Published: Sunday 31 July 2005

Sethu shrift to marine life

The Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (sscp) has been cleared by the Union ministry of environment and forests and the cabinet committee. Despite this,

the crucial project, which will cut through a natural chain of shoals to link the Gulf of Mannar with the Palk Bay, needs the attention of the world's environmentalists. The region is the habitat of many endangered organisms of subtropical, shallow marine environments, such as algae, fish, coral reefs, sea horses and several kinds of plants. The aquatic wealth of this very protected, subtropical, shallow marine region may be affected adversely as the regional food chain will be disturbed.

For this reason, the government of India would do well to re-evaluate the project. A look at the guidelines of the us Environmental Protection Agency may be helpful. These include the conceptual relevance of ecosystem function, feasibility of implementation, response variability in time and space, besides the ability to convey information on ecological conditions meaningful to resource management. In addition, as the area is vulnerable to tsunamis, the sscp may also be evaluated for its tsunami-preparedness.

Centre of Advanced Study in Geology
Sagar, Madhya Pradesh

Pesticide or suicide?

It's shocking to know that farmers of Punjab -- who work in the fields through hot summers and chilly winters--are killing themselves through their exposure to deadly pesticides ('Residue of a revolution', Down To Earth, June 15, 2005). As a homemaker, I've heard of fruits and vegetables being adulterated by chemicals for good colour. But now human blood is being adulterated.

India seems to have no laws or regulations prohibiting the use of harmful chemicals in food products. This carelessness by our government has led to the untimely death of many people. Some education or awareness building is necessary here. Every citizen must pledge not to cheat with what we eat.


All Indians -- not only farmers but all consumers -- have become Bhola Singhs. Can somebody measure the poison in us, especially in our children? I feel helpless. In this free market, it seems only the bulls are free, the rest of us are just fodder.

Air Vice Marshal (retired)

The people responsible for high pesticide residue are the half-baked government agronomists. It's high time that the government's agricultural extension departments are changed to departments geared towards marketing agriculture. Trouble shooting in matters related to crop production should be left to corporate agronomists.

Corporate agronomist

Prelude to action

We are examining the proposal to control pollution in the Yamuna river ('Capital Drain', Down To Earth, April 30, 2005) as highlighted by you. In order that we may examine the complete proposals, we request you to send four copies of the detailed report prepared by the Centre for Science and Environment on this issue, so that we may respond appropriately.

National River Conservation Directorate...

Age bar?

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar) is partially to blame for the shortage of the scientists ('Root Rot', Down To Earth, June 30, 2005). By increasing the retirement age of its scientists from 60 to 62 years, the icar has blocked the entry of hundreds of young scientists. Those who have got this benefit have become complacent. As they are not going to get anything further, they feel no need to work. The remedy lies in reversing the age of retirement back to 60 years.

S P Mittal
Panchkula, Haryana

Neem repellents, anyone? Mosquito coils expose users to powerful lung carcinogens. I have read about alternatives in the form of plant-based products, such as those made from the neem tree. These products are supposed to be efficient, priced reasonably and good for health. As I live in Nigeria where mosquitoes are common, I would like to know if there are any manufacturers who produce these, so that our people can access them.

received from: charlesoro@yahoo.com...

Missing the trees

Alas, India's "world class forest service" is no longer what it was ('Out of the woods', Down To Earth, May 31, 2005). Having gone through the Indian Timber Review, one can only pray that the Indian Forest Service will improve its statistical system, so that there is a better public understanding of what is happening to our forests. How is the gap between the demand in the timber market and the supply to be filled without hurting the shrinking heritage of our forest wealth and wildlife? Perhaps a national stakeholder conference, based on the Review's recommendations, could be organised and a way forward found towards sustainable forest management.

ram.goswami@rediffmail.com ...

Let's do it

Have the forest or revenue departments built barriers for the water to flow to the pond ('Time we counted real change', Down To Earth, May 31, 2005)? Is everything the government's job? When will people understand their own duties?


