Published: Sunday 30 November 2008

Farmers matter little

The farmers' leader, Mahendra Singh Tikait, rightly pointed out that even though prices of farm inputs have soared, a farmer cannot decide the price of his own produce ('Farming made unprofitable', October 1-15, 2008). The government and the middlemen make the decisions and reap the benefits.

The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices at the Centre recommended the minimum price of sugarcane to be fixed at Rs 155 per quintal for the season that ended in September this year. The Union government ignored the recommendation and fixed it at a paltry Rs 81.

Now elections are approaching and the finance minister has announced a Rs 60,000-crore "political subsidy" for farmers. This is a farce as the benefits will reach the rich farmers leaving the needy to fend for themselves.

No wonder, the next generation does not want to become farmers. This in a country where 70 per cent people live off farming.


Down to Earth What Mahendra Singh Tikait said on the methods of traditional farming is correct. Political parties governing the country do so at the instance of foreign companies. The green revolution was a fallout of the same culture.

The day is not far when India will be importing even wheat and rice because of policies benefiting multinational pesticide companies and hybrid seed manufacturers. The transition from traditional to modern farming methods has only resulted in farmers' suicides, large-scale food scarcity and poverty.


Living with floods

I have a question in response to your article 'Course correction' (October 1-15, 2008). Can Bihar avert another Kosi disaster? If the current pattern of constructing embankments, barrages and flood moderation reservoirs continues, this is just the beginning.

As a river flows, it erodes and transports materials to the sea and deposits finer materials on the floodplain. It modifies the basin morphology, shapes the valley and brings long-term changes to the region's physiographic setting.

But the engineering interventions obstruct the river's natural course of action. This results in recurring calamities. The Kosi is the best example and one should learn from it to stop making the same mistakes over and over.

We don't plug earthquakes, cyclones or volcanic activity. So why try and plug floods? Rather, we should learn to live with floods because moderate floods are better than calamities that have become so regular.


Down to Earth The Indian government introduced a disaster management committee to lessen and control the impact of natural calamities. But its attempts to reduce the impact of floods in Bihar met with total failure because of wrong financial estimates. Why are our authorities so late in waking up to the right course of action--or to the right estimate, at least?

Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh

Down to Earth With all our advances in science, technology and communications, there seems to be no fool-proof measure for flood control. Why doesn't a global independent body assess recurring floods in poor and developing countries and share the findings with the rest of the world?

shiv shanker almal

Diesel is no luxury

This is with reference to the special report 'Correcting distortions' (September 1-15, 2008). Both petrol and diesel are derived from crude oil. Their production cost is also the same. This means their prices should be on par. But in India, diesel is much cheaper than petrol because of a differential pricing system. Since diesel is mostly used in public transport, freight vehicles, industry and agriculture, it is highly subsidized.

But diesel car owners misuse this subsidy and use the highly-polluting fuel for personal transport. The only effective way to rationalize fuel pricing in the country and thus reduce the revenue losses is to ban the production of diesel cars and restrict the supply of diesel only to genuine users of public vehicles and farmers.

K V Ravindran
Karamel, Payyanur, Kerala

Down to Earth Diesel is needed for agriculture, railways and industry, not luxury cars. The prime minister should either ban diesel cars or impose an additional 50 per cent excise duty on them. China is the best model for misuse of diesel.

113, Bazar Kot, Amroha, Uttar Pradesh


Left to their fate

Agricultural policy, as pointed out in the article 'Farmer harmer' (June 16-30, 2008), is one area where the upa government has failed to distinguish itself from its predecessors. Despite an awareness drive by the Left parties, the debt-waiver process has instilled fear among farmers since the waiver of loans is riddled with loopholes.

Sriramamasram, Tiruvannamallai,
Tamil Nadu

In defence of environmentwallahs

As a student of environmental economics, I wasdisappointedto read member of Parliament Sharad Joshi's letter ('Environmentwallahs', October1-15, 2008). It is unfortunate that at a time when politicians should be leading us in the fight against impending environmental disasters, Joshi is spreading misinformation to discredit the global environmental movement. His statementsare biased and factually incorrect. Besides, heconvenientlyignoresthe pool of academic work on environmental issues. I strongly urge him to take a look at ipcc (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) reports on global climate change and Esther Duflo and Rohini Pande's paper on the impact of big dams. I hope they will be able to change his mindset and many othersceptic "farmers" in Parliament.

