Published: Wednesday 30 April 2008

Polio eradication not paralyzed

This is in response to your reports on polio eradication strategies (Down To Earth, August 2007 and January 2008) which confuse the public. Polio eradication strategies are in their final phase in the country and have yielded the desired results though at a slower pace.

Monovalent oral polio vaccine is not a new one. Many countries such as Egypt, Brazil, Russia and China had used it much before us. We introduced it in 2005 after scientific evidences from different states confirmed the uptake of the conventional Trivalent vaccine is as low as 10-30 per cent while that of the monovalent vaccine is as good as 60-70 per cent. This showed the two vaccines have different capabilities. The safety profile of the monovalent vaccine is also approved by the International Research Ethics Committee.

Next, on the increase in P3 type polio cases in north Indian states; this was not totally unexpected. The field realities in rural Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are beyond the imagination of any armchair academician or reporter. There are many factors which affect the programme including poverty, contaminated drinking water, failed public health system, pathetic law and order situation.

Type 1 wild polio virus was circulating mainly from western UP and Type 3 from Bihar. With the advent of monovalent OPV1, the western UP epicentre of Type 1 virus is almost completely contained, of course also at the cost of a spreading Type 3. This can also be contained rapidly if we introduce mOPV3 which the government has already initiated. The scarcity of committed and efficient human resources in the most difficult states retards our pace of eradication drive.

Ariyari Sukumar
Surveillance medical officer, WHO-NPSP
Kozhikode unit, Kerala


Whose budget?

Your editorial 'Budget 2008: missing the big picture' (Down To Earth, March 31, 2008), clearly shows the sorry state of India's economic growth. The budget is a populist one. It has something for everyone. But the amount of total concessions that the budget provides is questionable as the primary fiscal deficit has doubled. Providing concessions means a huge loss to the exchequer. Does the government have money to meet the deficit?

It is also important that all the benefits declared in the budget should reach the real beneficiaries, the poor. Waiving agriculture debt is a good jesture but the budget does not have anything to boost the financial conditions of farmers.

Mahesh Kapasi

Down to Earth The recent recession in the American economy, crude oil prices, rising food prices and intensified climate change have a common link. Your editorial talks of it. But you should also add that misguided priority to give cheap food, mainly to urban workers, has led to farmers losing out on prices.

Also, the farmer loan write-off is not likely to benefit majority of our farmers who borrow from moneylenders. It will also do no good to dryland farmers who hold more than 2 hectares since they do not fall in the target category. They are crucial omissions. What we need is an 'implementable' agricultural policy that utilizes the money spent on fertilizer subsidies or loans waivers.


Down to Earth This budget has missed out on a few key issues. First, waiving loans does not actually help farmers. It will reduce the pressure on the banks who were fearing that their money would be lost. The banks will get their money. If the government wanted to improve the state of poor farmers, it should have come up with measures such as a strong support price system or a national debt commission.

Next, the economic survey waxes eloquent on privatization of public sector units. This seems a new strategy. The budget remains more or less silent on privatization. The economic survey does all the talking for the private sector. It is an eyewash. Sadly, all we have is a populist budget which has to go a long way in ensuring economic justice.


Down to Earth Any artificial measure to boost finances in economy are likely to meet the same fate as that of the share market following the us recession. This shows Indian corporates have to improve their work if they want to maintain a steady growth. The country, for example, has to find ways for using alternate fuels more so that it can avoid an energy crisis. The budget, however, is silent on such measures.

The loan waiver in the budget is beyond any logic. It can only produce some short-term gains. In India, there is a dire need of cheaper energy, especially to farmers but our country lacks the infrastructure for this.

On public transport, Delhi has introduced environment-friendly buses, but we have to be cautious in maintaining fuel-efficiency and safety standards.

Jaswant Malhotra

Rural economics

The editorial 'The god of ecological things', (Down To Earth, March 15, 2008) captures the essence of the Keynesian approach to an economic depression. The depression India today faces is not economic but one of ideas and thinking.

How are things to be turned around? Is there a possibility of individual water structures, say rooftop rainwater harvesting structures, especially for families in fluoride and arsenic affected areas, to be tried out under nrega? Often we see that individual structures are better-maintained and are better at delivering benefits to the poor.

