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Elections 2009: Where is the green party?

henever election to India’s Lok Sabha approaches, two questions tend to emerge: When will India get a green party? Are environmental issues important in our elections? The answers are interlinked; they relate to the nature of the Indian electoral system as well as the nature of India’s environmental concerns. Our parliamentary democracy borrows its structure from the Westminster system of first-past-the-post, which makes it difficult for any pan-India issue-based party to succeed. For instance, it is no surprise there exists a Green Party in Germany that even comes to power within a coalition government, but cannot in UK. Some years ago, in elections to the European parliament, the UK Green Party got a substantial percentage of votes. In other words, there is a green concern in the UK, but because of UK’s electoral system, the concern cannot translate into a presence in Parliament. Of course, it is also true, in Europe, the green agenda has been incorporated as a set of mainstream issues by all parties—Left, Right or centre. All parties, for instance, do accept the need to protect the environment, to mitigate emissions, necessary to tackle climate change and even agree to invest in low-carbon technologies such as renewables and hybrid vehicles. The challenge these governments face, once voted to power, is whether they can bite the bullet and make the structural alterations in their economy that climate change imperatives demand. This has been, and remains, Europe’s green Waterloo. Consider, in this light, the conservative government of Germany’s Angela Merkel. The Christian Democratic


Union took on the Green Party agenda so totally that it almost marginalized the latter. But now, when the government has to take some tough decisions about acting on climate change, on the one hand, and move fast on the economy and job-losses, its true anything-butgreen colours are showing. The German government which once stood for matters green is now backtracking—it’s seeking emissions allowance for big industry, giving the automobile industry benefits in terms of subsidies to car owners to buy new vehicles, even lobbying hard for time for this industry to tighten fuel efficiency standards. It is the same in the case of Australia, where, interestingly, the major political party, the Australian Labor Party, came to power saying it was against the environmentally-hostile policies of its opponent (the John Howard government). But now the Labor Party is in power, its actions on environment and climate change are even more pathetic than its predecessor’s. It is tough to walk the talk, when it comes to reinventing the economy for real change. It will be no surprise (it will definitely be disappointing) if Barack Obama finds he, too, has little room to make the changes he has so persuasively promised us all. For us in India, the issue is similar, yet different. Green issues, including climate change, have made it to all major party manifestos. The Congress, the BJP and the CPI(M) all promise to protect the environment, check river pollution and invest in renewable energy systems for a low-carbon economy. There are even nuances and differences in approach. The BJP, for instance, says it will also protect the tiger and other wild animals through a permanent task force, while the CPI(M) says it will review the Environmental Impact Assessment draft notification, which is seen as industry-friendly. All pure green issues have been listed and there is a minimum common agreement on this matter. Here, I have questions: are these socalled pure green issues really the core environmental issues that need to be addressed? Can these be addressed without tackling the key issues of growth and economic change? Such questions

directly lead to the nature of India’s environmental concern. The fact is in our country, the bulk of the people depend on the environment—the land, the water, the forests—for their survival. The core environmental issue is to increase the productivity of these natural resources in a sustainable manner and to ensure the benefits of the increased productivity go to local people, so building a local economy and livelihood. It is about investing in the resources of the poor. It is about the political framework—the rough-andtumble of governance—in which this investment will benefit people and build green futures. We need to care about the pollution of our rivers because people depend on them for drinking water and for survival. We need to revise our strategy for development because these projects take away land, or forests, critical for livelihood security. We need to invest in decentralized water or energy systems so that we can minimize the damage to the local environment and provide access to resources to all, not some. But this is where political party manifestos get frayed on the green-edge. It is easy to talk about green issues— particularly those the middle-class of India understands as green. But it is difficult to join the dots—to show how the country will green its economy itself, so that it can provide growth for all, without compromising on the present and the future generations. Interestingly, but also predictably, no manifesto discusses how parties intend to deepen democracy in India— move it from the representative nature, which exists even in the Panchayati Raj system, to a participatory system. The green agenda demands that local communities must have rights over their resources and that participatory democracy—through the strengthening of gram sabhas, for instance—must work. The green agenda is a political agenda, not a technocratic laundry list. This is why it is easy, here, to look like a green party but not promise a ‘green revolution’. ■ —Sunita Narain April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth








APRIL 16-30, 2009

FOUNDER EDITOR: Anil Agarwal EDITOR AND PUBLISHER: Sunita Narain EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Pradip Saha MANAGING EDITOR: Sopan Joshi DEPUTY EDITOR [NEWS]: Kushal Pal Singh Yadav DEPUTY EDITOR [COPY]: Paromita Ukil ART EDITOR: Surya Sen SCIENCE EDITOR: Vibha Varshney FEATURES EDITOR: Kaushik Das Gupta REPORTING TEAM: Ashutosh Mishra [Bhubaneswar] Nidhi Jamwal [Mumbai] Aparna Pallavi [Nagpur] Arnab Pratim Dutta Archita Bhatta Savvy Soumya Misra Kirtiman Awasthi Deepa Kozhisseri [Bengaluru] Ravleen Kaur Alok Kumar Gupta [Ranchi] Sumana Narayanan Supriya Singh COPY DESK: Aruna P Sharma Archana Yadav Indrajit Bose Snigdha Das Shivani Bhakhry Susmita Dey DESIGN TEAM: Vinita Venugopal Aradhana Gupta Shri Krishan PHOTOGRAPHERS: Agnimirh Basu Meeta Ahlawat PHOTO LIBRARY: Amit Shanker WEB TEAM: Lavanya Ramaiah Allan Lyngdoh PRODUCTION: Rakesh Shrivastava Gundhar Das EDITORIAL EXECUTIVE: D M Nair CONSULTING EDITORS: Chandra Bhushan Anumita Roy Chowdhury Pratap Pandey Aditya Batra VOL 17, NO 23; Total No of pages 60

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Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

COVER STORY 26 Bipedalism versus automobility Walkers outnumber people using vehicles in every Indian city. But city plans have no space for pedestrians, nor do urban roads. Will town planning stand on its own two feet?





