Published: Monday 30 April 2007

Pilgrim's pollution

This is in response to your article 'Pilgrim's regress' (February 15, 2007). The article is an eye-opener to all those who pollute water sources under the ploy of religious feelings. The expenditure incurred and the efforts wasted during such gatherings are mind-boggling. One can imagine the fate of the place when five times its existing population camps for 10-15 days. This transient population pollutes the river, chokes the sewers and leaves tonnes of excreta all over the place to be cleaned up later.

Moreover, in the name of religion, this transient population has the temerity to demand more water to dip and bathe while cultivated fields are going dry. As brought up in the editorial 'Excreta's economy: a true experience' (same issue), we must ask ourselves how we should manage such pollution?

Once upon a time, it was believed that religious activities were eco-friendly. But they are not so anymore. In India we have over 2 million places for worship, against around 1.5 million schools and half as many hospitals. Scriptural beliefs and myths about these holy places and sacred timings drive believers. Even the authorities are compelled to satisfy the religious urge of these people.

When will we learn that religious feelings should be confined to four walls rather than polluting rivers, hills and other public places calling for huge expenses to maintain law and order? When will we be able to understand that religious sentiments cannot be entertained at the cost of environmental degradation?


Murry-Darling model can work in India

This is in response to the editorial 'Excreta's economy: a true experience' (February 15, 2007). The article struck a chord with me. My memories of sewage spilling between the tracks of the Delhi railway station, during my stint in India, will remain with me forever. While working as the principal planner of Australia's Murray Darling Basin Commission during the 1990s, we faced similar problems along a 25,000-km stretch of the river Murray. We started a regional planning scheme for the river that required all effluents to be put to beneficial use. Our approach was to turn the problem into a prospect. There were also proactive planning teams which helped establish successful models along the entire stretch of the river. Today, in Australia, dry composting toilets are the preferred systems for floodplains, national parks and other environmentally sensitive areas. Sewage effluents are no longer discharged into the river. The effort took us only 10 years. Though the Murray is still polluted, it is largely because of discharges from agrochemical farmlands. I believe our solution, though different from the engineering infrastructure approach mentioned in your article, can work in India as well. By using dry compost toilets, human wastes can be rapidly and cheaply converted to compost. In Australia, this system has reduced household water consumption by 20 per cent. Besides, there is no effluent discharge in this process. Dry compost toilets can be made of bricks, which are ideal for villages and poor housing areas. Besides, human wastes are rich sources of manure. Along the river Murray, sewage effluents are now a recognised resource competed for in the market. It is used in effluent woodlots, on horticultural crops and on open spaces such as parks, gardens and golf courses. Since the use of effluents, there has been no need for chemical fertilisers. Some Murray river councils now sell the effluent and distribute it via a dedicated network. While working in Gujarat's Kheda village, I wanted to introduce dry composting toilets in village schools as a model. But time ran out. Perhaps your organisation can re-start the initiative. Haikai tane Watershed Systems, New Zealand taneh@watershed.net.nz

Your editorial should be an eye-opener for our bureaucrats. After all, the bureaucracy, in consultation with people's representatives, takes decisions on whether to spend funds on building a commonwealth games village or providing basic facilities like portable water, safe toilets and primary health care. Public health specialists and scientists can merely advise them.

Today, more than 30 per cent of Indian children below the age of five die of diarrhoea. Even diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis a are frequent in Delhi due to polluted water. We all know what the problem is and highlight them at various forums. But what follows is the vital question.

Umesh Kapil

I would like to share my experiences in Raipur in connection with your editorial. The capital city of Chhattisgarh had laid down its sewerage system around 20 years back. But the organisation that was to take it over for maintenance backed out. As a result, the sewers are still lying unused.

It appears that the body that laid down the sewerage system had earned a lot of money, and maintenance would have been a liability. Though crores of rupees got wasted in the process, it was forgotten with the passage of time. Such sewer systems cannot be revived if they remain unused for 20 years. So the authorities will now take up a new project. I will not be surprised if the same story is repeated again. Similar stories can be found in other cities as well.

We waste substantial amount of usable water just to flush out our excreta. By discharging the sewage effluents into rivers, we further poll.

Spilling fuel

This is in response to the cover story 'The great guzzle's puzzle' (February 15, 2007). I find the article an accurate documentation of our miserable fuel efficiency, particularly in relation to the transport sector. Though we do not know the target set by our Bureau of Energy Efficiency (bee) in this regard, the Petroleum Conservation and Research Association has been working on the issue with bee.

