Published: Tuesday 31 May 2005

The flush monster

The expensive and polluting nonsense of sewage ('Capital Drain', Down To Earth, April 30, 2005) is a product of water flush toilets, not of humans. Currently, 20 per cent of Delhi's precious water may be used to flush faecal matter from toilets to the river. A far better option would be Ecological Sanitation. Here, the urine-diverting toilets don't need flushing and keep urine and faeces separate for recycling. No flushing, no faecal pollution of rivers or aquifers, plentiful fertiliser and humus for fields, forests and urban agriculture, a green city and more water for everyone. If Delhi followed this system, think how clean the river would be and how much water could be saved!

As you know, we have had many urine-diverting toilets operating in the peri-urban, urban and rural areas for the last ten years. They really do work well. It is the sanitation approach that will save cities from water shortage and poisoning themselves (and everyone downstream) with their own effluent.


Let people manage it

Programmes like Yamuna Action Plan (yap) are doomed to fail, not only in Delhi but in every growing city in India. Underground drainage just passes the buck. In contrast, our ancient systems of decentralised sewage and waste management, allowed one to take care of sewage and garbage in the backyard. Manure and treated water nurtured fruit trees and flowering plants.

The concept can be applied on the community level without disturbing the naturally flowing river. The nullahs and drains can then take the treated water to the river and allow for abundant fish without measuring oxygen levels using imported oxygen meters.


Everyone's sewage

The tremendous amount of untreated and semi-treated effluent going into the Yamuna nullifies all efforts of the government. But it would be wrong to blame unauthorised colonies for it. People living in these colonies are from lower income groups and cannot afford to treat the waste they generate.

Instead, why not make it mandatory for people living in large houses and apartment buildings to treat their sewage, before it moves into the sewer line. The treated sewage can then be allowed to flow into the river.

Keshav Agarwal

Where's it coming from?

Instead of going straight into the Yamuna, the sewage and filth merely take a longer detour, via pipes and sewage treatment plants (stps). The government spends crores of rupees on construction, equipment, electricity, transportation and employee salaries, merely for the pleasure of running sewage through pipes and machinery.

Why is treated water not led to the river in pipes instead of discharging it into open drains, to mingle with dirty water? Compared to the vast expenditure on setting up and maintaining plants, a pipeline can't cost much more.

Basically, this situation springs from the culture of total dependence on governments and our own lack of social responsibility. We citizens need to wake up before it's too late.

Vasco da Gama, Goa

Cosmetic changes

Due to diversion of clean water from the upstream barrages, the actual total flow in Yamuna is considerably reduced and at the same time a lot of filth and untreated sewage is added in the Delhi stretch. These barrages not only reduce the volume but also the speed of the flow causing deposition of the major part of the river's load, which consists of various pollutants, besides sediments.

As a result, they add to the reduction in the river's overall dissolved oxygen and create a "stream of flowing slime". Manipulating the river bed to enhance the speed of the flow can also be a solution. That might not clean up the river but at least it will take the filth further downstream improving the look of the Yamuna, at least in the Delhi stretch till action plans start showing results.


State or Court?

The issue of allotment of tribal lands by state governments was first heard not by 'the division bench of the Andhra Pradesh (ap) High Court' ('Theirs to Mine?', Down To Earth, April 15, 2005) but in Writ Petition No.3734/93, order dated August 27, 1993, sakti Vs Government, where the court held that 'person' includes 'government'(sakti is a voluntary organisation working for tribal welfare and forest conservation). Though this was a judgement of the division bench, another division bench (of two judges) dismissed the Samatha case. The reference to the Balco case observed: "to hold fire, it ought to have been a five-judge bench".

This norm was violated, however, in the high court itself. The interpretation 'person includes government' by the high court is derived from the instruction of the chief secretary, ap government, back in 1989 to cancel the mining leases of non-tribals in scheduled areas. When the 'internecine violence' among the lessees figured in the legislative assembly, sakti approached the court, which granted a stay in admission stage itself. The judgement was referred to extensively in the Supreme Court (sc) order and the lessees are petitioners in the case.

Extending the interpretation to state corporations, in 1994 the then commissioner, tribal welfare (who is the present principal secretary, tribal welfare) instructed the district collector, Khammam to take over 647.49 hectares of cashew plantation held by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation (apfdc) in that district. In 1995, the Tribal Advisory Council declined to offer land to mines or industries. The exemption allowing government corporations by the sc is therefore unconstitutional. Any relaxation/ amendment to the regulation promulgated under the 5th schedule should follow the process laid in that schedule, by first placing the proposal before the tribal advisory council and soliciting the advice of the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes.

The apex court in another case also directed the ap government to promulgate a new criminal procedure code. The ap High Court immediately instructed the magistrates to take over the administration of criminal justice in scheduled areas.

Reacting to another petition seeking the introduction of civil procedure code, the high court directed the government to file a reply setting a deadline. But this time, the court concurred with the assertions of the government and a non-governmental organisation that drew its attention to the procedures and dismissed the petition. We have to set right the aberration in the administration of justice intervening in the same forum.

While the Orissa government issued guidelines complying with court directions in response to the agitation of tribals, here the people of ap, including the government and the Bar, are not aware of these directions in the sc order.

Gandhinagar, Hyderabad


In the cover story on tigers ('Maneaten', Down To Earth, March 15, 2005), it was said that Sariska needs 5,729 forest guards, but 3,666 have been sanctioned. While the figures were correct, the information pertains to Rajasthan, not Sariska. The error is regretted.

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

Baglihar blues
The Indus Water Treaty (iwt) is in public domain ('Clear as Mud', Down To Earth, February 28, 2005) and its provisions include the arbitration clause, which has been invoked for the first time. Differences arise during the operation of any treaty, but usually get resolved. The World Bank has no mediation role in Baglihar, despite Pakistan asking it to nominate a neutral expert, who may be able to settle differences. Otherwise, the matter may go to a Court of Arbitration. But all these are part of iwt and do not constitute a breakdown.

So is it India deviating from iwt, or is Pakistan being difficult? As the public is not privy to the technical details of the project or to the discussions between the two governments, it's hard to say who's right. It's upto them to arrive at an agreed position.

As the treaty precludes the building of storages by India on rivers allocated to Pakistan, what do the proposed Indian projects involve? Conventional engineering postulates that a diversion barrage or a run-of-the-river hydroelectric project (unlike a dam and a reservoir) does not create storage. But even these involve structures, and any structure raises the river water level and creates a minimal storage. It's the level and acceptability of storage that will be debated.

Pakistan's concerns are water and security. It feels India's projects involve storages, which are unacceptable. It's also worried that these structures will give India control over rivers allocated to Pakistan, enabling India to reduce water flows to Pakistan or release stored water and cause floods.

India dismisses such apprehensions, as it cannot flood Pakistan without flooding itself first (a premise accepted by Pakistan for the Salal Project) and its capacity to reduce flows is also limited. Even India's minimal rights on the western rivers (allowed by the treaty) are not in use, with India's proposals being routinely rejected by Pakistan.

India believes that Pakistan's objections to Wular (Tulbul), Baglihar and Kishenganga are political rather than technical -- the stalemate may be that these projects benefit Jammu & Kashmir -- and that once the climate improves, these issues would be resolved. A hope belied during the recent Musharraf visit.

One hopes that India will get Pakistan to return to the negotiating table, or if not, present its case well to the neutral expert and perhaps later to the Court of Arbitration.

Ramaswamy R Iyer
New Delhi ...

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