FRONTPAGE Bonn climate meet came close to undoing last decade’s efforts


No mines, says people in Maharashtra village and get beaten up


NEWS 360°


NEWS Punjab’s children show traces of uranium. Where did it come from? Let software be free Algae threaten Gulf of Mannar’s corals Court allows road through reserve forest Indo-German ocean seeding test failed

14 15 16 17 18

My days with Smitu: a friend remembers the environmentalist India waits for carbon market to recover

19 20


Not as large as they used to be

Jharkhand bends rule, recommends private firms for Ghatkuri mines



Anglers’ scrapbooks suggest the size of fish has shrunk in the last 50 years


extra Desperately mobile Can you cycle or walk in your city? Write to us at


voices We accept incriminating

A weaver’s low self-esteem Weaving magic on fabric is fine, but is that a marketable skill?

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Gimme way Documented evidence reveals why cyclists are a confused, pesky lot Dogged determination to go places has its funny moments on the road Influenza history An invader who slew many by mutating to new forms

HISTORY 46 Fair use Gond youth flock to Central India’s largest tribal fair to search for an identity

INTERVIEW On how cities can adapt to climate change by becoming walkable and cyclable


Waste exchange An afterlife that offers value for money

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY Secret lives of giant octopuses and squids revealed Licorice can prevent colon cancer Monsoon winds avoid India for equator A quick detection for Alzheimer’s A jelly-like material to treat oil slick Tap fingers on cell phone and charge it

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After we run out of oil...


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Through the cameras of children


As Orissa goes to the assembly polls, fishers and farmers make clear how to get their votes

Unchanged climate Don’t miss Kushal Pal Singh Yadav’s uncut dispatches from Bonn


April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth


LETTERS Back to the future


Bengal celebrates rhino boom Amidst the gloom of declining tigers and other wildlife across the country, there is one heartening piece of news. The latest count of one-horned rhinoceros at Jaldapara sanctuary in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district has shown a marked increase. In 1986, there were only 14 animals of this endangered species; today there are 122. In the last enumeration in 2006, there were 108 one-horned rhinos in Jaldapara. Forest officials said this happened because they shared their concerns regarding conservation of rhinos with tribals and tea garden workers living in the area. The head count was done, said officials, by dividing the entire 216.51 sq km area of the forest into 36 blocks. Forty-five trained pachyderms with 120 forest staff and six non-profits were deployed and the global positioning system was used for the first time to count the animals. The rhinos were led into open fields so that there were no errors in counting. Though the rise in the rhino population has cheered forest staff, the area is prone to food shortage. Last November one rhino was found dead in the sanctuary. The forest officials suspect the herd killed the animal in a fight over food. Forest officials of both neighbouring Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts are now trying to expand the rhino habitat zone by about 30 sq km along the eastern bank of Torsha river. Until now the river’s western bank was considered ideal, but it is proving inadequate with the rise in the population of one-horned rhinoceros. SANTANU BASU Environmental Sciences Lecturer, Chanchal College, Malda,West Bengal 6

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

Big-and-global has proved to be both unreliable and resource draining (‘Our smaller future’, March 1-15, 2009). The enlightened few among the elite are moving from vulgar consumerism towards green living because they can afford it—green homes, green air conditioners, green refrigerators, green clothing. Green luxury! We need to start thinking small and local as environment guru E F Schumacher had suggested early last century: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius— and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.” This will pave the way for food security and security against the impact of climate change. SWARNALATHA ➡ In the last couple of weeks, a realization has hit me: when I don’t go into stores, I want little. This goes for wanting to buy things for my son and relatives’ children. Our lives are full; we all have what we need and even more. But as a birthday or an anniversary approaches, I venture into stores and wonder: oh, she would like this; that isn’t so pretty; this would look great on the table. It seems these are the effects of television commercials. Even when kids watch television, they want everything. Get me into the mall and my head starts spinning; suddenly all the soft fabrics, shiny boxes and bright things grab my attention. It becomes an internal struggle not to buy. I know I am not the only one who feels so. Hence, my suggestion is, stay out of stores. It is hard to stick to such a pledge if you browse the offers in fashion magazines, meander through shopping malls or find everybody around you dressed for the Oscars night. Stay at home. If you still feel the urge to shop, hit the cinemas or plan the weekend out for some nature trailing or sporting activity. Better yet refill your tea mug, sit back and open a book. That’s so much better than being mad in the mall. ROOPA SHARMA

➡ I completely agree with you that the path for the future economic, social and environmental security lies in decentralization of all the related activities, and taking them to the levels of smallest of villages and communities. Decentralization to the level of the smallest village was Mahatma Gandhi’s mantra; it was also the mantra in older times. The practice continues in millions of villages in India and developing countries. Such a way of life, where the dependence on outside assistance for day-to-day living was minimum, ensured a safety net against adverse impact of external forces. It also led to efficient utilization of natural resources. In India, I cannot see any other option but to reverse the mad urbanization that is happening, and to make villages the main centres of society. The urban centres, as we have them today, are unsustainable, ungovernable,

