Published: Wednesday 31 May 2006

Issues of democracy

It is heartening to read the editorial 'Narmada, Bhopal are issues of democracy, fair deals' (Down To Earth, April 30, 2006). All people who stand for democracy feel pained at such issues.

Whereas the governments of the day fight vehemently to uphold the illegalities associated with unauthorised constructions in Delhi and maintaining the status quo, a large chunk of poor are uprooted in the most inhuman manner to give way to projects or the state just leaves victims of tragedies to fend for themselves. Darwin's theory takes over. Simply put, they are neutralised. Democracy has been hijacked by politicians and bureaucrats.

You can draw a parallel with your report on the tiger task force. Noble thoughts of rehabilitating people from tiger parks have been stymied because of similar concerns. People are left guessing about rehabilitation efforts and the population of the tigers, meanwhile, keeps dipping. In my comments on the report, I had raised a similar point -- that the politicians would spare no effort to see to it that tigers in the country are SYSterminated: systematically terminated.

The worse is that till now courts have been getting involved in such matters more frequently, when this is something they should be doing sparingly. The issues are complicated and resolving them is certainly not easy. We can see the enormous effort that courts are putting in getting orders obeyed. The courts and the judiciary would gradually become infructuous and the day they do would be the day we would lose our voice, too.

Girish Mamtani

Your editorial was well written but seemed to have missed a wider picture which, I think, also needs to be looked into and this is about the people's fundamental right to protest. But the manner in which the present government and an overzealous police force have been behaving, it would seem it is a crime to protest.

Soon after the the protests against Union Carbide (for the Bhopal gas leak in 1984 that killed and maimed thousands of people) and the Narmada sit-in, students from Delhi demonstrated against the reservation policies recently proposed by the government. What is a matter of concern is the way in which the government chose to deal with the different protests. In one case, it forcibly picked up Medha Patkar in a "midnight swoop". In the other case, tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse student protesters.

One wonders what has happened to the democratic set-up in the country. Is Delhi increasingly becoming a ghetto of sorts for a select few? Do the citizens of this country not possess the right to protest, if they feel they are not being properly heard?

Sachin Mardikar

Your article has explored the real issues and factored actionable points. The question is who will bell the cat?

Civil society organisations are expected to partake in developmental issues. They also have to 'depend' on the well wishes of politicians, bureaucrats and private companies (corporate social responsibility) for grant money funding. Union minister Kamal Nath was muted in mentioning the Narmada issue at his address at a meet on the World Trade Organization (wto), organised by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, which wto's director general Pascal Lamy also attended, albeit briefly. He said that Medha Patkar may also have a point.

What we need is development which has:
a human face,

No to GM food

This refers to the editorial 'Aye, says India to gm food' (Down To Earth, April 30, 2006). You have seriously and adversely criticised India's stand on the issue and condemned every one/every agency instrumental in saying 'aye' wrongly.

What next? The treachery by the Union government should be openly discussed in parliament and the draft rules making for a surreptitious entry of gm foods into the country exposed.

gm foods are not only controversial, they are yet to be proved safe to humans in laboratory tests. India does not have a laboratory to conduct such tests. Then why does the government and bureaucrats want to hurry up the process, unless they are under pressure from multinational companies like Monsanto to market gm food.

India has suffered enough through Bt cotton. The country should not allow any more gm food. We grow our food crops with our own seeds, not gm seeds or gm technology and should continue to do so.

S S Chitwadgi
156/A, Indrapuri,Bhopal...

Capital mess

I visited Delhi recently, after more than a year's gap. So what do I find new in the city? More flyovers, new metro tracks and metro stations. In addition to that something that surprised me very much was the presence of green and blue dustbins for segregated waste disposal.

I was really glad that after so many years of just talking about waste segregation, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (mcd) had done something about it. The bins were to be seen in almost every nook and corner of the capital.

But all my excitement disappeared into thin air as I got to know that no waste segregation was being carried out. Most of the people using the bins don't even have a clue why two different coloured bins are placed side by side. They choose the bins simply on the basis of their colour preference.

I feel the mcd has wasted its resources on the blue and green bins. By the time, the whole segregation methodology kicks off, most of the bins will be missing, broken or recycled.

