Published: Friday 31 March 2006

Thinking big?

The article on Sethusamudram project ('Short circuit', Down To Earth, March 15, 2006) was well researched.

If I can fault it at all, it is on one account. The economic reasons for not taking up the project, which are mentioned later in the article, should have been brought upfront, where the main points have been summarised.

This is because, even now, many people are under the impression that the objections to the project are only on grounds of environment and ecology. The project was conceived on the lines of canals like the Suez, where the economic logic was clear. For, in the absence of the Suez canal, ships would have had to take a very long detour round the African continent.

The Sethusamudram project had been examined several times in the past and found unviable because it would have caused environmental, safety and security problems, especially given the peculiar topography of the Bay of Bengal with its sand drifts. Yet, if it is going through, is it because of the Think Big syndrome or for less obvious or opaque reasons?

We are going through a similar exercise on interlinking of rivers, unmindful of the problems created by water not reaching the seas to enrich the deltas, mangroves and marine life or the link between water ingress and monsoon cycles over the seas. River interlinking might also lead to the pampering of areas growing water-intensive crops at the expense of systematic dryland agriculture, which promises greater returns at lower costs.

We have to think big, but it should be to eradicate poverty by investing in education, health, sanitation, nutrition and infrastructure in our villages. We have to think big to arrest the trend to copy the wasteful practices of the developed countries and adopt the right mix of traditional and modern practices to promote sustainability in agriculture and allied sectors. We have to promote decentralised governance in a big way and link it to the goal of value addition in villages, instead of adding to mindless urbanisation.

We also have to think big to invest in cutting edge technologies in fields like solar energy, micro hydel energy and decentralised water harvesting systems. Such investments will help evolve production processes that will give us the edge in both domestic and international markets, without which we cannot sustain our burgeoning population and our natural environment.

R Rajamani

Livestock wealth

propos of the article on livestock ('Livestock boom', Down To Earth, February 28, 2006),the writer has emphasised the need for appropriate regulations, but has not spelt them out.

The article suggests that meat offers a unique opportunity to increase income of the poor farmers. But meat is disastrous not only for human health but also for the ecology. Using the male progeny of livestock for draught animal power is a far better alternative.

The difference between the two options is elucidated by the story of the goose that laid the golden egg, one at a time. But when its owner got greedy and killed the goose, he found he had made a big mistake.

Likewise, it makes poor economic sense to send animals reared for several years to the slaughterhouse. Besides, the practice usually involves cruelty to animals while killing and even transporting them, which violate Article 51A(g) of the Constitution.

I also don't agree with the view that managing cattle manure is difficult. Your founder editor Anil Agarwal had compared dung with diamonds in one of his editorials and even demanded the post of a gobar mantri be created, during his presentation before a consultative committee of Parliament. According to a recent report from Japan, scientists claim cow dung can be used to power a vehicle. It is a surprise that such a valuable material is considered waste or problematic.

It is a myth that livestock contribute to raising atmospheric methane levels. If the animals are given proper food, methane production is reduced by more than half.

I, however, agree with the writer on the need to introduce fiscal measures for environmental damages, removal of subsidies on chemical fertilisers and on fossil fuel based tractors and machinery. Chemical fertilisers can be replaced by manure and tractors that run on diesel by Kamdhenu bullock-drawn tractors, which have proved quite successful in field trials and are now usually available on demand.

Laxmi Narain Modi

Misplaced reaction

I read the response from L C Nagaraj ('This is not what research should be', Down To Earth, February 28, 2006) to the story published in the January 31 issue of the magazine, based on the findings of our paper. I just wish that Nagaraj should have carefully read the story and our paper (published in the December 25, 2005 issue of Current Science) before sending the letter.

In the story ('Reaping double benefit', Down To Earth, January 31, 2006) or the paper, we never advocated growing lowland rice in areas where there is water shortage. Our paper was based on the long-term effects of arable and wetland rice cultivation on organic carbon and nitrogen status of the soil. The results demonstrated a higher content of organic carbon and nitrogen under double rice cropping than under arable cropping or rice-upland rotations. The results support our earlier findings from a global review of literature.

I find that the letter by Nagaraj is completely out of context and is a bizarre reaction. I thought I should set the record straight lest readers, especially those who might not have read the story or our paper, be misled.

Kanwar Sahrawat


It is news to me, and I am sure to many others, that the matka (pitcher) is India's eco-mark ('Holes in the pitcher', Down To Earth, January 31, 2006).