Ecology is a subject that is dear to all Parsis. Our holy prophet Zarathustra forbade any activity that endangers the purity of the natural elements—fire, water, earth and air. The Zoroastrian community, therefore, neither buries nor cremates their dead. In what are called Towers of Silence, the dead bodies are left for vultures to feed on. In Mumbai, the Tower of Silence is located at Doongerwadi atop Malabar Hill. Elections were held for trustees who are supposed to manage our community affairs. Khorjeste Mistree, a well-respected scholar of Zoroastrian studies, contested these elections and won. Over the years Mistree has propagated our beliefs, customs and rituals and strictly warned our people about the need to preserve the sanctity of the natural elements. He is totally opposed to cremation and burial on ecological grounds. But now, after being elected community leader, he is suggesting measures that have upset many. On winning the elections, this scholar turned maverick went on a shameless agenda of getting trees at Doongerwadi chopped in large numbers. The area around the tower is ecologically rich where peacocks can be spotted, but Mistree wants to clear the area for


demand disproportionate resources from rural India and generate huge quantities of waste. On the energy front also the sooner we do away with our fascination for large-sized centralized conventional technology energy sources, the better it will be for all and for Earth. SHANKAR SHARMA ➡ A frequent air traveller trotting the globe is said to leave a deeper carbon footprint in a year than the whole of UK. Fancy food items too are flown across the world to pander to hedonistic consumers. Such food items leave their own carbon footprint. It is time to shift focus not just to organic farming for food security but also to food traded locally. True, this will reduce international trade considerably. But it will make the local economy self-reliant and assure food for a larger

number of people at prices that are more affordable. The Cuban example is a case in point. The US blockade has helped Cuba switch to organic farming when chemical fertilizers cannot be imported; ethanol helped meet the energy needs. India’s economy can also do better if it becomes self-reliant. Jobs would be created to fulfil labour requirements for managing the recycle of waste and its value addition to find use as superior inputs for agriculture. S RAMASUBRAMANYAM

Trucker’s day off Why don’t truck drivers in India get a weekly day off? I would like to see them get a day of rest like they do in Germany. This is good for the trucker and his family and it is also good for the environment. It also leads to fewer accidents on the road. A P DAVE

Clean Kolkata’s air without pain

Tower of Silence GOOGLE EARTH

more car-parking space, saying the relatives of the dead should be given room for their cars. This action of his damages the ecology senselessly and increases pollution. He says he won the elections and got our community’s mandate. He certainly does not have our mandate to massacre trees. There are taxis to carry mourners to the hill-top without any objection. There is no need to increase noxious fumes from car-exhausts on such a beautiful hill by creating more parking spaces. He should probably read the article ‘Come without your car’ (January 1-15, 2009) on Fazilka on the India-Pakistan border which has been declared a car-free zone. VIRAF JEHANGIR KAPADIA Godrej Baug, Mumbai

Implementing the Kolkata high court orders to replace two-stroke autorickshaws with four-stroke ones to curb air pollution will be painful. A large number of people who make a living from these vehicles are going to find the transition difficult to support. I feel as a stop-gap, autorickshaws should be made LPG-driven till CNG comes to Kolkata. Make them gas driven through retrofitting at manufacturers’ cost and then eventually go for electricity driven autorickshaws. Unfortunately, we as a nation like to harp on problems rather than find solutions. Why cannot the IITs and universities take up the job of designing electricity driven autos as a top priority? This will reduce air pollution in cities and the gas import bill. For the solution to be long term, research should focus on solar power driven vehicles. C R BHATTACHARJEE

No need to bathe everyday Living in a city has its own advantages. I get piped water and so I take a bath

everyday, sometimes even two times a day. I don’t think of the future or of other less fortunate people. This luxury has far-reaching consequences when both surface and groundwater are becoming scarce. I remember my childhood days in a village when we used to bathe two times a week. Our bathrooms used to be a hut in open paddy fields near streams or near open wells, away from our dwellings. Heating water in big drums with fuel wood was almost a half-aday affair. We were great energy savers back then. Is it necessary for everyone to take a bath or shave everyday? Only those who are active and sweat it out during the day can enjoy the luxury of a daily bath. Others, like me, who are retired can do so every alternate day and save as much as 5,000 litres of water a year. KODIRA KUSHALAPA

Ways to save water in trains Too much water goes waste in trains, especially from washbasins in the coach and in the toilets. I would like to suggest ways to check this wastage. If the wastewater from washbasins can be collected, filtered and chlorinated, it can be used to flush lavatories and bring down the demand on freshwater. In the article, ‘Indian railway’s experimentation with eco-friendly toilets’ (March 31, 2008), you have mentioned nearly 14 million passengers board trains every day. Using recycled water to flush lavatories can then help save 5.11 billion litres of freshwater a year. NOTICE BOARD

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April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Cleaning the filter at regular intervals is not a complicated process; wind power can be harnessed to pump the chlorinated water. PRAKASH VAITHYANATHAN

it in another polythene bag with their brand name on it. The way they seal the polythene, even if it meets the thickness specifications, makes it unfit for reuse. MADHUMITA GUPTA

