Singur: Bone of contention
With reference to the editorial '2006: The Waterloo year', (Down To Earth, January 15, 2007), it was rightly pointed out that environment struggles are impediments to "quick and dirty growth". The episode of Tata's acquisition of agricultural land in Singur (Hooghly district) clearly shows how the Tatas and the West Bengal government have contradicted their own advocated policies and standards.
But in all discussions on this issue, nobody seriously questioned the Tatas for their plan to set up the factory. Objections and criticism mainly revolved around the selection of the site and the means of acquiring the land. In regard to site-selection the Tatas cannot absolve themselves of the charge of violating their own publicly declared principles and standards.
The official Tata website (www.tata.com/ Our commitments) declares that corporate social responsibility is the company's inalienable pledge, which reflects in their voluntary commitments. Such claims cannot be dismissed as empty self-glorification since the Tatas have helped found well-known institutions like the Indian Institute of Science and also started community initiatives in the field of health, education, art, sports and many more. The company has crafted the Tata Index for Sustainable Human Development and established a centre that undertakes watershed programs, land regeneration, forestry projects and protects endangered species.
In the website, the company acknowledges that the plague driving our polluted and populous planet towards peril rests with industry and business. They assert that companies under the Tatas adhere to environmental procedures drawn up by the Global Reporting Initiatives operating under the aegis of the un. If the Tatas are to be believed, one cannot but wonder how Tata Motors came up with Singur's fertile farmlands as a site for their plant?
West Bengal is not in an enviable position in agriculture. Only about one-third of the farmers' annual income comes from agriculture and two-thirds from non-agricultural pursuits. More than half of them run into debts. Despite rationing and anti-poverty programmes, hunger and starvation still stalk remote tribal regions. Even if no farmland is acquired for industrial use, a food shortage will loom over West Bengal in the coming 10-20 years.
The Marxists are opposing large-scale acquisition of farmland for industrial uses in other states but are doing just the same in West Bengal. The government has decided to permit the sale of barga land by the owners or the bargadars to other bargadars by amending a provision in the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1986. This will endanger the state's self-sufficiency in rice.
The state gives its share of rice to seven major food-based programmes like the public distribution system and the midday meal scheme. It also maintains a buffer stock of foodgrains to meet emergencies like crop failure, floods and drought. But with promoters and real estate dealers eyeing arable lands, soon, the state will have to import rice in addition to wheat, pulses and edible oil. If the present trend of acquisition by governments continues, arable land will disappear.
This is in response to 'Some more facts, please...' (Down To Earth, January 15, 2007). Lenin had said, "Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the domination of monopoly and finance capital has taken shape...in which the partition of all the territory of the earth by the greatest capitalist countries has been completed." The developments in Singur indicate that the 'dictator.
Green Income Tax
A missive to the finance minister: to improve ambient air quality, the Income Tax Act, 1961, should be amended to stop subsidy for the use of cars for business purpose.
Deduction of expenses incurred on the use of automobiles should not be allowed as business expense, and should be met out of the profits of the business, if any. Similarly, depreciation too should not be allowed on the cost of automobiles.
The logic behind this being that since depreciation and deduction of expenses incurred on the operation and maintenance of the vehicles is permitted as a business expense to companies, firms, doctors, chartered accountants and other enterprises, it amounts to providing a subsidy of 30-35 per cent as they pay less income tax. This also leads to misuse of the provision with each member of a business family using a separate car and the company paying the expenses.
This adds to the multiplying number of cars on the roads each day, giving rise to environment damage through increased emissions and congestion.
This measure will also end the discrimination between a salaried person and self-employed person as the latter gets a subsidy in income tax while the former does not get it for a vehicle.
M K Pande
Make up your mind
The editorial 'Poor regulators do not a rich country make', (Down To Earth, December 15, 2006), partially supports genetically modified (gm) crops. But isn't it ecologically irresponsible to say that gm crops should be introduced when the editor and the rest of the world are not sure how it would affect humans or the ecosystem?
The editor needs to rethink her stand on gm crops. She should not confuse readers and either take a stance for it or against it.