Bend it like Sanmar

These sponge iron units ('Beijing's Green Olympics', Down To Earth, June 15, 2005) make a profit of Rs 60 lakh per month when they operate at 100 tonne daily production capacity. It's sad to see, therefore, that they do not even invest ten per cent of that same profit in minimal pollution control measures .

But why blame small-scale sponge iron units alone -- when big companies openly flout the pollution norms? Like the Sanmar Chemplast pvc factory in Mettur, Tamil Nadu (tn). Thanks to its operations, around 25-40 villages in the area suffer massive groundwater pollution and toxic air pollution. Effluents from Chemplast also directly enter the Cauvery river at Mettur.

The local people are so disturbed by all this that on April 30, 2005, the Indian People's Tribunal conducted a hearing at Mettur. Its report is to be published on July 14 at Chennai. Moreover, on August 14 next month, a fast is being proposed in front of the Chemplast factory at Mettur by the affected villagers, along with some activists of the tn green movement. In fact, just the news of Chemplast proposing a second factory in either Cuddalore (tn) or Krishnampattinam (Andhra Pradesh) has been enough to make people in both places apprehensive about their future.

It is sad to see a multi-crore group, run by a highly respected family, ruining poor villages and rendering them unfit for agriculture and living. In the us, we have a big insurance company called State Farm Insurance. Their slogan, 'We live where you live', is all about local responsibility.

But for the majority of Indian industries, the management lives safely in the cities, while the poor villagers, farmers and fishermen suffer because of living where these industries openly trash pollution norms.


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

Why blame the media on GM in Africa?
If any country forever changed the way most Africans perceived the debate over genetically modified (gm) foods, it would be Zambia ('Woeful Ignorance', Down To Earth, June 30, 2005). In 2002 -- despite strong international pressure from western donor countries -- the government under President Levy Mwanawasa rejected a consignment of gm food aid. Despite neighbours Malawi and Mozambique declaring a ban on gm food being transported through their sovereign territories, this was really the first time in African history that a small country went to the extent of resisting food aid containing gm material -- meant for distribution to Zambia's rural population, famine-stricken after years of drought.

The issue not only hit world headines but made news across Africa -- especially in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, all under severe drought conditions at the time. Obviously some donor countries, along with their aid agencies, saw this extremely grave regional situation as an opportunity to promote gm food and its parent companies.

The us government, which had been putting the most pressure on Zambia, reacted angrily. Its agency, us Aid for International Development, even accused Zambia of playing politics over a humanitarian issue, calling its behaviour despicable and unacceptable. Following the punitive threats that emanated from the donor countries towards these desperately poor states, most governments of the region quietly took an about turn and gradually dropped the gm debate. The most strident anti- gm voluntary organisations mysteriously piped down. Even the local media, that had been at the forefront of this increasingly un-winnable war against the gm food industry, now became disoriented.

Food insecurity, civil conflict, drought and famine, inconsistent agricultural and food policies, absence of gm food policies and regulations, mismanagement and corruption have plagued most African states. Disappointingly, South Africa, the most powerful country in the continent, allowed its territory be used as a base by the global gm companies, who just used the prevalent situation to propagate their business ends.

Western donors have been also been responsible for killing off the gm debate in the region. Tough economic aid conditions imposed on most African states have played a key role in forcing their governments to silence dissent on gm. Ironically, the World Food Program (wfp) has just watched all this, while Oxfam and Action Aid fight desperate battles.

It's not fair, therefore, to blame either the media in Zambia or Kenya over the issue. They did their part when the world looked the other way. In fact, Johannesburg 2002 was dominated by the gm debate and the editor of Down To Earth witnessed it in person. Three years later, globalisation has made this task more difficult. In fact, it is such a sensitive issue that even the media tycoons in the region have had to toe the "acceptable" line of the elite.

By the way, the cartoon depiction of the article was interesting and a great way to bring the issue into focus!


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