Let nature in The best way to live a healthy life is to live naturally as far as possible (‘Living on love and fresh air’, March 16-31, 2009). One should get used to life in allweather conditions and not use them as excuses for not working: it is raining, it is too hot or it is too cold. Walk as far as possible. Live in the sunshine; let all windows and doors of your houses and offices remain open for natural light and fresh air. MAHESH KAPASI

Is technology science? How is technology related to science? Science is most widely considered a process for understanding and creating knowledge about nature that may or may not address a practical need, whereas technology is often described as a process of creating artefacts and systems to meet a need. But like science, technology typically relies on empirical tests, for example experiments, to gain evidence for claims about its products. Many consider technology to be the practical application of science. In this

sense, technology and science are wrapped together into a single conceptual package known as science or science and technology, the latter being a dependent entity. Others consider a different relationship between science and technology in which science and technology are two ends of a continuum. On one end is pure science with no readily apparent application and on the other is pure technology that can be directly used to address a need or solve a problem. Along the continuum there is a broad overlap that could be referred to as applied science. Some consider that science and technology are not necessarily related. JOSEPH MAKKOLIL Department of Applied Chemistry, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kochi

Plastic, and more plastic I would like to bring to your attention the colossal waste of polythene bags at all Big Bazar outlets. Every time I go there, I am aghast at the wastage. Even if it is a handful of coriander leaves, they seal it in thick polythene and put

Down To Earth welcomes letters, responses and other contributions from readers. Send to Sunita Narain, Editor, Down To Earth, 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi - 110 062. Email: NOTICE BOARD


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Breach of protocol 12-day climate meet only assured another meeting KUSHAL PAL SINGH YADAV Bonn AT THE end of 12 days of negotiation, the chairperson of the working group on Kyoto Protocol locked up all negotiators for two hours at night. His purpose: to pressure them into reaching a consensus. The rich nations agreed to a concession: to discuss targets for emission reduction in June 2009.

Delaying tactics The meeting was supposed to draft the negotiating text for preparing an action plan on climate change. But a sharp divide between rich, industrialized countries and developing nations prevented an agreement. Under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), developing nations demanded that the aggregate as well as individual emission reduction targets of rich and industrialized (Annex 1) countries be specified and put into the negotiating text. The EU, Australia and Japan argued that reduction targets can be fixed only if the rules for land use, land use change and forestry, and the base year for emission reduction are fixed. Lead Chinese negotiator Yu Qingtai called this stand a diversionary tactic since rich countries are involved in land use and forestry negotiations as well.

A numbers game The negotiating parties agree on keeping the rise in temperature within 2°C, but not on emission reductions by rich countries needed to achieve this. Small island states, threatened by rising sea level, called for a 40 per cent reduction from the 1990 level by 2020 and more than 95 per cent by 2050. The group of 77 developing countries G-77 and China supported 25-40 per cent reduction by 2020 and 95 per cent by 2050, as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body set up to evaluate risks. South Africa shocked developed countries by proposing interim targets. At the heart of these numbers games

lies a contradiction between scientific and political reality. Japan trashed the G-77 suggestion of reduction by 2020 by refusing to take IPCC suggestions as guiding principles for negotiation. US negotiators stayed on the extreme end of political balancing. The Obama government is committed to reducing the US emission level in 2020 to that of the 1990 level, which is viewed as too little by everyone. Its chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing said in Bonn, “The US will not join the Kyoto Protocol because it does not work for us politically. We are looking at another deal we can sign.”

Rewriting the rules Other developed nations have made oblique remarks that amount to undermining the Kyoto Protocol. Japan said it “cannot accept any scenario of simple extension of Kyoto Protocol which does

UNFCCC executive director told rich nations to fulfil Kyoto promises if developing countries are expected to do more

not include non-parties (US) and major developing countries.” Developing nations stressed their demand to keep the “historic emission” as a guiding factor while calculating each nation’s share in climate mitigation. Pershing summed up rich nations’ response when he said, “I found it disconcerting in these negotiations the suggestions that we need to pay enormous sums for something seemingly evil we have done in the last 150 years.” Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said developing countries can be expected to do more only if developed nations “take ambitious individual targets and also make a significant and predictable financial architecture for developing countries”.

Unresolved Technology transfer and financial assistance to developing countries, already agreed upon by developed nations, remain mere promises. G-77 and China rejected suggestions to involve multilateral financial institutions to manage climate change. They demanded that rich countries contribute 0.5 to 1 per cent of their GDP exclusively towards climate change mitigation. The only bright side was the Indian proposal of setting up a network of Climate Innovation Centres that was well received by all parties.

Next stop The Bonn meet can be marked as a milestone in rubbishing all that has been done in last decade if the discussions preceeding the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December do not break the stalemate. On the last night of negotiations in Bonn developing nations fought for hours to include “a key focus” in the following statement in the concluding text: “The AWG-KP agreed to continue its deliberations on the scale of emission reductions to be achieved by Annex I Parties in aggregate as a key focus of its eight session”. ■ April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Sindhudurg on road to conflict Anti-mining stir leads to a row, death and persecution MAYABHUSHAN NAGVENKAR Kalane

morning of March 19, people of Kalane village in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra were roused by the sound of heavy machinery. Workers hired by mining company Minerals and Metals were building a road at 4 am leading up to the mine in Survey Number 57. “They were illegally cutting through the land owned by villagers,” said Rakesh Chonkar, an eyewitness from the village in Dodamarg taluka. People rushed to stop the work and got into an argument with the company officials and 50-odd security guards. “After the police came the officials and guards jumped into vehicles and fled. One guard fell off a jeep and hurt himself,” Parag Gaonkar, a journalist and resident of Kalane, told Down To Earth. “Later, he died of internal injuries.” The police booked 20 top leaders of



