Published: Friday 30 November 2007

Sensing cardamom

The article 'Honeybee plunder' (October 31, 2007) is interesting. A similar viral infection destroyed the small high-value cardamom in southern Indian states between 1970 and 1992. The region then yielded only 46-70 kg of small cardamom per hectare (ha).

Known as foorkey or chirke in northern India, the virus is called mosaic or kattie in the south. To eradicate it, the erstwhile Cardamom Board, now the Spice Board, replanted massive areas with disease-free seedlings and introduced improved cultivation techniques. Following this, production in the region has increased by six-fold, with the last six years yielding an excess of 11,000 tonnes of small cardamom.

Unlike this, the large cardamom yield in Sikkim and West Bengal has remained stagnant. In 1984, Sikkim's cardamom board chalked out ambitious plans of uprooting the plants' diseased rhizomes and replanting the entire area with disease-free seedlings. But the programme was never initiated. The problem in Sikkim is that the farmers use rhizomes for cultivating large cardamoms.This century-old practice has created monobloc clonal areas, where plants become prone to self-pollination and pollination by insects or cross-pollination gets restricted. This weakens the plant's immunity. Recently, I heard that the state's spice board is raising tissue culture plants. Hence, precaution needs to be taken for at least 12-15 varieties of clones to secure cross-pollination.

The potential of Himalayan cardamom, which is harvested in Nepal, Bhutan, West Bengal, Sikkim, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other northern states, is more than 50,000 kg per ha. Though it loses out on pricing against small cardamom, it gains on higher yields and lower costs.

K V S Krishna

Not airy-fairy

I agree with the view on Bangalore's traffic problem outlined in the editorial 'We don't smell the air' (September 30, 2007). I have noticed office-goers using big cars that occupy road space meant for six to seven people.

People do not have any interest in cars pool. The authorities should introduce some regulations to prevent this. Of late, the government has started putting dividers on roads to make separate lanes for auto-rickshaws and cycles. But there is no respite. Two-wheelers continue to use the auto lane, while the auto-rickshaws use the regular lane meant for four-wheelers.


I agree with your opinion that air quality is a big issue not only in metros but also in small towns.

The amount of pollution may be more in metros but the damage caused by pollution affects the whole country. This is where the government and the supreme court come in.

The government is entrusted with the responsibility of creating mechanisms, through institutions or policies, to ensure that air quality across the country meets basic minimum standards. It also has to ensure that its policies are implemented effectively through proper urban planning, technical studies, evaluating the relative merits and demerits of private vehicles and mass transport systems. Besides, the government needs to mobilize investment towards this.

On the other hand, the supreme court may ensure that any violation of centre or state government rules are dealt with appropriately, not 15 years after the violation.

Rajneesh rastogi

Forecast mechanism

This is in response to the editorial 'Floods: backed out but real' (October 15, 2007).

During my stay in the uk, I have seen how accurate the country's weather forecasting system is. With such expertise, we could definitely have avoided the floods that ravaged the country this year. Besides, we always keep our water reservoirs filled upto the brim. But in the uk, water bodies are kept partly empty, so that excess rainwater can immediately be accommodated. This also helps reduce floods, while recharging groundwater aquifers.

Mamata Desai

Bridge too far

This is with reference to your article 'Blind faith' (October 15, 2007). The government's affidavit filed by the Archaeological Survey of India has kept the nation on tenterhooks. Does this mean that we are governed by a prejudiced observation?

The demand of incontrovertible proof by political parties to confirm the existence of Lord Ram only makes mockery of our religious sentiments.

Any way, what is the need to go ahead with a project that risks the marine ecology? There is sufficient evidence showing that without the 'Ram setu' the intensity level of a tsunami could increase.

arvind pandey

Disciplinary issues

This is in response to the article 'It seems a fashionable calling' (October 15, 2007). I agree, to a certain extent, with the writer's critique of the casual attitude towards teaching environmental studies. In India, as well as in other countries, it is not mandatory to have a specialization in the subject.

