Unfortunately many modern and educated mothers have this misconception that breastfeeding will affect their figure. They do not realize it is the only way to ensure life-long emotional attachment between the child and the mother.



    In the article 'Lentil report' (October 16-31, 2008), T K Adhya's comments are based on the fact that Nitrous oxide (N2 O) is emitted in excess or in spurts after using nitrogenous fertilizers.

    In our study we took care of this phenomenon. The farmers' field where we carried out our experiment for pulses did not have synthetic fertilizer application. The pulse crop was raised during the monsoon with farmyard manure application before land preparation.

    The N2O emission here was lower than expected and there was only slightly higher emission during inflorescence or after rains. We also confirm that wider studies on N2O emission from pulses under different water regimes or environmental conditions and cultural practices is a must before arriving at a conclusive proof that our emission factors in this regard are lower than that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    S N DAS
    Institute of Mineral and Materials Technology, Bhubaneswar


    Patancheru, a hub of pharma industries, in Andhra Pradesh, is in the news for polluting the environment. These factories export generics to the US and the EU, but their toxic residues are fouling waterbodies in the area since the 1980s and poisoning the environment. By now, they have fouled almost all waterbodies in the vicinty. So much so that Patancheru's water has become a deadly cocktail of antibiotics. Of late, people in the area have been reporting several mysterious diseases.

    A recent study by Joachim Larsson, an environmental scientist at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found high concentration of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic, and cetrizine, an antihistamine, in Patancheru's water. He also found high concentration of antibiotics used in the preparation of generics for the treatment of hypertension, depression and gonorrhoea. He concluded these drug residues are causing the diseases, which they are meant to cure, among the communities who are dependent on the waterbody.

    India's Bulk Drug Manufacturers' Association might have challenged the study, but the fact remains that the people are being affected. Some years back, a woman gave birth to a child without eyeballs. After thorough investigation, the doctor confirmed the deformity was due to intake of polluted water and not a genetic disorder. Despite receiving flak, the state pollution control board is yet to take effective steps to check the water pollution. Now we hear the Central Pollution Control Board has stepped in to take stock of the situation. Will it be of any help?


    Paddy solutions

    The call to agriculture scientists to develop better delayed paddy strains is very pertinent (see letter 'Calling all agri scientists', January 16-31, 2009).

    Perhaps International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines could be of help in this regard. They have a Genetic Resource Centre that has some 80,000 cultivars. The institute sends new varieties to Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Delhi.

    Another helpful source could be Cambodia, which grows as much rice in the dry season as in the monsoon, making irrigation water available even in the dry season.


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