Published: Friday 15 January 2010

Good work often goes waste

The social forestry project discussed in the article ‘Money growth policy for Bihar’ (October 16-31, 2009) seems promising, but being a retired forester I feel the claims made are a bit too tall. Organizing 300,000 people from 7,000 villages on a single, non-election day seems unrealistic, that too for planting 9.6 million saplings. Besides, who monitors the survival of the trees every fortnight and recommends release of money to 48,000 families?

The report is not clear on the designation of commissioner S M Raju who has initiated the project. He might be an ias officer, in charge of nregs (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), who can launch novel projects, implement them partially and forget them after his transfer. The article reminded me of a similar project started by an ias officer in Tumkur and Chitradurg districts in Karnataka for biofuel plants. The project was abandoned on his transfer. My heart sank then as 1.5 million seedlings had been nurtured for the project. A state administrative officer shelved it and distributed the seedlings to village panchayats in 2005. They eventually perished.

B M T Rajeev
(Jan 4 2010 2:18PM)


S M Raju replies:

The project was accepted by 1,738 gram panchayats in six districts after three months of hard work. This included spreading awareness among people and motivating panchayat members. To facilitate the work we had trained eight volunteers from each panchayat. Planting 6,000 plants per panchayat is not unrealistic if the divisional commissioner makes up his mind. Our officials have noted down minute-to-minute progress of the project work in their confidential reports. As far as your doubt regarding the monitoring of trees is concerned, the gram panchayat maintains the project’s progress report. Since people’s livelihood depends on the survival of the plants there is no need for any enforcement agency to protect the plants. One person submits the measurement book (which is the basis for payment) for every 2,000 plants and a designated official at the gram panchayat, called panchayat rozgar sevak (employment assistant), looks into the nregs issues. In the absence of other source of income, people are happy to take care of the plants. Besides, the programme is designed to benefit the community, not a few individuals. This makes it successful. The scheme has become so popular that even if I die, it would not die away. It would only result in a cascading effect.

S M Raju is the commissioner of Tirhut Division, Bihar

The project can curb global warming, while catering to the needs of people and helping them earn money. The process is simple. It just needs commitment. Congratulations to commissioner S M Raju and his team!


Manmohan’s monster

Regulatory authorities are expected to safeguard the interests of the consumer first and foremost (‘Why authorize it’, October 1-15, 2009). But the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is marked for its inaction. The saving grace for Indian consumers is that their dietary habits are still biased towards home-cooked food. Packaged food, like the ready-to-eat and processed items, had limited penetration.

Unfortunately, the prime minister has fallen prey to the regulatory trap. He is reported to have said the food processing industry requires tax structure rationalization to replicate the success of the IT industry. This would effectively mean further and faster spread of health insecurity in India. Malnutrition will increase.

Food regulatory bodies across the world are clear that the onus of, and hence the obligation for, food safety is on the processing and supplying party alone. That’s why the regulatory art (accountability, responsiveness and transparency) is practised with the objective of risk assessment in a scientific manner.

In India the scientific panel constituted by the authority is packed with people who do not distinguish between business risks and health risks.

J George

I hope the editorial starts the debate within the government whether we actually need so many institutions. The processes within institutions are so rigid that it is impossible to reform them.

Vinod Tiwari

Sprawling cities go dry

Cities are sprawling at an alarming rate, both horizontally and vertically, building pressure on the water supply and maintenance system (‘Making water-excreta accounts’, November 16-30, 2009). This adds to the water price. The problem is cities first expand and then the development follows. This leaves hardly any room for sustainable development and an effective drinking water supply system.

ravi nafde

Fund it or abolish it

The Centre should reassess the state-level environment impact assessment authorities (‘Rubber-stamp authority’, November 16-30, 2009), established under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

This is the only authority that functions for one-two days a month and the members are given an honorarium of Rs 1,500-3,000. This is nothing but a mockery. How can an authority be efficient and work effectively under such conditions? The government should not fiddle with environment laws in a perfunctory manner. The authority should either be fully supported or abolished. Or else, it sends out a wrong message to industry and to the public.

