Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Bogeying the birds

The news item Dashes of Fire (April 15, 1994) wrongly states that the days of the scarecrow are over. Perhaps a misunderstanding of the term "scarecrow" leads your correspondent to state that the house crow accounts for 85 per cent damage to the sunflower crop in Punjab.

A general term for effigies and dummies used to scare birds, scarecrows are very much in vogue. Farmers have become more innovative: for example, in some parts of Rajasthan, farmers hang old audio cassette tapes or even strips of plastic bags around the fields.

The use of reflective tapes, however, has been subjected to considerable trials since its introduction from Japan, where it is popularly known as "Bui Choi". In India, the effect of these tapes on birds varies, depending on behavioural factors like habituation, reduced light reflection and the tapes snapping in the wind. Nevertheless, reflective tapes remain an important component of integrated bird scaring techniques.


Menace to the Taj

Eminent conservation experts like the late Salim Ali of Bombay, G Torraco of UNESCO and R Sen Gupta of the Archaeological Survey of India had strongly objected to siting the Mathura refinery upwind from Agra. The ruling parties, however, ruled out any threat to the Taj and promised that they would shift the refinery if the experts established that it was a menace to the monument.

Since experts appointed by the Supreme Court have confirmed that the Mathura refinery discharges high levels of sulphur dioxide and abundant corrosive gases like carbon dioxide under normal conditions, it is necessary to close the refinery so that the Taj can be restored to its original beauty. Small and large scale industries in the Mathura-Agra-Firozaband region must also be relocated.

However, these industries must be provided with free land, water and other infrastructural facilities. Soft loans and tax rebates must be given for a few years to effect the shift of the foundries and polluting industries.


Living off wastelands

Wastelands in India will never be developed if we depend on the government, NGOs or the private sector. Instead, the government should lease out land in segments of 10-20 acres to individuals, at a token price of Rs 1, for 5 years. And no subsidies, special grants, assistance or write offs to the allottees.

If the individual can live off the land for 5 years and show a standing crop at the end of the period, the land may be handed over to him, with the condition that it be used only for agriculture, agro-forestry and horticulture. There should also be a moratorium on sale for 100 years. If the person cannot live off the land for 5 years, the land would revert back to the state.

With 94 million ha of wasteland in the country, it should be possible to rehabilitate at least 2 crore individuals and, at the same time, develop wastelands. The US government has followed this policy with good results.


The people must know

Despite laudatory references by bureaucrats, the GATT agreement is a clever prescription demanding a culture of compliance to external controls and management. The agreement should be questioned because it will create new organisations, procedures, equations and a whole new breed of self-appointed "experts". Other questions arise: who will wield power? Will the promised transformation assure our society of a sane and healthy habitat?

A good reference point would be a checklist on public decision-making, such as that proposed by Ursula Franklin, an eminent Canadian activist and physicist. The checklist demands that for every public decision or project, one should question whether it promotes justice, allows dialogue between planners and the people, favours natural resource conservation and allows for revision.

It would be appropriate to apply this checklist not just to GATT but to other public projects in this country. Today, the man on the street needs to be given truthful answers to questions relating to decisions taken on their behalf.


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