Published: Monday 15 January 2007

No visible change in pollution levels

Your editorial, 'Making space for emissions' (November 15, 2006) was excellent. I have an observation about autorickshaws in Bangalore in this connection. In recent times, many autorickhaws have been converted to run on lpg. But there hasn't been any visible improvement in the pollution level as far as I can see.

Here is what I have noticed:

The amount of visible smoke (unburnt hydrocarbons, if I understood right) is the same whether the auto is running on petrol or lpg, as long as a vehicle has a two-stroke engine.

If it's a four-stroke autorickshaw, irrespective of whether the vehicle is running on petrol or lpg, the emission level is lower (almost no visible smoke) and naturally even the level of invisible gases (cox, noxetc) will be on the lower side.

So, it's the technology of the engine that matters. As you rightly pointed out, the poor technology of our Bajaj autos is the cause of pollution. But four-stroke autos are much more expensive than two-stroke autos. So, the government should either subsidise them or give sufficient incentives to auto manufacturers to make them cheaper.

I wrote to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and the Bangalore Mahanagar Palika in this connection, but got no response.


"The fact also is that the rich in the world have overused their atmospheric space (or pollution quota) and that the poor need to be compensated for this overuse." I am quoting from your editorial. Radical left-wing politicking, isn't it? Does Sunita Narain travel abroad? And if she does, is the mode of transport an airplane?

I hope Narain is aware of the research direction the aircraft industry is headed towards? Having worked in a field associated with aircraft engine development, I am confident that current and future research emphasis on pollution reduction from these engines will lead to ultra-efficient and ultra-clean engines being developed in the near future. Also, there is a substantial thrust in research towards finding cleaner alternatives to gasoline.

I personally think that by associating "the rich" with aircraft travel, Narain is not taking note of the multitude of middle-class people of the world who are greatly benefiting from faster travel made possible by airplanes. The world is a smaller place now, and it's not just the it industry that benefits from air travel.

I subscribe to the Centre for Science and Environment's newsletter. Unfortunately, partisan commentary is not my cup of tea.

I'm genuinely concerned with environmental issues, but hate ultra-leftwing sociologists/environmentalists. I plan to give up my subscription right away.

Prateep Chatterjee

Bad credit

This is in response to the piece 'Farmers need credit' (October 31, 2006). In my opinion, farmers do not need the kind of credit support that in the ultimate analysis leads to suicide. Many of us have noticed that in most cases, credit is incurred for buying inputs, which, it is believed will increase yield, enabling farmers to repay the loans. But, the point is, these anticipated returns do not materialise. This is the reason for the increase in suicides.

Today, the entire thrust of combating agrarian distress is through one route, financial packages. These financial packages, in course of time, will increase suicides by paving the way for new credit.

Financial packages alone will not, however, lead to better crops and better returns. The key to these lies in providing a better natural resource base to every farmer.

K G Vyas

Biased argument

This is in response to 'Another India is not ours' (October 31, 2006). In criticising all special economic zones (sezs) the author seems to have taken a biased position. To begin with, avoiding naming the industrialists and politicians in the anecdote she proves there is no credible evidence about it. Totally omitted, moreover, is the point of view that a key idea behind sezs is the generation of employment outside the agricultural sector. India has for quite some time now been an agriculturally more than self-sufficient country: clearly, that has neither prevented suicides by farmers or starvation in parts of the country. Good argument requires acknowledging other viewpoints and countering that with data or logic.

Nishant Singh

No more deaths

This is with reference to your report 'False claims' (November 15, 2006). The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Mumbai, has said in its comprehensive environmental impact assessment for additional units 3 to 6 of nuclear reactors of the Koodankulam plant in Tamil Nadu that the project requires 20,594 cubic metres of water per day.

The director of Koodankulam Nuclear Project says that the freshwater requirement of the reactor will be met by water obtained by the desalination of seawater. But simple arithmetic shows that given the current capacity of the desalination plants, there will be a huge shortage of water.

This will have to be met by freshwater from the Pechipparai dam. The farmers and people of Kanyakumari district are firm in their decision not to give water for the reactors, since the Pechipparai dam was made for irrigation and the entire district depends on the dam. It also serves as a drinking water source for Nagercoil town with a population of 280,000. They do not want a situation similar to that in Kota, Rajasthan, where irrigation water from the Rajendra Sagar dam was diverted for the nuclear plant in Kota.

The agitation of farmers in Rajasthan has led to deaths of farmers in a police firing. A similar situation should not be triggered in Kanyakumari.

