Published: Monday 28 February 2005

Grassland ecosystem:a myth

Apropos 'What's eating the grasslands?' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 15, December 31, 2004), in India grazing during the rainy months is deleterious to grass, associated legume regeneration and soil. Furthermore, grazing is selective -- more palatable grass is eaten first, leaving behind the unpalatable one. Without intervention, grazing lands would ultimately consist of short-lived, coarse and less palatable grass varieties.

In India, range management experts find it difficult to regulate the number of graziers. It is easy to do so in advanced countries like the us and Germany, where ranches are managed on a commercial basis for beef. In India, livestock is mainly used for purposes such as dairy, food and manure. Therefore, cattle graze within limited areas and are never fully fed (nutritionally). Grassland ecosystem is a myth--grazing is not regulated and grazed land is wasteland, supporting only vestige vegetation.

Chartered forester, Bhopal,
Madhya Pradesh

Unscientific policies

The article 'Undone' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 16, January 15, 2005), sounds a note of caution about the vague strategy combined with a weak will to combat global warming. The article rightly highlights the causes of climate change; it exposes that political will for concerted global solutions has seriously waned and the scientific debate on climate change remains as political as ever.

The latest proof comes from the tsunami devastation. It is really shocking to learn that the New Delhi-based India Meteorological Department -- the premier weather forecasting authority -- was uninformed and ill-equipped to predict the natural calamity. Ironically, a nuclear scientist heads the nation. The scientific community should have taken initiatives to predict tsunami using satellite images. When will we have a directive from the Union government for the initiation of a national level disaster preparedness programme that functions appropriately?

Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu...

Plight of the farm sector

The article, 'Guilt affirmed' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 16, January 15, 2005), clearly shows how the Andhra Pradesh government has neglected the farm sector. The irony comes from the fact that the present government and the earlier one slung mud at each other, not taking any moral responsibility for rectifying the situation. We do need advancement in the industrial and information technology sectors but not at the cost of the core area--agriculture. The recommendations to bring all cultivations into institutional credit, setting up of distress/market stabilisation fund and formulating water policy are progressive steps to help the farm sector. We hope at least now the political parties in the state will work together to stop mass suicide of helpless farmers.

Tumur, Karnataka...

Is water meant for the rich only?

It is valid to price water beyond a certain level of consumption. While there is much talk about the lack of resources to provide basic amenities, the civic budgets of various metropolitans provide funds for developing infrastructure like malls. For whom are these meant? Water wastage is primarily by the rich. Pricing of water does not address the question of how this resource can be provided to the poor. It only facilitates opening the doors for private investment, which again will not benefit the poor.



Who is an environmentalist?

The editorial, 'What's going on' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 15, December 31, 2004), makes one wonder -- has everyone become indifferent to environmental issues? I know people who love to project themselves as the most 'ecofriendly' person. It's a pity they don't know what it means. It's saddening to see people make fun of me when I am reading Down To Earth. Why am I labelled 'Medha Patkar' when I suggest that we don't reuse mineral water bottles or when I refuse to accept plastic bags when I'm carrying a bag of my own? In the end, who stands to lose?


Mapping trouble

The story, 'Why can't Indians...' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 14, December 15, 2004), highlights the problems encountered in obtaining maps and their data. The government is concerned about making maps and their data available to everyone. Survey of India -- the premier mapping agency of the nation -- has been keeping abreast with technological developments and bringing out products required for various developmental activities. The government is now in the process of finalising a new map policy that will put maps and their data in the public domain. Similarly, the activities of the National Spatial Database Infrastructure (ndsi) have also commenced.

Secretary, Union ministry of science and technology...

The standard debate

As per the article 'More arsenic' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 8, September 15, 2004), in September 2003, the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis) changed the arsenic standard from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. But I went through the is : 10500 (1991) and found that bis has neither reprinted nor revised the said code after 1991.


Down To Earth replies
The arsenic standard has been changed from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb in September 2003. The manner in which it was done leaves much to be desired. Rather, it causes confusion. If one carefully goes through the is: 10500 (1991), one would see that there have been amendments made to the code. The first amendment was made in January 1993, as per which magnesium was added as the number 12 substance and those after that 'should be read as renumbered'. So arsenic, which was number 21, became number 22. In September 2003 amendment number two was introduced, as per which, serial number 22's column three (mentioning the standard), read along with amendment number one, was changed from 0.05 for 0.01. In other words, arsenic standard was changed from 50 ppb to 10pp. Since changes have not been made to the actual list (with amendments only attached) many people, including leading arsenic experts and chemists, are either unaware about the changed standard or they are unable to trace the changes....

A wonder called BioDome

Montreal has a gem to offer--the BioDome. It can be recommended as a global standard for any country that wants to make its citizens environmentally conscious. It is situated near a botanical garden and comprises replicas of four ecosystems--the St Lawrence Marine Ecosystem, the Laurentian Forest, the Tropical Forest and the Polar world. The temperature and ecological conditions are maintained according to the prevailing seasons. The journey through the ecosystems is enhanced with the help of excellent audio-visual guided tours. The BioDome also has many thematic exhibitions.

In India, the Union ministry of forests and environment has put forward a draft of the National Environmental Policy. The draft has sections on strategic themes for intervention (section 5.5), covering environmental awareness, education and information. This is where I recommend adopting the basic BioDome format for educational purpose. India should construct BioDomes in at least five cities. The possibilities are immense considering the wide varieties of ecosystems in India. Among other things, these BioDomes could showcase community conservation efforts, latest conservation projects, clean technologies and endangered species. Essay competitions for students and experts' lectures can also be organised there. Efforts should be made to run the BioDomes in a way that helps generate resources (funds) for commencing environmental projects. Furthermore, resources required to construct BioDomes should be raised through private-public partnerships and sponsorships.


Pick of the Postbag

The mining impasse: Both the Union government and Tamil Nadu's administration have permitted mining of sand from Tinnevelly and Kanyakumari coast. Tonnes of illmenite, garnet, rutile, silliminate and monosite sands have been removed. Many private companies like V V Minerals and Beach Minerals have also joined the bandwagon. The Union and state governments, along with the judiciary, want to aid the companies. Recently, Tinnevelly's assistant director of geology permitted one of the private companies to take 150,000 tonnes of illmenite sand from the Kanyakumari coast. Money and muscle power have sustained the mafia. It has erected sand separating factories in Kanakappapuram village (Kanyakumari district). All the private companies take much more than their allocated quantity and much more than the sustainable amount. Ironically, the officials issue them a no objection certificate. Agencies of the Union government even issue a certificate of excellence to these private companies! They then use these certificates in courts to get bans on mining declared null and void.

Non-governmental organisations like the Nagercoil-based Conservation of Nature along with fisherfolk have launched a crusade against sand mining. But the government has not paid any heed. Result -- death and destruction due to disasters like tsunami. Had the sea sand been retained, the impact of tsunami would have been much less and many lives would have been saved. At least now the government should listen to environmentalists.

Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu...

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