Kolhapur Sindhudurg

MAHARASHTRA Kolhapur Sindhudurg





the anti-mining agitation in the region. Parag said he had clicked photographs, including that of the guard falling, but the police refused to look at the pictures. R V Pilnekar, the station house officer in Dodamarg, said the police had enough evidence against the booked. The scenic Kalane has been on edge ever since the Indian Bureau of Mines cleared an open-cast mining project there on January 22. Despite people’s opposition the mining lease over 32.25 hectares (ha) was granted to Minerals and Metals, promoted by Doddanavar Bros, one of the principal producers of iron ore in India. The company plans to extract an estimated 5.4 million tonnes of iron and manganese ore underneath the leased patch of the Sahyadri range, one of the world’s 25 richest and threatened biodiversity hot spots. Most of the 1,500 people in Kalane, as in other parts of the Konkan region, depend on horticulture and cashew plantations. They fear silt and dust from mining will affect their health and plantations. The rapid environment impact assessment (EIA) report of the project warns that fine dust particles released during mining will affect breathing and may result in silicosis and tuberculosis. Noise from mining may hinder hearing and affect people’s nervous system. Kalane is just the beginning. Two

Unfinished road to the mine in Survey No. 57 in Kalane


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

more mining companies are seeking leases for 250 ha in neighbouring Ugade, Zolombe, Talkot, Sasoli, KanshiBhalaval, Kesai-Panchavadi and Asanuje villages, said Vaishali Patil, who is coordinating a people’s movement against mining in Sindhudurg. People of Kalane allege the police want to break the movement’s back. “For a week after the clash, personnel in riot gear from the Dodamarg police station kept entering our houses and threatened to implicate us in the murder case,” said Harishchandra Bhise of Kalane. The men in Kalane went underground for days until the visits stopped. In the last week of March, Kalane residents went to the police station wearing black bands and dared the police to arrest them. The police registered a case of rioting against 47. Patil said the people were pushed to the brink by the administration. The first public hearing of the project in August last year was a farce, where the administration let the mining officials interrupt people when they spoke, she alleged. Chonkar said during subsequent hearings the villagers were “heckled by ruffians” flanking the gathering. Also, the EIA report is full of errors. Prepared by a mining engineer registered with the Indian Bureau of Mines, it lists jackals as the highest predator in the Sindhudurg jungles, while the district’s official portal acknowledges the presence of leopards and tigers. The report says mining will not have much impact on wildlife, even though Kalane is part of an elephant migratory corridor (see ‘Elephants without borders’, Down To Earth, February 16-28, 2009). With Goa extensively mined, attention is shifting to neighbouring Maharashtra. In January, Maharashtra withdrew the ecologically fragile status given to Sindhudurg in 1997 and allowed mining and thermal power plants in the district full of pristine beaches and calm backwaters (see ‘Volte face’, Down To Earth, March 1-15, 2009). People in Kalane prefer tourism to mining. ■


HEATEXCHANGE International crude oil price (US$/barrel) 51.90 50.18 April 6, 2009

March 23, ‘09

Yearly average price

43.40 2009

16.86 1995

International carbon trade



Volume traded (tonnes)

Mar 23 Mar 25 Mar 27 Mar 31


Apr 2





Price (US$/tonne) 14.53

Apr 6

Firewood: Uttar Pradesh (Rs/kg) APRIL

2.00 Dung cakes: Uttar Pradesh (Rs/cake) APRIL


April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth


European Climate Exchange

resorted to contraceptive pills to rein in the exploding population of gerbils, a desert rodent, which is threatening the ecosystem of Gurbantunggut desert in Xinjiang region. Kazakh ecologists have cautioned against using water from the country’s third largest river, Syr Darya, for irrigation because it is loaded with pesticides and heavy metals. Rice irrigated with such water can cause congenital anomalies and cancer. Following a downpour, a dam burst in the Indonesian capital Jakarta early on March 27, killing 98 people and flooding two suburbs. Residents blamed poor maintenance for the collapse of the 75-year-old dam. Militant group Tehreeke-Taliban Pakistan asked all non-profits to leave Swat Valley and banned polio vaccination in the region saying it causes infertility. Four polio cases were recorded in Swat in 2008.


A Swaziland court asked the government to provide free education to primary school children. Though free education is a constitutional obligation, the government said it is not feasible due to financial constraint. The case was filed by ex-mine workers’ union. A meningitis outbreak that began in early 2009 in sub-Saharan Africa killed 1,500 people and affected 25,000 by March, said WHO. Nigeria and Niger are the hardest hit. Wildlife has become vulnerable in the chaos following the mid-March coup in Madagascar, 13 conservation groups said. There is a surge in raids on national parks for smuggling rare wildlife and valuable rosewood timber. At least 20 miners were killed in northwest Tanzania after a gold mine collapsed following heavy downpour. Tanzania is Africa’s third largest gold producer. Chinese authorities


The Rio de Janeiro city government is building a concrete wall to prevent the expansion of the Santa Marta slum, the city’s largest and most populous slum, from spreading farther into its picturesque hills. The Brazilian city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The government plans to stretch the wall to 11 kilometres.

ing before approving it. In a letter to the White House, the US Environmental Protection Agency has declared CO2 a danger to public welfare and proposed to regulate the gas as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Fifty new species, including a jumping spider and a chirping frog, were discovered during a 2008 expedition in Papua New Guinea, said Conservation International, a non-profit. Scientists tracked an asteroid as it fell on Earth and for the first time recovered its debris. Found in Sudan’s Nubian desert, the debris offers a chance to study the asteroid’s route and composition. Images by NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft show mounds, possibly mud volcanoes, on northern plains of the planet. Scientists say this could provide clues into the possibility of life on it.