Since eco-labels are granted to natural and biodegradable or recyclable materials, one wonders how the matka fits into this criterion. Burned pottery can remain intact in the soil for thousands of years, as we have seen in the case of archaeological excavations. Pottery is not degradable as such, but when powdered become part of the soil. But how many people powder the pottery before discarding it?

K V Ravindran

Sourcing power

I enjoyed reading your editorial on the nuclear power imbroglio ('Its dark outside the tv grab', Down To Earth, February 15, 2006).

As a proponent of both renewable and nuclear power, I feel that though the present installed capacity of nuclear power is half that of renewable resources, generation from the former is double that of the latter due to its very low capacity utilisation factor. Second, nuclear power cost per mw is approaching that for wind power. Of course, the gestation period for nuclear power is about 8-10 times higher.

Both of them deserves thrust since nuclear power based on thorium can replace coal for base load power stations in a competitive manner. Both resources are non-polluting and sustainable. Disposal of waste, extra security measures and the risk of explosion can be done economically as evident from the experience of France and other industrialised countries.

With a forecast of nearly 50,000 mw of nuclear power by 2030, when demand will surpass 650,000 mw, and probably 100,000 mw from renewable resources, it will still be difficult to get the balance from hydro and coal-based power stations because petroleum price will be too high. As such, both the resources should be encouraged.

C R Bhattacharjee

Disjointed management

This is in response to the article 'Water budget' (Down To Earth, February 28, 2006). It is a comprehensive analysis of the approach of the government and the budget allocations for 2005-2006.

It brings out the lack of appropriate strategies to implement government plans. It seems that the schemes/programmes that have been designed are disjointed and reflect the blurred vision of each ministry. Their implementation is likely to create confusion and more problems rather than solving them.

We have enough experience and clarity as to what needs to be done in this sector. But in the eagerness to launch new programmes, many important lessons learnt earlier are overlooked or sometimes forgotten.

The last two decades have clearly indicated that watersheds are the most appropriate units of management for land and water and it is imperative that management of both these resources be done together. The Union ministry of rural development is obsessed with a unit of 500 hectares for a watershed at the village level. It does not consider the fact that these small units are part of a bigger watershed for which no macro-level planning is done and thus, ultimately, a very limited purpose is served.

There is evidence to show micro watersheds are treated with community participation and ownership as part of a larger planned watershed of 50,000-100,000 hectare. The results are not only optimum but also sustainable and wastage of resources and funds is avoided. The bigger picture integrates each activity irrespective of its nature and size in such a way that all the stakeholders get what they plan.

Macro-level plans can be joined together to have a river valley planning. This approach would support the activities between different ministries but also bring about a composite, planned management of land and water resources on a sustainable basis.

Unfortunately, all the efforts made to install modern technologies based on satellite-based information and mapping are yet to be used for scientific management. My experience of over 25 years in this sector leads me to conclude that the Union government has not been able to limit itself to its role of providing budgets for those programmes which are part of a bigger vision. The approach cannot be changed with each government, plan or ministry. I hope the government will accordingly consider all aspects of watershed development, right from building dams and gully plugs, to its management.

R K Sama

Turn around

A question of ownership

This is in response to the article on the French ship Le Clemenceau ('About turn', Down To Earth, March 15, 2006).



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...

Turn around

This is in response to the article on the French ship Le Clemenceau ('About turn', Down To Earth, March 15, 2006). The ship was headed for India to be dismantled at Alang in Gujarat. But the protests in India pressured the French government to recall the vessel. This action made everyone realise that India cares for its local environment and its people. It also shows that industrialised countries cannot use developing countries as dumpsites for their waste.


Will this help?

In an earlier letter that you printed ('Eco-sanitation: let's get going', Down To Earth, February 28, 2006), Ray Wijewardene wrote saying he wanted details on eco-sanitation.

I happened to meet Paul Calvert of Eco Solutions on Toilets at a seminar recently. Calvert has done pioneering work in this field and can be contacted at www.eco-solutions.org/ ecosaures.org/ecosan.org/wastewater.net.

I hope getting in touch with Calvert will help Wijewardene get going.

Anil Kamdar

Water tunnel

Tradition flows
A traditional water extracting system called suranga which means a tunnel in Padre village of Kasaragod district, Kerala. It's excavated horizontally either across a hillock or from a well. Padre village has around 2,000 surangas. According to a rough estimate I made years ago, almost 40 per cent of the village's irrigation requirement was met by surangas. These tunnels are dug in a way that water flows through them on its own; it does not require any kind of pump.

The length of a suranga is measured in kolus; one kolu is 2.5 feet (0.75 metre). Some surangas stretch up to 150 kolus The surangas are quite similar to the qanats of Iran.

Shree Padre

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