Published: Friday 15 August 2008

All glass, no green in 2050?

I saw Love Story 2050, a contemporary Bollywood flick. The movie is a bore, but there is a lesson in it for environmentalists. The Mumbai of 2050 is depicted in the movie through computer-generated graphics and surely involved the imagination of the animators, the director, the graphic artists and whole lot others. The entire depiction is full of glass and steel structures and everyone living in perhaps environmentally controlled shells. There is no greenery to be seen around. It is also in stark contrast to the first half of the movie shot in Australia where greenery abounds, in 2008. Was there a deliberate attempt to delete the green cover in the Mumbai of 2050? Or is it that today's graphic artists are so engaged with the geometric figures that they forgot to add the natural habitat around the skyscrapers? If they forgot, it is a matter of serious concern because the message that goes out to this computer savvy generation is that we don't need our natural surroundings. When structures in future are built in actuality, 200-storey buildings for instance, environmental concerns will not cross their minds. And, what message do such movies leave behind for the young impressionable minds, who would like to conceive of hi-tech cities without any natural surroundings? Think.


People and tigers

The write-up 'Unsafe Haven' (May 15) makes me nostalgic. I was posted as a probationary assistant conservator of forests in the then West Chanda Division in October 1960 and the Tadoba Sanctuary was under my purview. I have cycled to every part of Tadoba and adjoining villages such as Kolsa and Karva. Once I had seen a family of five tigers on the Pandhapaoni road. In 1983, when I got posted again in Chandrapur as a regional manager of the Forest Development Corporation, I, with colleagues, visited Tadoba again. We saw four tigers, a female tiger and three cubs, mourning the death of a male tiger. In 1993, I visited Tadoba as principal chief conservator of forests (pccf) of Maharashtra and saw a big tiger at Kasarbodi. Then the idea of joining Andhari part of the forests came about. Meanwhile, the then forest minister had managed to settle migratory Gujrati cattle herders and some 300 cattle at Kolsa, neglecting all suggestions against the move by the forest department. Many small poaching activities started getting reported and I had pulled up the staff in charge then.

Tadoba is now the most important tiger reserve and has a development plan duly approved by state and central authorities. Part of the plan is to remove people from some villages and resettle them elsewhere. Tiger Task Force has suggested inclusive management but it is very difficult on the ground. People have tried to eat the cake and have it too, as far as rehabilitation is concerned. It has happened in many projects. One is never happy in a new place. Ancestral lands have deep attachments. One way is to seek people's cooperation or alternately go for a closed area devoid of people, like a guarded fortress. I personally do not expect tigers to survive beyond two decades, anywhere in India.

There is no sense in ridiculing the pccf for his blunt statement of alternate earning opportunities. I support him. The article does not mention if the gram sabhas, adjoining the Tadoba-Andhari Reserve, have decided it as a "critical habitat" under the Forest Rights Act 2006. In all probability, the forest department is going ahead with its plans assuming it has support of the people concerned. People, under this act, are empowered to even cancel the tiger reserve.

Also, I do not support relocating tigers to Sariska, especially when all other factors that caused their destruction before, remain the same.

I wish the government knew what exactly it wanted to do.


Molesting the Himalaya

I recently visited Amarnath. While the local people played perfect hosts, providing pots, ponies, tents etc, the local environment, unfortunately, was a disappointment. Plastic bottles, tetra packs and soft drink bottles were scattered throughout the pilgrimage route. There were no dustbins either. Even the bhandars and langars providing free food to the pilgrims generate a lot of plastic waste. Something needs to be done to stop the growing menace that threatens the ecology of the Himalayas. A few of the measures could be:

Down to Earth Provide training to pilgrims at base camps (before they begin the trek)

Down to Earth Billboards and flyers in various languages informing people of the dangers of spoiling Himalayan ecology

Down to Earth Garbage bins at every kilometre

Down to Earth Ban langars and bhandars from using plastic and take strong action against them if they don't comply

Down to Earth Fine pilgrims violating environment protection laws


Force action

In Raipur, waste deposits of the sponge iron industry rejects and emissions are spoiling fertile land and polluting the atmosphere. Villagers cannot fight this menace on their own. Those with money and influence don't relate to the problem. The only answer lies in civil society raising its voice against the menace and forcing the powers that be to listen and take preventive action.

M L Mehta

Shut down tanneries

It was reported widely in the media that the common effluent treatment plant (cetp) to treat effluents discharged from eight tanneries in and around Sembattu on the outskirts of Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu was to be commissioned within a week. M K Stalin, administration minister of Tamil Nadu, had taken pains to expedite the project. But there are more than 100 tanneries and several small units discharging toxic effluents in and around Tiruchi.

