Published: Tuesday 15 July 2008

How Kerala encouraged dicofol use...

The editorial "'SLAPP'ed but will not submit" (June 15, 2008) reminded me of an incident that happened in Kerala seven years ago. The agriculture ministry was trying to get a huge network in place for spraying the highly potent pesticide dicofol to contain mite attack on coconut trees, called mandari. A meeting comprising bureaucratic bigwigs and agricultural officials was organized in Thiruvananthapuram.

Little did I know that the hidden agenda of the meeting was to get me, as an agricultural scientist, to endorse the plan. When I got to know of the plan, I objected to the use of this extremely toxic insecticide that was banned in the US and Europe in the mid 1970s.

But I didn't know then that a huge sum of money (Rs 36 crore) was involved and the industry was behind the game with the connivance of the government. When I protested in the open, the media took up the issue and subsequently the opposition party. When things started getting out of control, the minister for agriculture air-dashed to Chennai to get the endorsement for dicofol's use from another "scientist". Without even taking the trouble to see what a mandari-affected nut looks like and what its widespread (helicopter spray) use would mean for the innocent people of Kerala, he gave a clean chit to the use of dicofol. The minister used the "approval by a renowned scientist" in the state assembly to defend the government's position on the pesticide.

I, along with some activists, decided to move the Kerala High Court. The court, to our satisfaction, put its foot down on the use of dicofol. Three decades of experience in research, training and development work inEurope,Africa and Asia and all my scientific backing went into making a success of the legal battle. And then came the intimidation and threat from the industry, including the lure of a very hefty payment to endorse the insecticide's use. I stood my ground, but was harassed by the government and those in power. But eventually, dicofol's use was stopped.

I guess the need of India today is to have more and more competent professionals, with blemishless professional record to refuse to, what the editor rightly says, "prostitute their science". Alas, we have a lot for whom media glare, and what one might rightly add, the irresistible temptation to "climb the professional ladder" through political patronage is more important than the real interests of this once hallowed nation.


Role model

Before giving any opinions specific to Tadoba sanctuary ('Unsafe haven', May 15, 2008), I consider it incumbent to try to independently verify the issues highlighted in the article. Indeed, badly executed resettlement projects have done much to harm conservation in the past few decades and it would be a tragedy if past experiences don't guide our present and future policies.

Any relocation or resettlement of people, be it for a dam, mine or tiger reserve, should be carried out with the utmost sensitivity, compassion and fairness and any form of coercion is condemnable. I had a chance to closely observe the resettlement process in Bhadra reserve in Karnataka, and it is by far the best case that I know of. It is wonderful to see how the habitat and wildlife there are bouncing back. What we need are more such win-win instances.

The goal of all present and future resettlements from protected areas should be to at least match the effort in Bhadra and any shortcomings should be factored in and rectified. As for tourism in our protected areas, we appear to be in the dark ages following failed models that promote not just the destruction of our wilderness areas, but also creates much social inequity.

As a naturalist and a concerned citizen, I find wildlife tourism in much of India both abominable and abhorrent. The greed and shortsightedness with which it is practised beggars belief.

shekhar.dattari@gmail.com ...

It's all about communication

The interview (June 15, 2008) with image guru Dilip Cherian was illuminating. The role of lobbying is often misconstrued as a grey area. However, as Cherian cogently argues, it is a legitimate tool (and not just for the much maligned corporates) in a democracy to articulate views or opinions that may otherwise not make into the the public realm. Wider participation can only strengthen a democratic set-up and effective communication and lobbying facilitate it.

Ultimately, it is all about structures--businesses, governments and institutions--and whether these structures allow for public scrutiny. A legitimate lobbying exercise is one that strengthens these processes rather than weakens them.


More damages than benefits

Not much has been studied about the hydrological aspects of the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur (October 15, 2006). It appears as if authorities are only concerned about using the water available for power generation to give the economy a boost.

But the damages will outnumber the benefits. The state government needs a fresh approach rather than giving the go-ahead to borderline catastrophic projects. Another example of such damage is the Itai barrage at the downstream of the confluence of the Manipur river and the Khuga river which poses serious threat to the Loktak Wetlands.


Rotting away

This is in reference to the editorial 'From water to water' (May 31, 2008). It provides a clear picture of the state that drinking water is in today. To fulfill our growing demands, we abuse the natural gift. Aping the West and haphazard industrialization drive hasn't really got us anywhere. Only of course, our air, water, weather and all that is natural is being degraded.

In cities with a high density of population, Delhi and Kolkata for example, the problem of sewage is enormous. Adding to the problem is the rapid growth of small businesses. Hygiene has become history.


Developing countries, buck up

This is in response to 'Climate tax in offing' (May 15, 2008). India should not fight too hard against any kind of carbon tax. For all you know, it might just come through some kind of a sectoral agreement. Developed countries' historic carbon burden is so big that there is no more space for developing countries to emit that much gas without disturbing dramatically the climate balance. It should be accepted through some kind of financial (or other) compensation to negotiate now. Developing countries should understand that if there is no carbon tax, it will make developed countries, regardless of their domestic emission targets, go on consuming carbon-loaded products manufactured in developing countries without any limits.

I hope developing countries or at least emerging countries will also have binding targets. It will help their industrial sector to level up the carbon efficiency of all the processes. Sooner or later such a tax will come if climate change has to be really dealt with.


Think organic

I have been following the Centre for Science and Environment's (cse's) commendable pesticide campaign for long.

It's time we thought organic. Thanks to the lack of roads in many hinterlands, a sizeable percentage of the farming community is still organic and in today's parlance "under-developed". They are forced to sell their produce at sub-optimal prices because of so-called market forces. They should be paid a premium price at their farmstead for the "surplus" that some of them have after they keep aside enough for their family's consumption. In 1998-99, we paid them 20 per cent premium over and above the local mandi price in parts of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Given the level of awareness among the elite consumer class in the cities now, I am sure one can even pay up to 50 per cent premium and use this as a trigger to convert a sizeable percentage of farmers to go organic.

It is needless to mention that all "modern" farmers the world over are neck-deep in debt under the weight of high input costs of agricultural operations. There is no use teaching farming to farmers. The economic incentive given by us did not just keep the organic farmers as organic but encouraged fence sitters to overcome their hesitation and switch to organic inputs completely.

Without belittling the organization's achievements, I would much like to see cse or someone else launch a platform for marketing organic products.


Unethical endorsement

This is in response to 'Brand ambassadors' (May 31, 2008). The malady of unethical marketing practices to commercialize food products and malnutrition is much more deep rooted. We, at the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, had set a global precedent of not accepting sponsorship from any industry marketing infant milk substitutes.

There are other exaggerated health claims for nutritional products like making bones strong, making children smarter and taller. I have raised these issues at several forums but to no avail. The time has come for a coalition to fight this to give a fair deal to consumer.

H P S Sachdev

In response to 'Brand ambassadors', I would like to relate an incident. When an Aquaguard representative showed me a certificate from the Indian Medical Association (ima), which said that the storage filter is "safe", I wrote a letter to ima to find out if they had actually issued the certificate. It's been over a year now and Ihaven't got a reply. We should debate on the credibility of such organizations.



I am a farmer and I have 500 mango trees that are over eight years old. I have other trees too and I wish to plant more mangoes and cashew. I recently heard about carbon credits. How can I take advantage of carbon credit for the existing mangoes and for the new trees I wish to plant?


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