Published: Saturday 15 November 2008

Managing disasters

The cover story 'That sinking feeling' (September 16-30, 2008) reveals how incapable the government of this country is even when push comes to shove. Disaster management should be about preparedness. But for us it is about reacting to a situation, without really knowing what to do.

er r ilangovan

Down to Earth The cover story makes a poignant read. However, do the people who plan projects in air-conditioned offices and arrange workshops in five-star hotels understand ground realities? My humble suggestion is construct offices for disaster management in the vicinity of these rivers. The Planning Commission should also have offices in the very villages that are affected by floods year after year. The commissioner or the deputy commissioner's office should be in rural areas. The advisory board should include panchayat heads. But then of course, these are indigestible ideas. Why would a learned ias officer care about the perils faced by the common man? How does one make the system committed to the welfare of the common people?

It is time we found alternative ways to counter the still prevalent colonial culture.

r p shahi

Down to Earth The article mentions that 35,000-odd people were rendered homeless in four panchayats of Nepal. I would like to draw your attention to the word "panchayats". It has been almost 19 years since the panchayat system in Nepal was abolished. The areas you are referring to must be either village development committees or districts.


The root cause

This is with reference to the editorial "Ignorance and arrogance make for good floods" (September 15-30, 2008). This year the chief minister of Orissa issued statements to the press, demanding Rs 1,500 crore from the central government for the damage the flood has caused in Orissa.

As I am associated with the panchayati raj department, I have learnt from top officials that the state treasury has a surplus of Rs 19,500 crore. Why doesn't the Orissa chief minister spend this money? Instead of begging year after year why do we not address the root of the problem?

Each year Orissa keeps aside a special budget for flood relief. It will cost much less for the state and the central government to create a well designed river management project in Orissa. This would be wiser than spending large amounts each year on rescue operations, which don't reach the needy anyway.

suparno satpathy

Down to Earth The editorial conveniently blames the engineering solution for the Kosi flood and its intensity, while forgetting that without the engineering marvels India would be running for help to the developed countries as we did in the early 1960s.

The masses are still living in poverty, thanks to the opponents of modern technology. The blame for the flood lies on the politicians who failed to provide adequate money for the maintenance of embankments, either here or in Nepal, than on engineers.

madhoo pavaskar

Down to Earth I appreciate your comments but I am a little disappointed as no concrete solution was offered. Uprooting vast settlements of people, particularly from large floodplains used for cultivation, may not be a wise idea. Nor is it practical to demolish the bunds now, so all we can do is go along with the existing system and try improving and maintaining it before each monsoon.

I liked Anil Agarwal's writings on these issues. As a trained engineer, he knew the strengths and weaknesses of engineering solutions and had developed a unique insight into environmental issues.

s c tripathi

Down to Earth The piece provides a wonderful insight into the issues of rivers and floods. The us has a similar problem with the Mississippi river--hundreds of kilometres of dikes south of St. Louis keep the river from flooding the land and fertilizing it. Mankind and its political leaders don't seem willing and able to understand nature's ways.

juergen boden

Down to Earth I want to add to your and Anil Agarwal's comments. I don't call it ignorance or arrogance as you do. It is the deliberate carelessness or criminal treatment meted out to the masses. Step back and look at the national scenario. What have we done in 61 years? Many seminars, discussions and projects have been carried out yet we face such destruction every year. Why do we still not have a comprehensive plan to control such calamities? The truth is that governments don't care. They are only for the few, by the few, but supposedly of all.

The floods cannot be eliminated, but they surely can be reduced to a great extent. The relief money must be going through the corruption channels, which will encourage the officials to ignore the problems. Simply put, when corrupt politicians and officials are making money out of human tragedies, why<>

What does it take?

Apropos the article, "Wrong cure" (September 16-30, 2008), the government should ask those promoting vaccines to help develop an independent disease surveillance system in the country before giving them the permission to introduce their vaccines here. Mercenary vaccination companies often exploit the absence of adequate data on the epidemiology of diseases.

