Published: Monday 31 July 2006

Spring cleaning needed

This is in response to 'Almora's dying water bodies' (Down To Earth, June 15, 2006). Prior to the installation of regular piped water supply to homes in the pre-independence era, women used to walk 3 km to the nearest ' naula' (spring) to fetch water in shining brass vessels. Availability of piped water supply came as a big relief, especially for the womenfolk. The advent of plastic overhead tanks, however, in the past two-and-a-half decades has worsened things. As a geologist, I feel that part of Almora's water problems can be solved through revival of the springs. But it is also important to remember that springs migrate if their pathways are clogged. In the case of Almora, I have observed that while the ridge of Almora town was completely dry after rains, the northeastern part, beyond Shintola on road to Chitayi, myriad springs had sprung. This could have been because springwater at Almora did not find an opening. Water from these newly formed springs could be tapped and used to partly augment Almora's water supplies. The pipelines being laid for the sewage disposal may not work at all, because according to engineers, 5 million litres of water per day is needed to keep the sewer lines working. From where will that water come?


Encourage public transport

The editorial 'The great Indian laughter challenge' (Down To Earth, June 30, 2006) is good but does not go far enough. Fuel efficiency gets nullified sooner or later by the increase in the number of vehicles. The challenge is to provide good public transport that reaches everyone and is affordable at the same time. There ought to be incentives for public to use them. China, quoted approvingly in the editorial, is a poor example to follow on this issue. Petrol in China costs only half of what it costs in India. China is following the disastrous American pattern by encouraging more automobiles as the path to development. Singapore is a better example to follow. We must do the following:

Tax automobiles more, instead of making them cheaper

Limit the number of automobiles by auctioning the right of owning the limited number that will be permitted each year

Impose levies on using private vehicles on congested routes

Not subsidise fossil fuels

Build more metro and other railways

Make public transport more comfortable

Subsidise public transport

Provide good pavements and ensure cycle tracks to encourage walking and cycling.


Do not liberalise forest rights bill

The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005 is likely to negate the Union ministry of environment and forests and the government's efforts to conserve India's natural forest wealth. Today, much of our biodiversity is found in the protected forests but once they are opened for public use, they will be doomed. The joint parliamentary committee's suggestions to liberalise the provisions of the bill will only accentuate the problem. The option that tribes will use and at the same time conserve the forests is anything but feasible. Since we cannot create forests, we should not deplete them either. It is a better option to bring tribes to the mainstream and help them through education, training and other cross-cultural opportunities.

spskushwaha@gmail.com ...

Paradigm shift in planning needed

This is in response to 'Why farmers have to die?' (Down To Earth, June 15, 2006). The editorial rightly points out: "The cruelty is that we can do nothing more than count the statistics of death." But it's time we did something about it. It requires a paradigm shift in our planning and national priorities. We need to understand that India will not be able to realise its strengths if the rural populace is left behind. Just following western intellectual traditions and technologies will not help. We need to develop indigenous technologies. The government also needs to initiate appropriate tax incentives and other concessions, so that our entrepreneurs are not left behind in the race called modernisation.

P V Hariharan
pvhramani@yahoo.com ...

Himalayan herbs in place

This is in response to 'Where have Himalayan medicinal herbs gone?' (Down To Earth, June 15, 2006). The views expressed by the author are distorted. The author has tried to generalise important issues. His observation that medicinal herbs found naturally in the farm fields are disappearing in the wake of cultivation of high-yielding varieties of agricultural produce is true. But this holds good for any place in the world.

A poor villager would definitely take advantage of the available modern technology and communication system and choose between the best commercial options available to him. Expecting that he would take care of nature all the time is nothing but a vague imagination of a pseudo ecologist.

The second observation that various acts formulated in the state did not benefit the local people in any major way is not true. Himachal Pradesh is one of the few places where every land-owning villager has rights (of course, with responsibilities attached) to get fuelwood, fodder, timber, agricultural implements, besides medicinal plants on nominal rates.

The state government in a notification (ffe-b-g (9)/94-ii; dated February 28, 2003) has authorised gram panchayats to issue passes for the transport of 37 types of medicinal plants extracted within their territorial jurisdictions. The export fee prescribed and so realised forms the revenue of the gram panchayats.

It is further clarified that only local people can enter forests to collect medicinal herbs. What better way can a state adopt to strengthen village institutions by giving the responsibility to panchayati raj institutions in the management of its natural resources?