Can then this be ratcheted up to community structures in a water literacy framework where individuals and communities understand interventions and work with it rather than working for Rs 65 a day? The opportunity is huge and the quicker one delivers project benefits with nrega the better. It is time for civil society to get engaged.

Vishwanath Srikantaiah

Down to Earth An insightful article on nrega; two phrases stand out--"people did not have to flee to (large) cities" and "since the scheme is for employment during distress, the administration looks for the easiest way out". Yes; nobody wants to flee from their roots, but when they are forced to, they add to urban chaos. Who is responsible for this crisis?

Alarmingly, instead of having well thought-out plans to stop this internal large-scale displacement and uprooting, the government is only adding to the crisis by encroaching upon our natural assets and replacing them with physical infrastructure. Instead of throwing money in cities such as Delhi or Bangalore, the government must invest in rural and semi-urban infrastructure. I would be happy to buy a train-ticket to Motihari or Machalipatinam to watch the Commonwealth Games.

At least 40,000 auto drivers go back to their villages for 2-3 months at a stretch every year during the sowing and harvest season. We would like to keep them there with their families instead of keeping them with drug addicts in urban ghettos. But, sadly, we do not know enough on how to go about it.

Rakesh Agarwal

Really smelting

This is in response to the article 'A smelting project' (Down To Earth, March 15, 2008). The article brings out people's concerns over bauxite mining by Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (apmdc) for the Jindal South West Holdings (jswh).

apmdc is a government corporation which has a non-tribal chairperson. The state scheduled area land transfer regulation says leases on tribal land can be given only to tribal people and tribal cooperatives. The court order permitting the corporation to mine in the tribal area was not issued in consultation with the Tribal Advisory Council (tac) or the National Commission of Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes. Unfortunately, the historic Samta judgments of 1997 upheld the lease to apmdc saying it was a 'state instrumentality'.

In fact, in 1994, tac had rejected the proposal of the Industries and Commerce, department that governs apmdc, for obtaining a lease of the land. In 1993, the commissioner for tribal welfare instructed to take over the plantations held by the Andhra Pradesh Development Corporation, another similar entity. In 1999, the plantation was distributed to the tribals due protests in West Godavari and Khammam districts. All these factors were not brought to the notice of the apex court. As long as the civil society does not understand these lapses, the destruction of tribal areas by mining will continue.

P Sivaramakrishna and P Sarada Devi
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh


Garbage governance

This is in reference to a few of your articles dealing with urban garbage. Pollution from burning garbage is common in cities. Heaps of garbage when burnt releases pollutants, affecting human health. Such activities continue in the absence of strong laws.

Seminars, symposia and slogans on checking problems like global warming, which these burnings also contribute to, give us few solutions. The government must create official environment observers (like we have election observers) in each district to strictly see that regulations are complied with.

Madan Mohan
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh

Mumbai blues

A recent study by Forbes has featured India's financial hub Mumbai as the seventh dirtiest city in the world. The survey has ranked over 200 cities on the parameters of air pollution, water potability, hospital services, waste management, medical facilities and the spread of infectious diseases.

Who is responsible for the filth in Mumbai? The authorities or the citizens? How can Mumbai retrieve its clean image? The citizens blame the government for not being concerned to the city's civic amenities, while the authorities yell at citizen.

More than half of Mumbai's population lives in slums. Dharavi, one of India's largest, has public toilets and water taps but it's sanitation scene is worse. Still, the Mumbai administration claims the city is cleaner than before. Every monsoon, such claims fall flat when floods put the city to standstill, like what happened on July 26, 2005. The government, which wants to develop Mumbai like Shanghai, does not even have a foolproof plan to ensure that the city grows.

Experts cite Mumbai's growing population for the crisis. The migration from various parts of India has forced Mumbai to cope with the demands of the residents. Who is responsible for this? Everyone who is living in this crowded city has a right to lead a clean life. The government should carry out intensive awareness programmes. It should provide basic infrastructure to everyone in the city. The residents in the city cannot shrug off their responsibility. Mumbaikars have to be more responsible in cleanliness.

Ziyaullah Khan

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