We can learn from Brazil. Not only is it producing highly effective vaccines, tailored to the need of its own population, but also keeping multinational giants at bay. Their approach of developing an indigenous pneumoccocal vaccine, covering five serotypes responsible for most deaths in Brazil instead of going for unnecessary 7-or 9-valent vaccines suited to industrialized countries, is worth emulating.

vipin m vashishtha

Plastic liners for ponds

It is scary to look into the implications of phthalate leeching from plastic into water, causing cancer and neural problems ('Plastic ponds', September 16-30, 2008).

At what cost are we using modern technology?

meenakshi srinivasan


It was a pleasure reading an article on combo drugs ('Scan combo drugs', October 1-15, 2008). Such articles can sensitize people to the use of spurious and counterfeit drugs.

prashant tewari

Expensive water

This is with reference to the article 'Liquid Debt' (September 16-30, 2008). It isn't clear from the article why Mangalore City Coporation (mcc) has not been able to make much headway in increasing water supply from the current 90 mld, to get closer to its target of 170 mld by 2009 despite funds from the Asia Development Bank. mcc even recovers from its customers what it spends on water supply. On the other hand, I do not think that paying for sewerage is a bad idea. It clearly has to be covered by water charges. How else will the municipality operate?

pramod shenoi

Arsenic levels

uk's Panel on Air Quality Standards gives guideline values for harmful metalloids, including arsenic ('Arsenic linked to diabetes', October 1-15). The report provides an insight into all the pathways leading to arsenic toxicity including arsenic's role in enzyme inhibition and its carcinogenic impacts.

richard harkinson

Singur lessons

The Singur episode in West Bengal is a grim portent for the farmers of this country('What fuels Nano', October 1-15). It is more disconcerting to note that a government, instead of standing by the people, appears to have been taken in by the might of the word 'development'. And this, at the cost of livelihood of the poor masked by the buzzword 'compensation'.

Compensation packages are hog wash and can in no way compensate for agricultural land.

A large section of the media and activists do not think this issue is important enough to warrant their attention. The grim fight put up by the farmers of Singur speaks volumes about their defiance and calls for introspection by the country and the state government.

basab aich

Down to Earth Please do not generalize on big businesses and show all of them to be bad. It is not always so. The Tatas and their Nano plant are different. The project would have been good for West Bengal.

anjan sengupta


This is with reference to the article, 'A benign dam' (September 15, 2008), which is based on our research on whether building a dam increases the incidence of malaria in that area. I found some of the comments on our research mentioned in the article illogical and unfortunate.

The study carried out in Orissa's Sundargarh district is not based on limited observations. It was based on observations made over a period of five years. Since the dam was the only observable change in the village--where the research was conducted--there is no scientific reason why the results should not be linked to the dam. During our observation, we did not find any change in the control villages, which had the same topography, demography, socioeconomic status and malaria transmission and intensity as those of the village where we carried out the research.

A P Dash
Director, National Institute of Malaria Research, Delhi



Felling trees to accommodate so-called development projects has become the order of day. In Hyderabad it is far worse than in any other city in India. A large number of green shady trees have been cut down in the past few months either in the name of road widening or laying of metro rails. Some of these trees were quite old.

Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation now proposes to cut down a 400-year-old tamarind tree to make way for road expansion. This heritage tree, near Osmania General Hospital, helped save 150 lives during the devastating Musi river flood in 1908. Many NGOs and individuals have written to the Andhra Pradesh chief justice requesting him to treat their protest letters as public interest litigation and order a stay against felling of the tree. People are anguished over the possible death of the tamarind tree that is as old as Charminar, as old as Hyderabad itself.

But the authorities seem unmoved.

sailaja nayak


Save Konkan

I am a practising paediatrician from the town of Sawantwadi in Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district. This region adjoins Goa and is known as Konkan Western Ghats--one of the three important biodiverse sites in India.

The Centre is planning to start power projects of the capacity of 25,000 mw to 30,000 mw along the entire 250 km coastal line from the north of Ratnagiri to the south of Sindhudurg. Many are thermal power projects and will inevitably destroy the flora and fauna of the region. They will also be dangerous for the marine life, which in turn will impact the fishing industry.

In the same district at least 10 mining projects are coming up at the Sahyadri foothills. All these projects will cause great harm to this beautiful region.

Please help us bring this issue to light.

jayendra parulekar

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