Italy and Switzerland decided to redraw their 148year-old border after global warming dissolved the Alpine glaciers near Matterhorn mountain over which the national frontier passes. Scientists say the glacial melting has accelerated in the past five years. A quake struck Italy’s L’Aquila on April 6 leaving millions homeless. More than 150 deaths were reported the first day. The 6.3magnitude quake was the deadliest in three decades. French nuclear giant Areva signed a deal to develop the Imouraren uranium reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To protect Lake Titicaca —world’s highest navigable lake at 3,810 metres above sea level—Bolivia plans to install sewage treatment plants in the lake basin. Economic meltdown has forced Venezuela to cut investment in the oil sector by 40 per cent. The cut will not affect its policy to dedicate 10 per cent of the oil revenue to social development, said the government. The Peruvian government has asked companies operating in the country to modify internal regulations to make sure workers with HIV or AIDS are not discriminated against by their colleagues. Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras signed a deal with Peruvian oil company Ecopetrol to explore oil and natural gas in two regions of the Peruvian Amazon— both inhabited by uncontacted indigenous people. Ecuador’s indigenous people have filed a lawsuit before the constitutional court to declare the new mining law unconstitutional. They said the government did not consult the communities whose territories will be affected by min-





NEWS 360°


Cherry blossoms early in Japan

small but much-needed park, practically over one weekend. Athens has one of the lowest ratios of green space per resident in Europe—2.5 square metres. The move was part of a movement against the government’s drive for infrastructure projects. Artists, architects and veteran Leftists got together to transform the area into a green space. Greece has no environment ministry; the urban planning ministry is in charge of all related duties.

meningitis outbreak in 1996. Eleven died after taking Trovan, while others suffered brain damage, arthritis, blindness, deafness and paralysis. The government had initially demanded US $2.75 billion in compensation and prosecution of staff. But under the settlement, it plans to drop the charges. The US does not approve the use of Trovan by children, while the EU has banned the drug (see ‘Pfizer will be tried in the US’, Down To Earth, February 1628, 2009).


China punishes 13 officials

Japan’s cherry blossom season, which heralds the start of spring, officially began on March 21—five days ahead of schedule. It is the fourth consecutive year that the flowers have appeared early, said Japan Meteorological Agency, which predicts the bloom dates. Over the past 40 years, the blossoming line—the latitude where trees start flowering on a given day—has shifted 200 km northwards, said the agency. Since a rise in temperature leads cherry trees to bloom, this indicates global temperatures are rising, said the agency. BIODIVERSITY

Birds at risk in the US

Athenians turn car park to park Residents of the Greek capital Athens recently turned a parking lot into a 12

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

An ice bridge connecting the Wilkins ice shelf to Antarctica broke in the first week of April, allowing an iceberg of the size of a small country to float into the ocean. The 40-km ice bridge was holding the ice shelf to Antarctica’s Charcot and Latardy islands. It broke at the narrowest point, just 500 metres wide (see ‘Hanging by an ice beam’, Down To Earth, April 30, 2008). Wilkins is on the southwest Antarctic peninsula, about 1,600 km south of South America, and is the largest of the 10 Antarctic ice shelves to have collapsed or shrunk recently. In the past 50 years, the peninsula has become


Pfizer pays out of court In an out-of-court settlement, US-based pharma giant Pfizer agreed to pay US $75 million compensation to Nigeria’s Kano province over a controversial clinical trial that killed 11 children and caused deformities among others. The amount will go to the children, their families and to settle legal costs incurred by the Kano government. Nigerian authorities alleged Pfizer violated international law by illegally testing its drug Trovafloxacin Mesylate (Trovan) on 200 sick children during a



Antarctic ice shelf collapses


One-third of the more than 800 bird species in the US is endangered, threatened or declining in number due to climate change and habitat loss, said the country’s first report on bird population. The US State of Birds said Hawaii, the island of exotic species, has the highest number of endangered birds. At least 10 species have not been seen in the last 40 years and may be extinct. While wetland birds are doing well due to the focus on wetland conservation, those in grasslands are declining due to conversion of their habitat into farmlands. The accelerated pace of urbanization is threatening bird habitats, it said (see ‘Privatized rainwater’, Down To Earth, April 1-15, 2009).

Thirteen officials in China’s Henan province have been punished after a chemical company contaminated River Dasha with arsenic. Liu Gaili, a former environmental protection bureau official, was sentenced to two years in prison by a local court. Twelve other officials, including the deputy head of the Minguan county, were either sacked or brought to book. A section of the Dasha was found contaminated by arsenic in August 2008. Water quality tests showed the concentration of arsenic was 900 times the safety standard. Investigations showed the Chengcheng Chemical Co Ltd, a sulphuric acid plant, had been illegally discharging toxic wastewater into the river for a month. To prevent the contaminated water from spreading into the neighbouring areas, experts from the Chinese Academy of Science closed key sluices, built dams and poured chemical agents into the river to treat the water. Tests between November 2008 and March this year showed the water is safe.