Trikuta Nagar, Jammu

Eyes wide shut

A perfect analysis (‘2nd coalition of the willing: bad for climate and for us’, November 1-15, 2009). I think all ruling politicians—to a large degree those of the EU—do know what is at stake yet steer us in the wrong direction. This will spell disaster for the planet.

Juergen Boden

Instead of pointing a finger at others for not complying with the Kyoto Protocol, India should act sincerely to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions (‘Race to kill Kyoto Protocol’, November 1-15, 2009). There is plenty of scope to switch to atomic energy. With suitable caution in operation and disposal of nuclear waste, we can move to less polluting energy sources.

Much more needs to be done to make renewable energy, such as solar, wind, biogas, tidal and geothermal power, popular. Since energy saved is energy generated without additional costs, it should be preached and practised by both industry and consumers. The government should offer incentives to those who opt for energy-efficient equipment.

D B N Murthy

An editor’s perspective

In the review ‘Water rights and entitlements’ (November 16–30, 2009), the reviewer has expressed dissatisfaction with the book Water and the Laws in India. Being the editor of the book, I am not challenging his judgement but want to offer some factual clarification.

As editor I am said to have refrained from value judgement over the authors’ positions. I do not quite understand what ‘value judgement’ means. I can only say the concluding chapter discusses several of the points made by the authors, expresses both agreements and disagreements and states the editor’s own views. The reviewer finds only narration and very little analytical content in the papers.

I do not know which pieces the comment refers to. Most of the papers contain extensive discussions and some, in fact, argue their points with vehemence. Referring to certain contemporary concerns and controversies, the reviewer says in-depth analyses of these are missing.

The book has been organized not with reference to particular cases or controversies but with reference to the legal themes involved. All the issues and cases mentioned by him are, in fact, discussed at several places, both in the contributions and in the final chapter.


A friend, nevertheless

I do not dispute the research findings described in the article ‘Your pet is not as smart as you think’ (November 16-30, 2009). But there is no disputing the fact that many-a-times pets, dogs in particular, warn us against dangers. In times of natural calamities like earthquake and tsunami they send out a caution signal.

Golf Links Rd, Thiruvananthapuram

Water is people’s business

This is with reference to the article ‘Packaged water@10 paise/litre’ (September 1-15, 2009). A major flaw with the reverse osmosis scheme is it is not clear where private companies would source their water supply from and who would shoulder the financial responsibility of these plants. The solution lies in making the companies accountable, with active participation of consumers or communities. Besides, harvesting rainwater is a viable option. This doesn’t need industry involvement.


Not one, but two

The editorial ‘Making water-excreta accounts’ (November 16-30, 2009) mentions Bhubaneswar draws its supply from one river. This is not true. The state capital gets its water supply from two rivers—the Kuakhai and the Mahanadi. Water works at Palasuni treats the water from the Kuakhai and supplies to Greater Bhubaneswar.

Department of Chemistry, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar


Ailments or bioweapons?

I wish to bring to the attention of all an unexplained illness. A person develops sore throat, cold and fever. After some days he loses appetite and enthusiasm for work. The fever does not go away. Then suddenly his legs swell and stiffen. He is unable to walk and is in extreme pain. All tests for chikungunya and dengue turn out negative. Sometimes the condition is diagnosed as rheumatic fever or arthritis. Suddenly the patient may have mitral regurgitation and require hospitalization because of the malfunction of the mitral valve in the heart. The pain spreads to the arms and the fingers become swollen. This goes on for months. The blood sugar level fluctuates wildly as do the heartbeat and blood pressure. Some such patients have died in Bengaluru and Mysore.

The doctors do not know the cause of the condition. It looks like a variant of mad cow disease. Or is it caused by prions (infectious pathogens that lack nucleic acids) that are being surreptitiously introduced into the country? It calls for an urgent investigation.

R Ashok Kumar

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