Published: Thursday 30 June 2005

Ground realities

Discussions on urgent ecological issues, ('It only doles out subsidies', Down To Earth, February 28, 2005) would benefit from inputs from activists, rather than academic discourse that gives a misleading picture. For people on the ground, statements like "large national research system...developing and transferring technology to farmers", are a misnomer. For instance, despite the Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Algol being only 25 kilometres away, we have not managed to get our soil sample tested, to be able to apply the right bio nutrients for our organic agricultural experiments.

The truth is that agricultural departments are not trained to understand the field situation. An officer in Ranga Reddy district even told me that farmers here commit suicides to be able to get the compensation money!

Nor are the researchers and the non-governmental organisations in this district any better. Heavily funded, with laptops, mobiles and Tata Sumos, they promote sustainable agriculture. No one is really bothered about what happens to the farmers.

Kohir Mandal, Medak
Andhra Pradesh

Sifting the arsenic problem

Filters presume raising arsenic-contaminated groundwater, part of which is poured on surface soil and water ('New arsenic filter', Down To Earth, May 15, 2005). Disposal of arsenic-rich wastes from contaminated filters, cannot check the arsenic menace and may even increase the problem.

Nor has installating community and domestic arsenic filters in the last two decades stopped the steady increase of arsenic-affected villages in West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The March 2003 report of the public health engineering department, West Bengal, confirms this. Its water survey upto December 2002 reveals that groundwater in 11 municipal towns, 18 non-municipal towns/urban outgrowth and 2,579 villages of the state contain arsenic and that 17.5 million people here are at risk.

Green Circle of India

Biodiesel experiments

Biodiesel use ('Biodiesel Bus fleet', Down To Earth, April 30, 2005) has substituted petrol/diesel for a long time, both in India and abroad. While subsidies are welcome, biofuel and biodiesel production should be cottage industries rather than high-tech industrial production. Farmers should produce biofuel for their own use as well as for sale.

Our own biodiesel experiments in the Tamil Nadu Forest Department use raw oil without esterification to run oil engines, tractors and jeeps. In addition, from karanj (Pongamia pinnata) seeds, we made vegetable oil, micro-filtering the oil in the engine to produce a year's electricity. Now this provides power to a tribal hamlet in a remote forest.

We also use a 50:50 blend of raw oil without esterification in one of our diesel jeeps and produce biodiesel from the same oil. We have found this biodiesel can substitute 100 per cent petrol/diesel in vehicles.

Nor is the production outlay a real cost. Karanj seeds cost Rs 5-6 and our oil production cost is Rs 15-16 per litre. Even using esterification to make biodiesel, costs only Rs 4-5 more. This is cheaper than buying raw oil from outside and then producing the biodiesel.

District Forest Officer
Hosur, Tamil Nadu

Silkworm slip

The plant species, Morus nigra ('Deep purple health', Down To Earth, May 15, 2005) is actually used for paper.

It is Morus alba, Morus indica, Morus serrata and Morus latifolia, that are used to rear different species of Bombyx, the silkworm.

K K Kshirsagar
Pune, Maharashtra...

Trouble's in the skin

While our ancestors ('Health is Skin Deep', Down To Earth, April 30, 2005) may have consumed more fibre -- probably from fruit peel -- than we do, they had no chemical pesticides sprayed on fruit. Mere washing does not remove the pesticide residue from fruit peel. Maybe the Centre for Science and Environment could study this issue.


Biased bill?

The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights), Bill 2005, has ostensibly been drafted to redress historic injustices. But numbers not being much and forest resources in plenty, tribal people never faced problems. Even when the British created forest departments on regular settlements, people's rights were resolved under the Indian Forest Act, by allowing use of alternate lands.

An average tribal person does not differentiate between land on lease and land ownership. Most are nomadic, anyway. Moreover, individual tribes had specific occupations. To presume then, that every tribe is good in agri-business and deserves access to 2.5 hectares per nuclear family, is wrong. Before passing the Bill, these issues need more thought.


Platter of errors

Orthanthera viminea, whose leaves you claim are used to make platters ('Platter of joy', Down To Earth, May 15, 2005), is a mostly leafless shrub of the Asclepediaceae family. Called mahur in Hindi, it's probably being confused with mahul (Bauhinia vahlii) leaves, used to make platters and leaf-cups.

In central India, trade in mahul platters has led to a severe dearth of the plant. As it is, the forest department cuts it down as it inhibits the growth of timber species, which are more in demand commercially. In addition, the local demand for its leaves as well as the stem fibre is accelerating its end.

Legal and Environmental Action Forum
Bastar, Chhattisgarh

Corruption contest?

High corruption ('Time we counted real change', Down To Earth, May 31, 2005) is as damaging. Fodder and flood scams consumed money meant for the poor in dire need of shelter and food. Bihar's backwardness is directly linked to the Laloo regime's corruption, with scams in sectors where the poor had a stake. Sadly, Left groups 'representing' the poor are consistently protecting Laloo.

Center For Development Research
Bonn, Germany

No ratings, please

Calling high-level corruption less destructive than low-level corruption, gives benefit of doubt to the former. Those who cause it cannot escape the responsibility. When it comes to corruption, there are no degrees of evil.

Ajay Sharma

Unbearable noise

Growing noise and air pollution in residential areas creates diastolic hypertension in the elderly. Reasons include vehicular noise, parking and mixed land use; houses being built or renovated, cut and fit marble at site, emitting shrill noises and trucks bringing in construction material also emit diesel smoke in lanes, aggravating pollution.

New Delhi

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