R S Lal Mohan
Chairman, Conservation of Nature Trust, Nagercoil...

Cultural apathy

This refers to your article 'Still Buried' (November 15, 2006). It is tragic that priceless artefacts discovered by the residents of Lohapur in West Bengal's Birbhum district are being destroyed because of neglect. One wonders why our cultural police don't fight for issues that really matter. It is a matter of shame that a country which boasts of a great cultural legacy is ignoring the discovery of these artefacts. Many such artefacts fall into wrong hands and are smuggled out of the country. The state and central governments should take necessary steps to preserve these abandoned idols.

Arvind K Pandey
govindam_9@rediffmail.com ...

Decentralised urban solution

It is true that our cities are becoming crowded and the authorities are having a tough time providing basic amenities. In this context, debate should focus on decentralisation of development. Taluka headquarters need to be developed by creating educational and job opportunities at the village level. Once the flow of migration is stemmed, sustainable growth of cities can become an issue. But first, India needs to improve the agriculture sector with better options and returns for farmers.

Deepa J Gavali

Free lunch

Grazing invariably degrades forest ecosystems under Indian conditions. Most of our forests, except protected areas, are subjected to free grazing without any restriction, especially those near human habitations. Nobody has worked out the carrying capacity of each block of forests to restrict the number of cattle to be allowed for grazing. Even good grasslands are degraded due to overgrazing.

It is a myth to say that grazing helps forests, other than in isolated patches. Grazing hardens the topsoil and reduces fertility.

The forest department's view that grazing degrades forests is based on practical experience and observations. It is only in India and surrounding countries that cattle freely roam in government forests for a free lunch.

Kodira A Kushalapa
Indian Forest Service (Retired)

Social justice

Naxals only target people from upper-caste communities and the richest strata of society--people like landlords. They never indulge in anti-poor activities, which is why their dedication is appreciated.

meenamix@rediffmail.com ...

Good works

I teach environmental education and wish to congratulate you and your team for your efforts to open our eyes to our environment and our duties towards it. The subject has been introduced in schools and is really a novel attempt to create mass awareness. Your articles from all over the world will go a long way to enrich children's consciousness about their environment. All the best to you for future endeavours.

Sapandeep Singh

Suicidal urge?

I read 'Trying to grow' (November 30, 2006) with trepidation. Are the government and civil society in the Himalaya destroying everything out of ignorance and greed, or are they suicidal as well?


Global warming, global unity

This is in response to 'Climate: The market's Achilles heel' (November 30, 2006). The piece was a thought-provoking attack on the selfish attitudes of countries that are not signing the Kyoto Protocol. There is always some discussion on the problem, but they are ultimately of no use, ending inconclusively. But now the world will have to become serious. It's time for all nations to join hands to combat the problem, burying their differences.

Shailesh Kumar

Asbestos hazards

Having gone through the articles 'Old gang unites' and 'Bad chemistry' (November 15, 2006), I wish to clear the air on asbestos.

I am a civil engineer with a background of working with asbestos cement sheets over the past 40 years. I have never felt they are a health hazard during handling or erection, though many occupational health specialists advocate its abolition. The manufacturing process may have health hazards unless meticulous standards are adopted. Being a convenient, durable and economical construction material won't it be wiser to take appropriate safeguards rather than doing away with it?

I have a feeling that industries manufacturing costly alternate materials are attempting to get an edge over this popular, versatile and cheap roofing material by putting forward exaggerated arguments about the environmental and health hazards of asbestos cement.

I would like to be enlightened, as I imagine other users would as well, about the hazards of asbestos both at the user end and during manufacturing.

V S Venkitachalam


Down To Earth welcomes letters, responses and other contributions from readers. We particularly welcome you to join issues and share your opinion with others. Send to Sunita Narain, Editor, Down To Earth , 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi - 110 062. Email: editor@downtoearth.org.in ...


North Korea's blast was a good excuse for the US to get the United Nations to impose sanctions on the country. But why isn't the world talking about eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, instead of barring few countries from having it (see 'Nuclear disarmament, a distant goal', Down To Earth, September 30, 2006).

America probably has 10,000 more weapons than N Korea but how can that be considered as a 'crime', considering the US is involved. Can India not strive to realise the nuclear weapons convention mentioned in the write-up? What is the excuse to delay the formulation of this convention when denuclearisation alone can free the world from the terror of nuclear weapons forever.

Mohan Nair
Kerala University, Karyavattom Campus, Trivandrum...

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