With Delhi being the host for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, this is the right time to increase the level of awareness about the problem of waste management in the city. Segregation of wastes into biodegradable, non-biodegradable, recyclable and non- recyclable is the answer to efficient solid waste management in any city.

I hope that my next visit won't leave me disappointed.

Reshmi Mohandas
reshmi.mohandas@gmail.com ...

Using ash

I am writing in response to the letter that recently appeared in the 'Help' section ('Ash disposal', Down To Earth, April 15, 2006).

There is a good and simple solution to the problem of the buildup of cowdung ash, which was raised in that letter. The Natueco method of farming uses ash and ordinary soil to make a nutrient-rich compost called masala mitti. Farmers can make this compost, which takes about 40-50 days to be ready, for their own use or for sale outside their village.

Masala mitti is especially useful in arid zones since it can hold a lot of moisture. Cereals, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables have all done well with the application of masala mitti.

The Natueco method of farming can feed a family of five comfortably on just one quarter of an acre. Food security for the poor and marginal farmers is thus a real possibility with this method of farming. The Yusuf Meherally Centre in Panvel, Mumbai (yumeher@mtml. net.in) or Madhavashram in Bhopal (drpotdar@satyam.net.in) can help those who are interested.

Anjali Pathak

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

Tannery trouble
About 150 leather units in the Pammal-Pallavaram-Nagalkeni stretch in Tamil Nadu are slowly killing rivers, lakes and wells. Hundreds of poor children are falling sick due to polluted wells and supply of contaminated water in this region.

Despite being served notices by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (tnpcb), very few leather units are complying with the standard norms of discharging effluents. Most units release untreated toxic 'wash water' on the streets, and leather-scrap dusts are being freely dumped in open places making the area virtually unliveable.

Several families have shifted out of the area after their wells were contaminated with effluents from the leather units. The Central Pollution Control Board has classified tanneries as 'red' industries, as their hazardous waste had the worst possible environmental impact on water sources.

Most of the villages in this region are affected badly. The impact on human health and agriculture is significant. Combined with poor sanitation and drainage facilities, the pollution increases the probability of people contracting several water-related diseases.

An empirical study I conducted through a primary survey of around 500 samples in this stretch indicated that children are most vulnerable to several water-related diseases such as diarrhoea, jaundice and cholera. The study also found that the water supply is mainly contaminated with wastewater from tanneries.

It is the poor who suffer from the burden of diseases, which, estimated in economic terms, could be huge. Only 4 per cent of the households sampled had decent toilet facilities, 35 per cent did not have any and 61 per cent depended on intermediate facilities. As for water sources, 90 per cent of households use the public supply, which is often not kept clean. Some people use groundwater but only for washing as its quality is very bad. The households in these areas spend about 10 per cent of their income on children's health alone.

Since water is a basic need, people are not interested in privatising the water supply system. If the issue is to be addressed, a strong regulatory and monitoring system is a must.

Srinivasulu R


Removing azo dyes
In response to the article 'Dye farming' (Down To Earth, April 15, 2006), I would like to know whether the activated carbon and/or Jalshakti can remove the colour of azo dyes from groundwater.

I worked in the Dosi Nala area of Ratlam district (Madhya Pradesh) where about 12 villages were affected by the pollution of H-acid -- an intermediate compound used to manufacture azo dyes. The groundwater in the area was red. I tried to remove the colour using activated charcoal, but was unsuccessful.

Through this letter, I would like to draw the attention of the scientists at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, whose work was quoted, to take up a study in this area and find out if Jalshakti can remove the red colour of its groundwater.

D K Goel
dineshgoel2002@yahoo.com ...


imals have been taken over by industrial units. Harmful wastes can be seen scattered by the road every few kilometres. Recently, the Uttranchal government has given land in the famous forest of Chorgalia near Haldwani to a private builder to develop an industrial area.

Recently, I was in Belgium visiting pheasantries and zoos to learn about some breeding techniques. There I was shown an eco-duct for wild animals to cross the busy highway. Such passages, which are not very expensive, are urgently required for places like Haridwar and Dudhwa where lot of animals die in accidents while trying to cross the road.

kaushlendra singh

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