I feel that unless targets are fixed to decrease fuel consumption in consultation with all the parties concerned, mainly manufacturers, fuel efficiency will not improve. Japan, whose energy intensity is 3.7 times lower than the us, follows such a plan. Apart from switching over to electric drive and better mass transport system by rail and road, there is also a need for financial incentives and social recognition to improve efficiency.

C R Bhattacharjee
Lake Gardens, Kolkata

Mysticism of Kalinganagar

This is in response to your article 'Orphans of growth' (February 28, 2007). The article correctly points out that the adivasis' struggle is against the government's policy for excessive industrialisation and forced displacement. However, it is strange to note that the authors who travelled all the way to attend the martyr's commemoration ceremony and the mass meeting, chose to interview only people running an obscure ngo on environmental issues. I am sure that even the adivasis would not have heard of the organisation.

It is also erroneous to say that some "Marxist parties" are involved in the struggle. Threatened by militant activities, the cpi and cpi-m are no more active in the movement, while ngos have been asked not to piggyback the Kalinganagar movement. The cpi-ml (New democracy) is one of the few organisations supporting the Kalinganagar Bisthapan Virodhi Jan Manch (kbvjm) which spearheads the struggle. Had the authors made the necessary efforts, they could have easily met leaders of kbvjm and got a detailed and authentic report on the political developments at Kalinganagar, including views on environmental issues.

It is time that people and the media understood that the Kalinganagar movement is not the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Besides, it is amusing that even though the authors find themselves in the middle of one of the most path-breaking movements in Indian history, they still find time to 'romanticise' tribals and also locate them as exotic species, rather than seeing them as political beings. The adivasi situation must not always be located in the realm of anthropology and mysticism.


The authors reply

The context of our visit to Kalinganagar on the first anniversary of the killings of January 2, 2006 was as follows. After attending the international congress of Ecological Economics in Delhi in December 2006, we visited some places in Orissa where there are conflicts related to bauxite mining (the Niyamgiri forest and the village of Kucheipadar near the alcan - Utkal Alumina site). Orissa is certainly full of foreigners--alcan from Canada, posco from South Korea, Vedanta from London. So there is nothing strange that the world outside is interested. We rented a car and went to Kalinganagar on January 2. We talked to Indian journalists present at the martyr's commemoration and to some participants who could speak English (since we do not speak Oriya or Hindi). We realised and remarked upon the strong presence of the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, which certainly has strong Maoist inclinations.

We might have been wrong on how many other different Marxist groups were present at the demonstration. Finally, the Environmental Protection Group based in Bhubaneswar has a very informative website, which we used for information on the Vedanta-Niyamgiri conflict. We might be romantics (the romantics opposed brutal industrialisation in Europe) but we are not fond of mysticism. We are ecological economists and political ecologists.

Joan Martinez Alier & Leah Temper

Toxins in homes

This is in response to the article 'High Rise' (Down to Earth, February 15, 2007). The article correctly notes that the risk of polychlorinated biphenyls (pcb)-exposure is especially high in developing countries like India, where hazardous materials make their way into households.

However, there is another chemical, triclosan, which is also the latest rage in the arsenal of anti-microbial chemicals and is making its way into our houses through products like toothpastes, acne creams, deodorants, lotions, cosmetics and soaps. Chemically, this synthetic broad-spectrum anti-microbial and anti-fungal agent is similar to some of the most toxic chemicals like dioxins, pcbs and Agent Orange. It is also a chlorophenol, which is a suspected carcinogen. Besides, its manufacturing process may produce dioxin, which is a powerful hormone-disrupting chemical. If stored in the fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, damaging liver, kidneys, lungs and even cause paralysis, sterility and suppression of immune function.


All not one

This is in response to your article 'All waste, no energy' (Down To Earth, March 31, 2007). The article is an indictment of incineration technology. I don't know the exact technology utilised at the Vijayawada plant. But please don't characterise all incineration technologies as unsuitable for municipal waste based on just one experience.

Our company has decades of experience with successful municipal waste to energy plants. We have numerous plants that have been in operation for more than 20 years and still meet original design goals as well as environmental regulations.

In fact, we have developed a special model for low-heating value and high-moisture content of municipal waste, typically found in Asian countries, which incorporates a hot gas re-circulation design to improve the efficiency of the operation while reducing auxiliary fuel use. We would invite you to visit our website at www.consutech.com.

Robert S. Lee


Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.