NEWS 360°

warmer by 2.5oC, which is far more than the global average, according to the European Space Agency. Scientists say the collapse has exposed land-bound ice sheets behind it to water currents, making them unstable (see ‘Expedited meltdown’, p36). PEST CONTROL

Cane toads crushed to fertilizer


It was a collective effort to control pests. Residents of the Australian state of Queensland took part in a mass capture of poisonous cane toads on March 28 and caught about 10,000. Dubbed ‘toad day out’, some toads were donated to scientists, while the rest were euthanized and turned into fertilizer at a local waste management plant. Cane toads were introduced to Australia from Central and South America in 1935 to help control the native cane beetle, a pest for sugarcane farmers, but became pests themselves. They devastated the region’s wildlife; crocodiles and snakes fed on the toxic cane toad, inadvertently poisoning themselves. On the ‘toad day out’, researchers from University of Sydney said an indigenous meat ant could wipe out the cane toad. In the journal Functional Ecology, the researchers said because of certain behavioural traits, the cane toad is more likely to be killed and eaten by meat ants than native frogs.

tarian affairs (UNOCHA). Namibia declared a state of emergency after the Zambezi river swelled to 7.8 metres—its highest level in 40 years. While neighbouring Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and Madagascar are hit by the floods, incessant rains are likely to worsen Zambia’s cholera epidemic. Elizabeth Byrs, spokesperson UNOCHA said the floods would exacerbate the region’s food insecurity in 2009 and 2010. The world body has warned of a dire emergency as the heavy rainfall is likely to continue till the end of the rainy season in May. The persistent warmerthan-normal sea surface temperatures over the Indian Ocean are conducive to the formation of tropical disturbances like cyclones, it said. DEFORESTATION

FAO blames agriculture Forests in the developing world will continue to disappear because of smallscale agriculture and other forms of land dependence. Forest cover in developed countries will, however, increase

because they no longer depend on land, have better incomes and are a part of the market economy, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in the State of the World’s Forests report released on March 16. Most of the forest loss in Africa, South America and Asia are due to agricultural expansion, biofuel crops, industrialization and population growth. Forest management in these areas will not be easy because of weak government policies. Forest loss would slow down in some Asian and South American countries, which are economically advanced, because people are moving away from agrarian to urban lifestyle. “The FAO report is one way of looking at forestry. A nuanced approach would examine if the first world has old growth forests with biodiversity,” said Ambuj Sagar, professor of technology and policy at IIT-Delhi. “Who is clearing forests in developing countries, local communities or large companies? If forests are getting cleared for biofuel and food, where are the products going?” asked Sagar.



Seven African countries hit Seven southern African countries saw the worst flooding in about 50 years. Angola and Namibia are the hardest hit where at least 100 people have been killed and 550,000 affected, said the UN office for the coordination of humaniApril 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Uranium traces in Punjab children The search for the source has just begun

THEY are 149 in all—mostly children below 13 and a few adults. They are being treated for autism, cerebral palsy and mental impairment at the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children in Faridkot, Punjab. They are mostly from Punjab though there are some from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and even abroad. They are in the spotlight now because traces of uranium have been found in hair samples of most of them. It was a chance finding. A UK-based clinical toxicologist, Carin Smit, visited the Faridkot centre last year. Intrigued by development disorders among so many, she wanted to find out the reason. She collected hair samples of 149 children and adults from the centre and sent them to a laboratory in Germany. Tin, lead, aluminium, manganese and iron were present in a majority of the hair samples. Smit was not surprised; as a physician who studies the nature and effects of toxins she had suspected the presence of these heavy metals even before she sent the samples to the lab. What she had not anticipated was the presence of uranium. Yet it did show up in more than 80 per cent of the hair samples. “We were not testing for uranium. We were testing for heavy metal toxicity and traces of uranium showed up. We need to do more tests now to find the level of uranium present in the body,” said Smit. The lab report said the trace of uranium in samples indicated the level was high enough to cause disease. “I am distressed that uranium has been found in the samples. I don’t know what will happen to my child now,” said Devinder Singh, father of seven-yearold Yuvaraj, who is being treated at the centre for cerebral palsy. Smit was in Faridkot in the last week of March to collect more samples. She took urine samples before and after administering chelating agents to remove the heavy metal, including uranium. Smit said this will show the level


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

of uranium present in the body. The test results are expected in June. “Tests need to be done to see if uranium is one of the causes of autism,” said Harish Babu, naturopath at the centre where treatment is done through naturopathy, neurotherapy and yoga. South African-born Smit learnt of the centre through Ankit Sharma, an autistic child, who came to her eight years ago. Ankit was seven then and living in Botswana. When Smit’s treatment did not show much result, Ankit’s parents brought the child to the Faridkot centre in 2006. Improvement in Ankit’s condition prompted Smit to visit the centre last year.

Baffling “Punjab is already suffering due to a cocktail of pesticides and heavy metals present in the groundwater. It is too early to say uranium caused autism. It could be one of the chemicals disrupting neuro-transmitters,” said Neelam Sodhi, gynaecologist in Ludhiana.

