Published: Friday 15 May 2009

Wearing many hats

I did not expect Down To Earth to give only a partial profile of Vasant Futane ('Rooted to earth', March 1-15, 2009) and present him as someone working only on mud houses.

Vasant and his wife Karuna have been active in many fields for more than three decades. They have been practising organic farming and promoting it among farmers of the Vidarbha region. The couple have been organizing local youth in community service programmes and they got nai talim (promoted by Gandhiji) added to local school curricula so that children learn life skills while studying.

The article does not mention the Futanes' children either. They have been schooled at home and yet made successful careers in soil and water conservation. They train farmers in organic farming techniques including contour sowing to check soil erosion. They also give lessons in video shooting and editing to the youth and encourage them to take their destiny in their own hands.

Calling Karuna a follower of Vinoba Bhave does not say it all. She grew up in his ashram and was very close to him.

Narmada district, Gujarat

Life with nature

I feel despondent after reading most articles as they present a gloomy picture. But reading 'Living on love and fresh air' (March 16-31, 2009) had the opposite effect on me. The profile was outstanding. It is hard to believe people like the Meshrams exist.

I have sent the article to my son's school requesting the principal to put it up on the notice board. Every child should read about the example set by the Meshrams.


Crop insurance

The weather pattern in India has become strange in recent years ('Rain Shocked', March 1-15, 2009). Monsoon has become shorter with frequent spells of intense rainfall. It is doubtful if extreme events can be predicted accurately. Do we have the technology to cope with such events? So, even with careful planning and improvement in weather forecast for farmers, losses in production of crops will continue.

The only way to provide relief to farmers suffering from vagaries of weather is through crop insurance. The government should pay the insurance premium for marginal and small farmers growing staple crops. In case of farmers with medium and large landholdings, the government should subsidize the premium. Horticulturists and orchard owners too should be encouraged to insure crops.


Down to EarthArchita Bhatta's article correctly assessed, from available literature, the trends of increasing intensity of rainfall and reduction in the number of rainy days. There are, however, improvements that are being reported in these projections and would keep improving as we learn more about the atmospheric processes.

Adapting to climate change is very important. We need to understand the feasible options not only at the local level but also at the national and global levels as some solutions might lie at those levels. The time has come to prepare baseline data relating to rainfall, water availability and climate changes. For this we need to integrate our information base.

Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

Sydney can offer a tip

When I travelled to Sydney in 1999, I had to pay an equivalent of Rs 100 there to help combat noise pollution from aircraft ('Lower the Din,' February 16-18, 2009). The Airport Authority of India could probably take cue from the Sydney Airport Authority and use the money so collected to put noise abatement measures in place.


Tracing the cyanide

Elephants straying into agricultural fields for food and water is common in Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. The death of four wild elephants near Mysore ('Cyanide kills elephants', March 16-31, 2009) is believed to be due to cyanide poisoning.

Certain plants belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae, including rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and cassava (Manihot esculenta), are known to contain considerable levels of cyanide. The cyanide could have come from the fields adjoining Nanjangud-Nagarhole national park if they had new and large- scale plantations of rubber or cassava.

Principal Scientist, Regional Centre of Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Visakhapatnam

Down to EarthAsian elephants are voracious eaters who require vast areas to feed. But the status of their habitat is pathetic. Most of them are encroached, fragmented or invaded by monstrous weeds such as Lantana camara and Eupatorium odoratum. Elephant habitats in south India now have 50 per cent less grass. Cattle too graze in these areas since they can move freely in Indian forests and are banned only from protected areas.

The government should isolate the protected areas and problem habitats. Invasive weeds should be uprooted and grass should be grown to improve the food base of elephants.

Action also needs to be taken to control the elephant population so that they do not exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat. This can be done either by capturing or culling them.

Retired ifs official

A nano dream fulfilled

The Nano was a challenge to its manufacturers ('The right right', April 1-15, 2009). The Tata group may have fulfilled the middle class dream of a budget car which costs 25 per cent more than the promised Rs 1 lakh. But what will be the condition of the roads? The narrow roads of small towns like Puducherry are choked with haphazardly parked two wheelers and cars. There are no regulations to prevent their proliferation.


Down to Earth Why single out the Nano? Be it the Tata group, Mercedes-Benz or Toyota, the automobile companies are not against cng, hydrogen or solar powered vehicles. They are businesses awaiting commercial viability of any non-polluting fuel.


Down to EarthWhy can't the government give the kind of concessions it has given to Nano, to public transport so that I can take a comfortable bus ride to office?

Right now owning a car has become a necessity as public transport is in poor condition. Whether you get into a bus in Delhi or a local train in Mumbai, the problems are the same--overcrowding, long commuting hours and uncomfortable coaches. Therefore the first thing you want to do when you get a job is to buy a car so that you can reach your destination without getting harassed.

Anjali Ojha

Down to EarthBefore the Nano is permitted to hit the road, we need to have adequate parking spaces. We need to free the roads of encroachment and hoarding, ban roadside parking and levy fines on old vehicles that break down in the middle of the road causing traffic jams. We also need to focus on having an effective and affordable public transport system.

Neeraj Malhotra

Victims of DDT

A newspaper recently printed a photograph of a person identified as Devendar Singh with his daughter who appeared malnourished.

According to the newspaper report, Singh and his daughter have been ill following exposure to ddt (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), a pesticide, which Devendar sprays in the farms. ddt is known to be lethal and is banned in many countries. Yet it is promoted by the government and used by farmers.


A kilo in time saves nine

Regardless of what the definition of obesity is, it is good to check one's weight frequently ('You just got fatter', March 16-31, 2009). It is advisable to get into action even when the weight gain is marginal. This can be achieved by adjusting food intake, drinking plenty of water and through exercise. A litre of water in the morning on an empty stomach is good for weight control.

Golf Links Rd, Thiruvananthapuram

Native plants better for Lakshadweep shore

K P Tripathi's suggestion of growing mangroves to prevent soil erosion in Lakshadweep might not work ('Soil tolerates erosion,' March 1-15, 2009).

Mangroves are not native to Lakshadweep, except for a patch of Bruguiera species in Minicoy, the southernmost island in the Union territory. This is because not all mangrove species grow in the coralline sand. If anyone tries to grow them, they will be introducing a new species to this ecosystem. Planting mangroves along the lagoon front is unrealistic as it will affect the ecology.

When you have mangroves growing there, you are going to make the shoreline muddy and kill the corals and associated fauna. I admit there are instances where mangroves and coral reefs have co-existed like in the Gulf of Kachchh, but the hydrology and shoreline characteristics there are different. For me, mangroves are not a sensible solution to coastal erosion in this region. The right option would be to enhance the growth of native plants that are natural sand binders like Ipomoea and Spinifex. Part of the cause of shoreline erosion is that these plants have been removed for improving beach access. Replanting them is ecologically acceptable and an effective means of controlling erosion.

National Institute of Oceanography, Goa


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