Ashokankur Datta
Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi

Lost granary

Unlike any other countryside in the developing world, villages in Kerala are in the grip of consumerism ('Who will grow food?', September 16-30, 2008). There is large-scale conversion of agricultural land to industrial and other use, including urbanization. This is despite a number of novel and integrated policies and legislations to promote paddy and to counter the land mafia.

The little that remains of rain-fed plains and the wetlands needs to be put to judicious use. S A Dabholkar, agricultural activist and founder of Prayog Pariwar (a network of over 10,000 farmers) in Maharashtra, visited Kerala in 1996. Seeing all its natural wealth he commented, if scientifically tapped, Kerala's soil and sunshine could produce enough food for the entire country. But, alas, nobody is listening.

Pattambi, Palakkad, Kerala

Kolar best site for neutrino observatory

India-based Neutrino Observatory (ino) wants to set up its facility in the Nilgiris' foothills ('Neutrino in elephant's way', September 1-15, 2008). They claim the observatory needs specific conditions like an earth cover, a remote area and so on. Don't we have other areas in India suitable for such an observatory? ino would be tunnelled right under the Glenmorgan area. The area receives as much rainfall as other places in the Western Ghats and has a feeder dam storing water for the Singara power station. All these factors would lead to water seepage in the detector facility.

The observatory needs to be placed beneath solid earth crust. An abandoned gold mine in Kolar, Karnataka, will be a more suitable site. One, the site has tunnels as deep as 5,000 feet below the earth's surface, criss-crossing a huge area. Two, there is no recorded seismic activity for the past few centuries. Last, there are no nearby radiations to interfere with the sensitive instruments of the ino, making the Kolar gold field an ideal place for the project.

Scientist, ISRO

Why Singur?

West Bengal's population density is among the highest in the country--over 900 people per sq km. In Singur, the density is even higher: 3,200 people per sq km. Why did the state government buy agricultural land for the Tatas in a place like this? Is this the sez policy? No one is against industrialization, but people who give away their land need to be rehabilitated, including providing equity and job security.


Controlling mosquitoes

As a scientist working in the field of vector control, I would like to put forth my views on the control of mosquito-borne viral diseases ('Chikungunya chase', October 1-15, 2008).

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (Tiger mosquito) are the known vectors of chikungunya and dengue. For centuries these mosquitoes have been prevalent in all parts of the world except the Arctic region. With time their behaviour has evolved, causing these diseases to spread more rapidly than before.

Since there are no vaccines against chikungunya or dengue, vector control measures are the only ways to control the spread of these diseases. But this is not possible without people's participation. Even with strict vigilance, formation of breeding habitats of mosquitoes cannot be checked without people's help. The government can do only that much.

Vector Control Research Centre
(Indian Council of Medical Research)

Restrictions on my belching

The fao says eating less meat will help tackle global warming (News 360, September 16-30, 2008). This gives another (if not the only) reason for activists like Maneka Gandhi to intensify their campaign against non-vegetarian eating habits.

I am surprised they do not have any problem in killing plants for food. After all, plants too have life.

According to the latest findings, passing wind and belching produce methane which is a greenhouse gas (ghg). Also, the more we work, the more we exhale co2 (another ghg).

So tomorrow there might be restrictions on my eating, belching, passing wind as well as working. All for the cause of environment.



Pipe dream called safe water

Safe water for all is a pipe dream most of us may not realize in our lifetime. In terms of quality of water, India is at the 120th position out of 122 countries. This is a national shame and puts into paleness all tall talk of India Shining, high growth rate of economy and "we are for the Aam Admi". The tap water most of the time is muddy especially through the rainy season. Only a fortunate few have the privilege to use water filters. Millions have no option except to close their eyes and gulp it. This is because water supply systems either do not have a proper filtration system or they are not maintained after the grand inaugural function. All these issues will continue to plague us if consumers do not include quality of life in the election agenda. I would say the cost of providing safe drinking water would be fairly less than the cost borne by the masses due to diseases and overall morbidity caused by intake of polluted water. I hope that the people who have an administrative and moral responsibility to deliver see these concerns.



Freedom from sugar--or lies?

Cadila Pharmaceuticals has recently introduced Sugar Free Natura-- a zero-calorie sucralose-based sweetener. While Aspartame has 0.36 calories, Cadila claims Sucralose is a no-calorie sweetener. But the fine print on the bottle of Sugar Free Natura says "Zero Calories of Sucralose only. Calories from other excipients extra!"

I would like to know the Sucralose content of one pellet of Sugar Free Natura and whether it is actually of calorie free? I also want to know the safe doses of intake each day.

Lakshmi Bhargava

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