Published: Tuesday 15 February 2005

Who cares? Not the MOEF!

Our environment is being degraded for short-term benefits [Editorial: 'What's going on'] (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No. 15, December 31, 2004). Despite having a huge structure in place, the enforcement mechanism is weak and the regulatory agencies are non-functional in practice.

The solution could be a separate environmental cadre in India set up on the ias pattern, with very specific objectives and appropriate laws. Separate courts, which deal with matters pertaining to the environment (with legal powers that may be equivalent to the Supreme Court and state high courts), could also be instituted, both at the Centre and in the states.

It is also extremely essential that a time frame be fixed for early decisions. There is no use having all these elaborate laws and procedures for protecting the environment unless they are actually enforced.

A K Soni
Central Mining Research Institute

Thanks to the maiming

Thanks to the maiming of a comprehensive measure like the Coastal Regulatory Zone (crz) by the moef, the fragile coastline of the country has become free for all to plunder. As always, environment is the lowest priority for the Centre and state governments, obsessed as they are with 'development'. The moef itself was created purely as a cosmetic measure to satisfy global funding agencies. It has never functioned effectively and is staffed with scientists and administrators for whom foreign jaunts take priority over vital national decisions.

M S Kodarkar
Indian Association of Aquatic Biologists

River cleaning costsa lot

Whichever method (aerobic or anaerobic) is employed to treat sewage ['Delhi's sewage'](Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 13, November 30, 2004), the outcome should be freedom from pollution. Apart from this, unregulated application of anaerobic systems could also increase the risk of air pollution. Despite all the treatment, rivers today are still polluted and the people downstream get the worst of it. All rivers that go through urban areas end up full of sewage. This is because, in most Indian cities, the drainage lines run straight into the rivers.

It is interesting to note that 80 per cent of the cost of such projects goes into collection and only 20 per cent is spent on the treatment. Treatment with conventional aerobic or anaerobic techniques is very costly and energy intensive. Experts like Arceivala put the capital cost at Rs 6 to Rs 10 per litre of wastewater. For Delhi, Rs. 2300 crore will be required just to treat sewage and an additional Rs 8000 crore to collect wastewater at one place.

Instead of investing in large treatment units and waste conveyance systems, we should try small, decentralised systems using ecological techniques and solar energy, so that the costs of installation and maintenance can be brought down substantially.

Sandeep Joshi

Murky waters

The study on Kolkata's groundwater ['City of sorrows'] (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 13, November 30, 2004) was carried out by P K Sikdar (Reference: Sikdar, P K, 2000: 'Geology of the Quaternary Aquifer of the Twin City of Calcutta', Howrah Journal, Geological Society, India; 56: 169-181).

However, the source quoted for the figure in your article is R Bandhopadhyay, Principal Secretary, Water Investigation and Development, Government of West Bengal.

A K Ghosh
Centre for Environment and Development

Down To Earth clarifies:
The information was based on an interview with Mr Bandhopadhyay. We are not aware of his sources for the same. ...

Gujarat bird count goes down

Down To Earth has given me an interest in conservation, so I'm sharing some news on migratory birds. Hordes of birds, called kuliari locally, used to come to an island near Bharuch, where the Narmada meets the Arabian sea. Thanks to the regular hunting going on here, hardly any birds fly in nowadays.

Ashish Kapadia
Surat, Gujarat...

Popularising iodised salt

Though iodised salt is vital, ['Healthy Pinch'] (Down To Earth, December 31, Vol 13, No 15, 2004), 40 per cent of our people still purchase non-iodised salt. The main reason for the apathy in adopting iodised salt is that it is manufactured by big industries who do not have a stake in keeping prices affordable for lower income groups.

If scientists help small producers of salt and teach them how to iodise salts on a small scale, the big manufacturers will also be forced to cut down the cost of iodised salt. Simpler ways of testing iodine in salt, like the lemon test, should also be disseminated to the general public.

S K Neogi
Institution of Public Health Engineers

Upswing, downswing

opec decided last year that the pendulum of volatility in crude oil prices should swing between us$22 to us $28 per barrel (pb). The global market-share holder is determined to ensure that this does not fall below us $43 pb, to the detriment of developing countries.

This is a clear signal that prices of petro-products will depend on a flat base of us $35 pb here. Even adjusting duties and taxes will hardly avert repercussions on the economy and the severe impact upon individual consumers. Under these circumstances, there is an imperative need to look at alternatives that can reduce or replace imported oil.

These could include a steep rise in electrification, a greater stress on hydro and nuclear power, coal washing, gasification of coal, implementation of cbm (coal bed methane) schemes, raising the e&p (exploration and production) of hydrocarbons indigenously or through foreign collaboration and, most important, boosting renewable energy.

The government owes a clear policy to citizens on how it is going to combat the opec coterie and achieve time-bound targets. But proposals lack transparency. All ministries linked with energy must also be subordinate to an apex body so that there can be a coordinated approach to resolve problems.

C R Bhattacharjee

No entry please, we're Indian

The informative analysis exposing the stupidity of the Indian government [Why can't Indians access maps for 43 per cent of their country?] (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 14, December 15, 2004) reminds me of my own difficulties, in obtaining restricted topographical Survey of India (soi) maps.

This was in the mid-1950s, much before soi maps were brought within the purview of the Union ministry of Defence, in 1967, after the two wars with China and Pakistan. After waiting in vain for several months, we could obtain photocopies of the maps only from the India Office Library (now the Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library,), from where we also obtained original copies of British Admiralty maps for the coastal regions of Mumbai.

A K Dasgupta

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