But why blame history teachers, who have shown a keen interest in teaching environmental studies?

The subject 'environmental studies' certainly presupposes a knowledge about the environment, and over the years researchers in history have been trained and exposed to environmental issues in Indian history.

Moreover, environmental studies have evolved as a separate discipline because of the need to deal with our social concerns related to environment. This is distinct from subjects such as environmental science and environmental management.

To me, social scientists are best suited for teaching present-day environmental issues and its social impact.

Motilal Nehru College, New Delhi


All symbol, no substance

This is in response to your report 'Bare necessity' (October 15, 2007). Salt is a symbol of India's struggle for independence. But salt-makers still remain neglected.

They are neither recognized as farmers nor as leaseholders. They benefit neither from favourable provisions for industry, in terms of wages, labour rates and welfare, nor from subsidies, loans or minimum support prices extended by the government to agriculture. These are some of the larger policy issues that need urgent attention. Or else, we will see more villages like Chinnaganjam and Krishnapatinam, where the Andhra Pradesh government acquired nearly 200 hectares of salt lands for development initiatives. The situation is equally grim in other major salt-producing states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Salt-makers continue to suffer despite the fact that salt-based industries generate substantial revenues, especially through the sale of iodized salt, which is a branded commodity. The huge market is dominated by a few Indian and multinational companies. But whether these companies plough their profits back to salt farmers' welfare remain largely unaccountable.


The claims of Andhra Pradesh salt farmers are reasonable. I was working with them immediately after the December 2004 tsunami.

They are a neglected minority whose cause has to be championed. Experts need to carry out research to feed policy studies to define the rights and problems of salt makers.



Financial mechanism

I find some of your comments in the cover story 'Carbon rush' (November 15, 2005) interesting.

Your article says: "cdm(clean development mechanism) is not about a financial mechanism. It is about finding real and workable answers to climate change, increasingly threatening our world. But the currentcdm design-deliberate and purposeful-has been to make it a bilateral business deal between two self-interested players. This has made cdm what it is today-a cheap and corrupt development mechanism."

I do not agree with this. cdm actually is a financial mechanism, though it needs serious redesigning that has to come from designated national authorities or the cdm Executive Board itself. Firms involved in this trade will anyway look for opportunities to make money. And when they can't find it, they will try to find ways of minimizing costs. Transparency will continue to be an issue until there is a policy change by governments and the board.


Mining woes

I am from a village in northern Goa. Several open-cast iron ore mines have come up adjacent to my village in recent years. Nowone more mine is coming up in the area. Being a geologist, I know the adverse impacts of mining on the environment and on peopleliving in the vicinity. Residents of the village are now against mining and want to stop it in the area. But mine-owners are financially powerful and politically influential. Please give us a few suggestions on how to stop them.

Nakul Dhawasker

Dubious drink

This is regarding an advertisement of Horlicks Lite manufactured by SmithKline Beecham, which has been on air for some time now. The advertisement claims the product is 'sugar-free', unlike the regular Horlicks, which contains added sugar. Recently, we bought a bottle of Horlicks Lite. When we read the ingredients mentioned on the label, we found that the health drink contains the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium. We read up on it on the Internet. Some articles said that the sweetener is 180-200 times sweeter than sugar, while some others said it as carcinogenic. A few articles also said that not much research has been done on the sweetener and its effect on human beings has not been analysed in depth. Following this, we have written a letter to the manufacturers of Horlicks Lite, but they have not replied yet. What I want to know from your magazine is whether Horlicks Lite is safe and whether the company has carried out enough research on the chemicals that the health drink contains to ascertain its safety.

R Chandrasekaran
Ravindranagar, Sitaphalmandi

Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh
Please see 'Bittersweet' (p 44) for response....


The picture with the report 'Honeybee plunder' (October 31, 2007) shows a bumblebee, not a honeybee, as the caption says.

We regret the error.

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