Published: Friday 15 July 2005

Bungle in the jungle

How can a process like the drafting of an important bill like the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights Bill) 2005) be done in such a secretive manner? While tribal participation in forests is vital for forests to survive ('Woolly-headed environmentalism', Down To Earth, May 31, 2005), there has been no proper, scientific analysis of the forest areas with tribal people or of their impact on those forests.

Given our past experience of the way these matters are handled (dams and mining projects are yet to resolve crucial resettlement issues), surely a debate is needed on all these aspects.


'India's forests survive where tribals subsist' may be an ideal statement. But it's true now only for some aboriginal people, not for most mainland tribal people who lead more conventional lives. It is also very simplistic to say that tribal rights involve only 2 per cent of land in Indian forests. Once the tribal people become land owners, they will demand urban facilities on that land.

Now tribals have become a vote bank of sorts. But plants, trees and wildlife have no voting rights, so nobody will listen to their cry. Forests will gradually disappear and we will then pine for our waterbodies and the verdant environment. If we really want to empower our tribes, we have to provide them with avenues for education and employment in towns that are near, but not within, the forests.

Forest Protection Force
Jammu and Kashmir

Pesticides are forever

Although several studies have proved the pesticide presence in human bodies and scientific research on breast milk, adipose tissues and blood shows pesticide accumulation, the report ('Residue of a revolution', Down To Earth, June 15, 2005) was a real eye opener for the public, unaware of how lethal pesticides can be. Dermal (skin) exposure is not the only source of entry; most people are, in fact, exposed as pesticides travel across the food chain. Stopping pesticide usage may take care of future contamination but won't solve the problem as pesticides live longer than we can predict and will linger in the environment long after their usage has stopped.

It's clear now that pesticides are harmful. It's about time that the government worked on ways to reduce the pesticide concentration in human bodies.

New Delh

Pesticide residue in the blood of farmers is terrible but unfortunately, all too common. Indebted farmers even use pesticides to end their lives. A ban on the sale of pesticides is really called for.

In the Sundarbans, I have seen that the local farmers use mostly banned pesticides. This is despite biological options being available to them. In fact, the Nimpith Ashrama has also started an integrated pest management programme, specifically to help the vegetable growers in this area.


Barefoot bypassed

Unlike China, which has kept alive its acupuncture system, India accords a low priority to its traditional systems of medicine ('Wisdom roots', Down to Earth, May 31, 2005) and healers are labelled quacks. Compared to the endless allopathic network, where are the municipal hospitals or the research centres for traditional medicine? Or training institutes for our barefoot doctors?

Instead, the multi-billion drug industry decides our health -- a lobby so strong that drug policy is defined by the finance, not the health, ministry. Anti-retrovirals for hiv patients are pushed -- instead of cheaper medication or good nutrition -- by this lobby. Super-speciality hospitals are promoted while rural health workers don't get paid even a wage they could live on.


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Pick of the postbag

Weather matters Despite irrigation, present agricultural production is low. Reasons for this range from groundwater wastage to excessive use of agrochemicals, ubiquitous food growth and rampant deforestation. Such practices have degraded the soil and polluted air, soil and water. As most of these are dependent on weather conditions, ignoring this factor makes our crops unsustainable. Conversely, agro-climatological analyses can ensure future sustainability of crop production -- with agronomic practices suited to local climate.

Crops are routinely impacted by yearly weather variations -- caused by vagaries in rainfall, temperature and solar radiation regimes. In bad weather, technology only minimises adverse effects. But favourable weather allows for a boost in yields, as long as agro-meteorological advisories can be shared in time. Crop yield changes drastically with increase in rainfall. This is especially so in dryland agriculture, which makes transferring available technology to farmers through village-level information centres crucial.

Other practices worsen the situation. Rural land ceiling laws divert precious resources to cash crops. Water charged as per irrigated areas facilitates over-irrigation. Free power to farmers depletes groundwater alarmingly.

To redress these ills, soil erosion has to be controlled, runoff recycled and groundwater usage governed by annual rain recharge. Governments should also enact legislation that promotes agricultural farm cooperatives. Land ceiling discriminations between food crops and plantation, orchard and cash crops must be removed. Farmer subsidies must be replaced by credits in kind and irrigation water charged on the basis of amount supplied. All these issues must be addressed on a priority basis.


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