Himachal Pradesh has recently come up with a new hp Forest Sector Policy and Strategy 2005, which clearly states that a "comprehensive action plan at the state level will be prepared which will incorporate in-situ and ex-situ conservation measures, resource inventory and status assessment, documentation of variation, multiplication of gene pool, cultivation, value addition and processing, development of market links and interdepartmental co-ordination. Silviculture for propagation of medicinal plants will be developed. Capacity-building programmes for panchayats to fulfil the responsibilities of regulating harvest and export of medicinal plants, in a sustainable and effective manner will be undertaken. Under the policy, a comprehensive action plan for the medicinal and aromatic plants, especially traditional systems of medicine through documentation and promotion of co-operatives, will be undertaken".

It is true that there is a dire need to reconsider resuming regeneration felling primarily for sustainable and scientific management of forests.

Forest harvesting must be carried out strictly in accordance with the prescriptions of working plan approved by the government and every area felled should be regenerated within fixed time schedules.

sushil_kapta@yahoo.com ...

Diesel road map

I am intrigued by the diesel-related threats that have been put up on your website. The roadmap suggested vis--vis the fuel policy has not been achieved. I am keen on finding out as to how and when will government policies hope to implement reforms and adopt other Euro-pollution norms.

The ways and means of achieving such activities should be highlighted.

Kartikeya Singhee

Government to blame for rising prices

The rise in prices of essential commodities is a result of the erroneous policies of the United Progressive Alliance government. The present situation is also due to profiteering by retailers who make huge profits by arbitrarily increasing their margins.

The kind of margins taken by both wholesalers and retailers results in a burden on the consumer. The government must ensure that farmers get the appropriate price for their produce and that middlemen are not allowed to exploit them.

Mahesh kapasi


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 ...

Add on

This is in response to the advertisement 'Environment and nuclear power' (Down To Earth, June 30, 2006). The advertisement talks about the environmental virtues of nuclear energy.

On the one hand, you publish articles on cancer, radioactive elements and dumpsites and on the other hand, there are advertisements like this. Is Down To Earth going nuclear? What next? Perhaps, now there will be advertisements on colas and how good they are for health. Or, perhaps on the good effects of tobacco on health, and the efforts made by tobacco companies to protect the environment, considering they have achieved the "zero emissions" target. There would also be several chemical fertiliser and pesticide firms who would be more than willing to advertise in your magazine, in case you are looking for that.

Prabha Panth

Pic of the Postbag

Missing woods for trees?
This is in response to 'The poor? They are the government's problem' (Down To Earth, April 15, 2006). The editorial states: "The country has set itself a target of 33 per cent under forest area. It is another matter that nobody is clear how, when and why this target was set." The truth is this target was set for the first time in the 1952 forest policy. While discussing the percentage area to be put under forest cover, a quick survey of forest areas was made in several countries. It was found that the us and ussr had over 33 per cent under forest area. It was decided that India should emulate these progressive countries and that is how 33 per cent was set as the target. Besides, the policy statement also recommended that 60 per cent forest coverage should be in mountainous tracts and 20 per cent in plains. It became a virtual commandment for the forestry lobby, leading to sufferings and uprisings, especially in tribal areas. A scientific approach is to adopt the land capability classification which prescribes land over 65 degrees slope should be put under permanent vegetation like forests.



The Elephanta caves near Mumbai in Maharashtra have become a dumping yard for plastic waste. A trip to the caves on a sunny Sunday morning opened my eyes to the callousness of people and authorities. The hilltop overlooks a vast expanse of sea -- an extremely beautiful sight. But there is also another view -- that of plastic bottles and poly-bags thrown indiscriminately all around. With almost everyone carrying two plastic bottles on an average, I tried to find the number of visitors to the place. The sentry gave me a figure of 1,800 to 2,000 visitors on an every day basis. The tea-vendor's figure matched the sentry's statistics. Boats plying between the Gateway of India and the Elephanta caves are also proof of how many visitors visit the island. About 45 boats ply everyday with the seating capacity varying between 80 and 45, depending on the sea-current. Calculating roughly, the island is a dumpsite for nearly 657,000 plastic bottles annually.

Authorities must wake up to this problem. It is possible that empty plastic bottles are recycled. Some companies in the US and Europe have already demonstrated this by reclaiming waste packs. This is important, not just for the sake of tourism but also for environment -- given the fact that plastic harms.


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