Published: Wednesday 15 April 2009

The mercury factor

I have long been at odds with the push for compact fluorescent lamps (cfls). This technology is hardly leapfrogging. Investing money in light emitting diodes (leds), on the other hand, would be real progress and India should seriously look at it.

My objections to cfls is that in trying to mitigate the effects of one disaster, we invite another whose impact is huge ('Climate lectures don't make lessons', February 16-28, 2009). By promoting cfls, we will spread mercury contamination even at the village level. cfl boom will compound the contamination already caused by tube lights.

Given that our political leaders and bureaucrats are ignorant of the debate on various fronts, civil society needs to pressurize policymakers to come up with proper regulations to deal with mercury contamination. Or else, we are headed for greater trouble.


Down to Earth We might feel bad that India, despite its low per capita greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions, is given pep talks by industrialized countries. But until we demonstrate to the world we are doing our best to reduce the carbon footprint, such talks will continue at different forums.

The important question is: are we doing enough to reduce ghg emissions in India? Reducing emissions without affecting our economy does not require huge investments; we just need to undertake some simple and effective measures. By spending 25 per cent of the money meant to build new power plants, we can generate tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity from the existing infrastructure. If we can stop encouraging the purchase of private vehicles through tax exemptions, holidays and low interest loans we can save huge sums and use the money to fund better public transport systems.

Let me give my own example. The per capita electricity consumption of my family of four is about 120 units a year, whereas the national per capita consumption is about 600 units. Though we live in a reasonably big house, with 0.2 hectare built-up area, we have consciously avoided the use of refrigerator, automobile, washing machine, electric oven and electric fans. We use solar power for water heating and lighting, and use wastewater for our garden.

There are several such viable alternatives to reduce our ghg emissions without compromising on economic activities. We just need to make an honest attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. But is our government interested in such efforts? It does not seem so, because large-sized power projects involve huge money for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to indulge in.


Down to Earth It seems all schemes planned to reduce the ghg emissions are not implemented properly. Any non-profit can collect the information and make it public, so that we can have a clear idea of the government's willingness. If India fails to control its ghg emissions, the government needs to be blamed for it.


Down to Earth The editorial reflects the laid-back attitude of our country's representatives. While accepting responsibilities for cutting down on ghg emissions we also need to assert that all countries have an equal, or in some cases more, responsibility towards mitigating the global crisis. For example, developed countries are as much responsible for glacial retre.

Trans fat standards

Thanks to the cover story 'Fat of the matter' (February 1-15, 2009) more people are now aware of trans fats and their harmful nature. The article, and the discussion it generated on television and in newspapers, has raised awareness regarding trans fats among consumers and policymakers.

Trans fats are one of the important parameters which the government must get companies to adopt in food labels. As the article pointed out there are no standards in India for use of trans fats in food items. The government needs to fund research projects of such public health concerns as trans fats are dangerous to human health.

Executive Secretary, Mustard Research and Promotion Consortium

Down to Earth This is in response to concerns raised in the article. As responsible food manufacturers in India, we remain fully committed to working with the government and relevant industry bodies for the benefit of our consumers.

We are in touch with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, through relevant industry associations such as ficci and cii, and understand that the subjects are being taken up for deliberations at these forums.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Agro Tech Foods Limited, Secunderabad

The truth about coconut oil

I hope your editorial 'Satyam in our oil' (February 1-15, 2009) helps boost India's coconut oil industry which has been badly hit by false propaganda. The media and nutritionists should spread the word about the usefulness of coconut oil. Farmers should be encouraged to increase production.



Wasteful space odysseys

This is about the decision of the Planning Commission which recently approved the expenditure in connection with sending two persons into space by 2015. The current estimated cost is Rs 12,500 crore. But by the time the project is executed, the cost will most likely go up.

There is nothing wrong with our space programme. We should send up as many satellites as required for communication, education and even spying. But a manned mission is wasteful and unnecessary. The moon mission, Chandrayan I, was also quite unnecessary since very little can be done with pictures of the dark side of the moon.

India's economy is in the doldrums and the fiscal deficit has crossed the double-digit mark. As far as deficit financing goes, we are next only to the US. Our health budget has hardly been raised. Little wonder that our health parameters are now comparable with Africa's.

My point is: should we spend such a large amount of money on a manned mission when there are several other high priority areas such as drinking water and sanitation?

We are at number 94, out of 115 countries, in the world hunger index. Forty seven per cent of children under the age of five are malnourished. The government must exercise restraint in certain areas.


Creche at construction sites

The condition of women construction workers defies description ('Mother's little helper', February 16-28, 2009). They toil under trying conditions, often burdened with little children who grow up in dusty sites and under the hot sun. The initiative of some construction firms to provide a creche to working mothers is welcome.

In fact there should be legislation compelling all construction firms, employing more than five women workers, to provide creche facilities along with food, water and shelter. Periodical audits of such firms should be done.


Value smallholder farmers

In the editorial 'Our smaller future' (March 1-15, 2009) you have said small-holder farmers were dismissed because they were not part of established business...they adapt quickly to changes. Your comment is relevant to the situation I experienced.

After working with Tocklai, the world's oldest Tea Research Institute in Assam, I came to work with tea growers in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra Valley in 1984. Unlike Assam, here almost all tea planters are smallholder growers; about 1,600 planters grow tea on 2,600 hectares (ha) of land. They grow Chinese tea, a low-yielding variety, which were first planted 130 years ago. The tea yield in the valley used to be very low--325 kg per ha.

That year, I and a group of tea experts at the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (ihbt) took up the challenge of increasing the yield. Other agricultural research establishments and tea experts made fun of our work. But we were confident we would increase productivity of the plant. We learnt from local wisdom, trained tea growers and worked closely with them. In five years, the average tea production on 28 demonstration plots on individual farmers' fields increased fourfold and the quality improved 10 times.

Unfortunately, after the project moved from Himachal Pradesh, the yield was back to what it was before. Recently we learnt to our dismay that half of the tea plants, we had nurtured, have been uprooted.

Your editorial has given me hope that somebody can still do it. I hope research institutes and government policies can boost smallholder tea growers.

Secretary, International Society of Tea Science, New Delhi

Down to Earth What you have highlighted in the editorial has come true and is set to engulf us. We have to change our fast track economics to, what I prefer calling, efficient economics.

We cannot escape from our responsibility to adopt and devise efficient futuristic flow sheets. I doubt if we, the developed and developing economies, have understood the much used phrase sustainable development. Fast-track economic development, in fact, has been the main cause of cost and time overruns and of poor natural resource management. The overall impact is high cost per unit output and delays the downstream development.

Earth Scientist, Dehradun


Tribals know their trees

The article 'Tree is not timber' (February 1-15, 2009) is informative. It not only talks of forest conservation but also of the tribals who depend on them for livelihood.

But there are certain points which I do not agree with. The article mentions Madhya Pradesh's working plans which have considered mixed forests as inferior. This is not the case.

Besides, the story quotes tribals as saying sal trees attain a girth of about 120 cm in 25 years. The tribals know their trees well and are aware that sal takes almost 150 years to acquire such girth.

Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Timely awareness

Can we make people aware of the detrimental effects of environment unfriendly projects much before they are implemented? In India, we always wake up much later -- after the projects are implemented or are near completion. But if we protest in the right manner, much before such projects are started, we can halt them.




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