Published: Sunday 15 January 2006

Fringe benefits

I had the privilege of going through the article 'Got it' (Down To Earth, December 15, 2005) and would like to bring the following to your notice.

It is true that no tour operator or hotelier in Ranthambore has ever made any contribution towards the national park or benefitted its fringe-dwelling human population. However, I know for certain that Valmik Thapar is not a tour operator and, therefore, to equate him with other tour operators is illogical, unkind and is, perhaps, driven by reasons other than fair play.

I know Ranthambhore and Sawai Madhopur quite well. Valmik has a house on a plot near the border of the national park, and it offers a good view of the forest. Besides, there are a series of villages located on both sides of the road leading to Valmik's plot.

I am not at all aware that Valmik's property is being used for tourism purposes. In any case, your article made interesting reading.

P K Sen

our cover story raises important issues about the flawed model of eco-tourism that is emerging in India. Your main point, that it is time we made wildlife tourism support rather than undermine wildlife conservation objectives, is unexceptionable.

In addition to the peril of increased local antagonism towards reserves pointed out by you, there are other problems with this kind of single-minded pursuit of tourist dollars. The ongoing mission-drift of the forest department officers away from difficult protection duties towards the pork-barrel of 'eco-development', has significantly weakened wildlife conservation in the last decade. On top of that, a new trend emerging among forest officers is to promote this model of eco-tourism as a silver bullet to save wildlife. This can only accelerate the current mission-drift and weaken wildlife protection further.

While reporting the various goings on around Ranthambore, however, you

have been less than fair to conservationist Valmik Thapar. To the best of my knowledge, he personally has not been involved in the tiger tourism business and the "property" that is listed in your story -- along with other commercial tourist operations -- is merely a small farm where seedlings are raised and distributed to local farmers.


The article does not term Valmik Thapar a tour operator, or equate him to one. But the fact remains that his close relatives are running tourism businesses from properties near his.

The reference to Thapar is in a context: conservationists, who advocate villagers be moved out from in and around the park to maintain "inviolate" protected areas, themselves own properties right next to the forest boundary.

The article questions conservationists' inability to manage and control the tourism trade, which is affecting the park. As wildlife tourism is growing, its regulation is essential to conservation. Can we entrust regulation with those who have an interest in tourism?...

Skeletal remains

The article on the Roopkund human skeletal remains ('Skeleton lake', Down To Earth, August 31, 2005) is based on a film that was made a couple of years ago. The targeted audience was the educated layperson. Therefore, many things that we did could not be shown. Moreover, our scientific conclusions were vaguely and incompletely narrated.

It was alright so far as the film was concerned; but the recent findings of our scientific investigations should have been incorporated while rewriting the story at this date.

S R Walimbe

Nutrition woes

Apropos the article 'Untreated hunger' (Down To Earth, December 15, 2005), mere scaling up of food-based intervention may not be the best way to reduce malnutrition.

The conversion efficiency of food into energy for an individual depends upon access to safe drinking water, healthcare and clean surroundings. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau has estimated that in 2000-2001, about half the rural children below five years suffered from malnutrition. The nutritional status of tribals is worse.

The probability of a child suffering malnutrition is largely determined by the mother's nutritional status. In many families, women eat last and get the least. To treat malnutrition, we need to set right the warped gender equation.

Jaydev Jana

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...

Pick of the Postbag

Chemical housing
I congratulate you on your article 'Home sweet...yuck' (Down To Earth, December 15, 2005) highlighting the case of Golden Chemicals.

Despite the article adopting an investigative approach to the issue, a few questions remain.

Why did the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (mpcb) fine the industry Rs 1,500 per tonne of waste and not take upon itself the responsibility to shift the waste to a disposal facility, as could have been done within the fine amount?

It had asked the industry to stop shifting the waste except to a waste disposal facility. But where did the waste go?

I live close to the affected area. It is well known that the industry had in collusion with the member secretary of mpcb shifted the waste to municipal dumps. Down To Earth has never hesitated to take up cudgels against erring authorities, but your article failed to mention this fact. It is not possible to shift 50,000 tonnes of waste without an erring pollution officer turning a blind eye. Shifting such a quantity would take more than 6,000 trucks. Either it is buried in the industry premises or shifted out.

A web search shows that there are a few other industries causing massive pollution. One such industry is Deccan Chromates in Andhra Pradesh. With the closure of Golden Chemicals, I believe Deccan Chromates has more business now, though it has already polluted the groundwater of the area (as per news reports).

Similar pollution issues trouble Tarapur, Taloja, Mumbai, Kalyan, Pune, Nashik, Nagpur, Jalna, Aurangabad and Satara.

So much for our much-acclaimed mpcb.

Sunita Verma


Mobile towers
I stay in an apartment in a high-rise cooperative housing society building in Kolkata. Recently, our society entered into a long-term agreement with a mobile phone company for installation of a cellular base station on the rooftop and three antennae on the exterior walls of three apartments. A few of us protested against the agreement, but to no avail.

We learnt from your article ('Towering menace', Down To Earth, June 15, 2004) that in a similar case, a Mumbai city civil court ordered dismantling of the antennae. The article also mentioned that some countries have prohibited erection of antennae on residential buildings.

We searched many websites to gather evidence in our favour, but could not find any hard facts to support us. We are in a quandary. The cellular phone company informed our society that they followed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's rules on radiation to obtain clearance. We would welcome any guidance in this matter.

D N Purkayastha

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