Published: Tuesday 15 March 2005

Prices peak

While there is a need to keep cng prices below diesel ('A little green thought', Down To Earth , February 15, 2005) to ensure that there is an incentive for users to shift from petrol and diesel to cng , I believe official kerosene prices should be included in this as well.

Secondly, focussing on price adjustment ignores the fact that cng and petroleum are finite and will soon run out. Peak oil is expected during 2005 - 2007, which means a flattish plateau for production volumes. cng will last perhaps 20 years longer than peak gas. To some extent, it will really depend on how cng consumption will grow.

While ongc and the ongc research centre in Ahmedabad are aware of peak oil issues, the public is not. Nor are the ministries of finance and industry, who are balancing their books with the automobile revolution that's burning oil stocks and destroying our cities. Down To Earth could create awareness about what peak oil could do for our country.

J G Krishnayya
Systems Research Institute

Bhopal clean-up

Your article ('Flawed Plans', Down To Earth , December 15, 2004) is 'flawed' in itself. The "Greenpeace experts" referred to are, in fact, a team of independent and interdisciplinary experts in decontamination of sites, including superfund sites, commissioned by Greenpeace to review the state of stockpiles of waste and other contaminants on the site and to identify the most appropriate, environmentally sound clean-up, containment and destruction protocols that should be applied to the Union Carbide site in Bhopal.

Far from "spending too little time in Bhopal and making major errors in estimating the extent of contamination", Greenpeace, over 1999 and 2002, did a detailed scientific analysis of groundwater and soil contamination and the stockpile in and around the factory site. This included the Solar Evaporation Ponds or sep areas (The Bhopal Legacy , 1999 and Chemical Stockpiles at Union Carbide India Limited in Bhopal: An Investigation , 2002). The experts also referred to the sep (now a 'secured' landfill) to showcase the disaster it would be to consider landfills as a solution for waste disposal.

Some significant points made by the experts but missed by you include:

Need for immediate steps like supplying clean water and securing access to the site to prevent unauthorised entry

Hazardous wastes must not only be "treated and packed in drums for transportation and disposed offsite", but the process must be conducted according to international procedures and standards

The experts articulated that India currently did not have facilities that were appropriate for treating these wastes. These chlorinated compounds cannot be buried or burnt as the Government has been suggesting

4 years is the timeframe for the whole site remediation proposal, not just the clean up of solid waste (stockpiles), which takes less than one year

Your description makes Engineers India Ltd's (eil) plans sound like a speedy solution to this long-festering problem. In fact, eil fails to discuss water contamination and remediation, besides proposing an onsite secured landfill, which, even as your article suggests, is an inappropriate plan. A solution that will sort the problem properly and permanently, without impacting Bhopal and its people in the process, is what's required here.

Vinuta Gopal
Greenpeace campaigner

Down To Earth replies
Greenpeace has done significant work on Bhopal over the years. However, the article in question was based specifically on the Symposium on the Clean Up of the Union Carbide site in Bhopal, November 4, 2004, where the expert panel commissioned by Greenpeace made a presentation on their cleanup plans. Also, while earlier Greenpeace assessments include the landfill outside the Union Carbide factory, the clean up plan does not incorporate it, a fact we have reported.

Unsafe ghee
Adulteration in ghee can harm consumers. "Pure" ghee shows a variation in melting point. Ghee sold in one-litre pouches/cartons by companies like Indana Milkfood has a much higher melting point than, say, a 15-kilogramme tin marketed by Mother Dairy. Mother Dairy ghee also doesn't freeze in winters unlike others that freeze by September. The adulteration is basically done because higher melting points reduce spillage from pouches. This matter could do with some investigating.

Avinash Gupta

Disguised subsidy

In most states, tractors ('Power without purpose', Down To Earth, October 31, 2004) are used more for non-agricultural purposes like construction and land filling, besides transportation of rough goods; mainly timber. Tractors spend more time on the road than in fields, and can be seen around cement depots and hardware bazaars in cities.

Tractors are heavy or medium-powered, with spares highly subsidised. These subsidies are given under agricultural quotas, but tractors end up being used by different businesses such as land-filling, sand mining and timber.

Satheesh Kumar
Wayanad, Kerala...

Roots to adulteration

As I have taught plant taxonomy and worked in the field, I agree ('Oil's not well', Down To Earth, February 15, 2004) that it's not easy to contaminate mustard oil with oil of Argemone mexicana (also known as bharbhanda or shailkanta). Though widespread, the weed grows sparsely and it would take days to collect enough Argemone seeds (that resemble mustard) to obtain even a kilogramme of oil; also Argemone plants are found at different stages of flowering. So adulteration is just not viable. Although laboratories have found compounds similar to those found in Argemone mexicana, adulteration is not conclusively confirmed. I'm of S K Srivastava's (Chief Health Officer) view that the oil adulterants were not Argemone but 'a kind of oil essence', both toxic and carcinogenic.

Mustard seeds infected with fungus due to bad storage conditions may contain aflatoxins. When these are consumed, they may produce symptoms that are similar to dropsy and affect the nervous system. Such symptoms can be observed in domestic pigeons that are fed soiled mustard seed. The Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, confirms that compounds in edible seeds change according to their storage.

It's time medical authorities, scientists and the media look at other culprits, especially oil from rancid mustard seed. Godowns are cleared arbitrarily at harvest time when new mustard comes in. Old seeds, stored in dark, damp godowns for months, are then used for making mustard oil without carrying out the necessary quality checks.

Apart from all this, there is also a strong probability that non-edible oils are being laced with deadly azo-dyes to adulterate mustard oils. This matter needs serious investigation.
Denzil J Godin


We are a group of about 500 villagers living in village Santona of Taluka Sanguem in Goa. Coming up in the close vicinity of our fertile agricultural land are three coal-based sponge iron projects. One of the projects, Jain Udyog, is being built on an elevated piece of land, surrounded on 3 sides by the Kalay river, which is the main source of potable water to most districts of Goa and its capital Panaji.

These projects use highly polluting inputs and processes, and are being set up in utter disregard to the the local ecosystem. They have even cut down mature coconut orchards. Despite the strong opposition by the villagers here, most of whom are engaged in agriculture, these industrialists are able to push through their plans as they enjoy the support of the police and government authorities.

We have filed a petition (to come up for hearing) in the High Court for the project to be scrapped. We need guidance with technical inputs, so that we can put forth our case more strongly; particularly someone to do an impartial impact study.

Would your organisation, or any other ngo or institution located in our vicinity, like to join this effort? Those who would be interested, may please get in touch/email to us.

G R Desai
Kalay Sanguem, Goa


Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.