I am of the firm view that either the individual or the cetps will not be able to treat the effluents that contain more than 275 toxic chemicals--acids, nitrates, chromium, dyes, common and chemical salts. This project is an eyewash and a colossal waste of public money.

The effluents are responsible for the destruction of hundreds of hectares of fertile farmland and several waterborne diseases for over two decades. On April 19, 2001, the Madras High Court had dismissed the batch petitions of the tanners questioning the functioning of the constituted Ecology Authority on the orders of the Supreme Court in the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum case.

It is the duty of the Tiruchi district collector to order the closure of all tanneries. The collector should also arrange for the payment of compensation to the affected parties through the constituted Ecology Authority without any further delay.


Renewable energy the key area

The amount of time and energy spent on nuclear power appears to be unwarranted. Though there is no point in rejecting the nuclear energy option, surely renewable energy needs to be brought centrestage. The mindset has to change. A change in the psyche has become necessary. Deserts in the country offer incalculable opportunities to harness solar energy to take care of the total energy requirement of the country.

It is high time scientists, technologists, planners, economists and politicians gave this sector serious weightage. The goal should be to become proactive about the renewable sector, since shortage and high price along with global warming related to conventional fossil fuel exert tremendous pressure on non-renewable resources.


Waste sink

I am worried about the health of the Ganga. With human activities growing near the river, residue materials are being dumped into it, as has been the practice for long. At Har Ki Pauri in Hardwar, before the evening aarti, the area is cleaned up and all the minor wastes are dumped into the river. Besides, people use polythene sheets to sit by the banks there and leave it behind. It is a pitiable state and I am not sure what needs to be done to make it better.


India bleeding

Of late, media has focused a lot on the sorry financial state of airlines in the country. Wondering why the airlines are in the "red", I started looking for answers and found some intriguing ones. According to an aviation report, there was an overcapacity of 33 per cent in domestic carriers in 2007-08. It clearly shows that because of vested interests in the ministry, no judicious rationale was applied in giving licences to numerous airlines, nor was the sector of operations monitored judiciously. Second, the six metro airports have approximately 1,748 domestic landings and takeoffs per day. Due to air traffic congestion, each aircraft waits for minimum 20 minutes prior to takeoff and landing. This, for the year 2007-08, resulted in Rs 10 crore loss per day of the highly valuable aviation fuel. Who is to be blamed for this? In a developing economy like India, can we afford such colossal wastage?


It's time for a nanobus

This is in response to the editorial 'Change must be championed' (May 15, 2008). Exploitation of road space by car owners is a serious concern for urban communities. In fact, for vast stretches on several busy roads in major towns and cities, there are no pavements for pedestrians to walk on. And if at all there are pavements, they are taken over by shops and vendors or parked vehicles of bigger shops. It is risky for a person to walk on the road today. There were times when, in some cities at least, cyclists had enough roadspace, but given today's scenario, that appears unthinkable.

In the us, in the West Coast, cycles are fast becoming popular. The current policy of encouraging car use by concessional loans is detrimental to the overall growth of the economy. Mr Ratan Tata has demonstrated the country's technology with the nano car. Now he should come out with a nanobus and a motorized cycle.


Charge the rich

A certain portion of India's population is enjoying the advantage of subsidized fuels like petrol, diesel and gas, which is undesirable. It was very rightly brought out by the editorial, 'Frugality is not poverty: lessons in energy security' (June 30, 2008). The fuel crisis has made matters worse. Soon, India will need to tighten measures in the use and consumption of subsidized diesel, petrol and liquefied petroleum gas. It will be necessary to check the loss of public money in the process of subsidization. The situation warns that the use of personal vehicles should not be encouraged. Why are such huge subsidies being allowed to satisfy the urban needs only? The poor are always sidelined.


Imperfect relations

This in response to Dilip Cherian's interview (June 15, 2008). I agree with the role of lobbying a firm plays in a democracy. What I do not accept, being a journalist, is how little these Indian public relation (pr) firms know about their clients. Let me quote an instance. Perfect Relations headed by Cherian, was handling the pr of the London-based metal company Allied Deals back in 2001-02. It gave regular inputs on the company's plans in India, including a green field project. In fact, the company had filed expression of interest for buying stake in Hindustan Zinc. But look at the scenario now. All the promoters of Allied Deals, including Viren Rastogi based in London, have been arrested on charges of financial fraud. The company itself was fake.

Indian pr firms have miles to go before they are taken seriously.


Elevated rainwater harvesting?

Is it possible to harvest the rainwater drained off from elevated highways? Has it been implemented anywhere? Politicians talk of the need to adopt rainwater harvesting on a wide scale. Could it not start by setting an example by coming up with the design for and implementing rainwater harvesting projects at highways?


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