Anti-gm activists are justified in saying that literacy level is low at panchayat levels. When so-called 'educated' politicians are ignorant about gm crops, why should farmers be expected to know the difference between hybrid or gm crops. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) should first educate politicians before reaching out at the grassroot level.
geac has done well in not issuing approval for gm field trials unless the companies specify the locations of these trials. geac should keep track of specified locations and keep the respective panchayats informed of these trials.
I completely agree with the editorial. I would like to relate an incident. While working on my Phd, I attended a seminar on environment. A residue analyst presented an excellent paper on persistent residues of ddt in food items and related its ineffectiveness in controlling mosquitoes for which it is mainly used.
After the presentation, I raised a question: "Why should we not ban ddt completely when it is ineffective for pest control and causes major environmental and health problems?" The chairperson, an ias officer, claimed that we could not put a blanket ban on anything. The analyst too supported him saying there wasn't sufficient data to support a ban. He said this despite knowing very well that ddt had been banned in the us and Canada since 1972.
Flying kites during the festival of Makar Sankranti, though enjoyable for us, is very painful for birds. Every year during the festival hundred of birds like pigeons, crows, eagles, parrots and sparrows are either injured or killed because of manja (kite string treated with a powder containing crushed glass).
In order to minimise these unwanted and tragic killings, bird lovers should try to make kite-flying enthusiasts a little more sensitive to the issue. They could distribute posters and pamphlets in schools/colleges and in other parts of the city before the festival to spread awareness about the dangers of the use of manja.
People also use nylon thread made in China, which is unbreakable and causes maximum damage not only to birds but also to humans. Every year several birds lose their wings, or their necks gets sliced or sometimes their feet get chopped.
Experts advice that to check this kite flying should be done in open spaces where there are no trees.
Probir Kumar Bose
With reference to 'Healthy move', (Down To Earth, October 31, 2006), the Maharashtra government's initiative to notify standards for private healthcare units comes at the right time. It will help maintain the quality of private healthcare and safeguard people's interests.
However, I was shocked to know that the government has kept pathological labs and blood banks outside the purview of the proposed regulation. Since treatment of patients is decided on the basis of results in these labs, the quality and correctness of pathological tests is one of the most basic requirements of successful health care.
What with increasing incidence of hiv/aids (particularly in Mumbai) it is required that the blood banks, not only in Maharashtra but all over the country, should come under the regulation.
I request you to take up the issue for public debate.
Om Prakash Mehra
Medicinal plant in danger
This is in response to 'Cancer killer' (Down To Earth, December 31, 2006). The article is significant for people living near the Shivalik hills where the Murraya koenigii (curry plant) grows aplenty. Earlier investigations found that the plant had qualities that could reduce and balance cholesterol in blood.
But lately, local inhabitants and forest dwellers have indiscriminately been cutting bushes for fuel wood. The plant leaves are pruned and then thrown in forests as waste.
Thousands of mature and young plants are being cut everyday ignoring their invaluable properties, as a result of which their number is on the decline. The day is not far when such medicinal plants will become extinct.
G S Chatha
With reference to 'Accountable and powerless', (January 31, 2007), I would like to make a few points. While panchayati raj is an ancient Indian tradition, the concept of democracy is western. Our efforts to put these two together are bound to fail. Solutions have to be found in Indian tradition alone.
The western system of elections through secret ballot and majority is faulty. The process is expensive and leads to corruption. But the Indian system works through nomination, with the freedom of recall.
The western system does not represent either the majority or even the interests of the special minority, since they have multiple candidates. In the Indian system, each group of 500 have a vote and representation of interests. Hence, there is all-round participation and self-governance.
The above also ensures freedom from centralisation and bureaucratisation. Taxes are raised locally and spent locally. For services where technical or professional expertise is required, the state government should draw up a list of approved private agencies that will provide services and be paid for it. Panchayats should select the agency they want from the list. Assemblies at the taluka and district levels can consider such matters periodically.
Even the state assembly should later be elected by any group of 200 to 250 panchayat representatives. Even parliamentary members can be nominated by each group of 20 or 50 state assembly members.
K K Somani
I bought a Bajaj Platina motorcycle nine months ago. Its engine recently became rusty because of adulterated fuel. I would request authorities to raid petrol pumps that sell adulterated fuel and put the owners behind bars. Our politicians are also party to these crimes and should be punished. I would also like to know how to contact the "anti-adulteration cell" in Pune, Maharashtra, to report the case.
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