Carin Smit was curious why so many children from one place had autism, cerebral palsy



What has baffled many is the presence of uranium in the samples when there are no uranium mines in Punjab. Speculation abounds. One of the theories doing the rounds is that the uranium came from Iraq where the US army used uranium in its warheads. R Sreedhar, convenor of non-profit Mines, Mineral and People, said the uranium could have come from thermal power plants. “Coal, used in thermal power plants, is known to have radioactive material like radon and uranium,” he said. Prithpal Singh, director of the Faridkot centre, finds a connection. There is a thermal power plant in Bathinda, the neighbouring district. Forty of the 149 samples tested were of children and adults from Bathinda. The uranium traces Smit stumbled upon have triggered a flurry of activity. A three-member team of the Department of Atomic Energy reached Faridkot from Mumbai on April 6. “We have collected hair samples and soil, water and food samples from the Faridkot centre,” informed Swapnesh Malhotra, member of the investigating team. The state government too sent a team—of five. It collected water and soil samples from the Faridkot centre and sent them to Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. They have also collected hair, blood and urine samples of five children and their parents which, a doctor on condition of anonymity, said have been sent to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. The parents, who are trying to come to terms with the presence of uranium in their children’s hair samples, are upset with the state government team. “They did not bother to seek our consent. They were crude and insensitive. They simply pulled out hair from my child as a sample. They even used the same syringe and needle to take blood samples of all members of the family,” said Devinder Singh. In a fit of rage, the parents even spoke of suing the government, he added, but once the anger died they agreed there was no point. ■

Season turns bad. No rainfall after planting, plenty after harvest

played spoiler for paddy farmers in Kerala’s Kuttanad region. During the growing period, when the plants need plenty of rain, a dry spell prevailed leading to black grain disease which reduced yield. Then, heavy showers for three days, soon after harvest, from March 12-15, drenched the paddy that lay in the open fields, waiting to be lift-


FOSS on poll agenda Broad consensus on use of open source software ARCHITA BHATTA POLITICAL parties may have different ideologies, but when it comes to e-governance they seem to agree on the type of computer software the country needs. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) IT vision document, released on March 16, endorsed Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that can drastically cut costs of computerization (see ‘FOSS time in India’, Down To Earth, April 30, 2008). The Left parties and some senior Congress ministers have been supporting FOSS for some time. Unlike proprietary software like

Microsoft Windows or Adobe Photoshop where companies hold patents to the programmes’ codes and charge fees for using the software, free and open software like Linux make codes accessible to all without charging fees. So whether it is the Congress, the BJP or the Left supported Third Front that forms the government after elections, FOSS is likely to get a boost. One of the highlights of BJP’s vision document, released by prime minister aspirant L K Advani, is making FOSS code available to all and “help the student community experiment and innovate”. The Left supports FOSS as it would help break the monopoly of proprietary software companies. “Monopoly over knowledge has become the new avenue for earning profits. There is a need to liberate people from this stranglehold,” said CPI(M) leader, Sitaram Yechury. The Knowledge Commission, in a

cent. Since the paddy was soaked, mill owners refused to take the paddy. A deal was struck. “Mill owners wanted the rotten grains and the chaff sifted. Since we did not have the mechanism for such segregation, we had to settle on their terms. Their final deal was a 10-20 per cent price reduction per quintal,” said Jacob T Neendissery. He grows paddy on eight hectares in Alappuzha. Paddy in Kerala is usually procured at Rs 1,100 per quintal. The farmers now want the state to compensate them for their losses. ■

Software norms soon The Department of Information and Technology is likely to notify the software standards policy by May. The policy advocates use of standard open code for software and will boost FOSS. Jaijit Bhattacharya, of Sun Microsystems, a company selling FOSS, said the policy is pragmatic.

report in 2006, recommended use of Panchayati Raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has been promoting its use in his ministry.“This means there is a broad consensus on FOSS and it would be interesting to see what happens in the next five years,” said Venkatesh Hariharan of Open Source Foundation of India, a non-profit. ■ FOSS .

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth





ed. The delay by the civil supplies corporation in lifting and transporting the paddy to the mills led to further losses. “There weren’t enough vehicles to transport the paddy to mills assigned by the corporation, which procures foodgrain from farmers and sells them to consumers at subsidized rates fixed by the government,” said Thomas Peelianickal of a non-profit in the Kuttanad region, which comprise Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts. Taking paddy to godowns costs extra, said Peelianickal. Not just that, the chaff content, which should not exceed three per cent per quintal, went up to 25 per cent. “Since there were no rains during the growing period and the temperature was high, acidity and the salinity of the soil increased, affecting the plant’s health and immunity,” said Abraham Verghese, agronomist with the Rice Research Station at Mancompu, under the Kerala Agriculture University. “Chaff and black grain are a result of poor nutrition and low immunity level of the plant.” For procurement, moisture content in paddy should not exceed 17-20 per

CNG FOR PAK BUSES: Pakistan environment minister Hameedullah Jan Afridi has asked the country’s planning commission and the ministry of petroleum to submit a timeline for introducing CNG buses for public transport. Pakistan plans to run 8,000 CNG buses in nine cities. The deadline for the project was set for February 2008 and then extended to July 2008. The project, a publicprivate partnership, failed to meet the deadline due to several reasons including non-provision of funds.


Paddy sells cheap in Kerala


Algal bloom threatens coral reef Tamil Nadu forest department plans to weed out algae manually SUMANA NARAYANAN

alga grown commercially for its starch extract in the Gulf of Mannar, off Tamil Nadu, is said to be choking the coral reef in the protected area. There is no conclusive finding whether the corals are threatened, but the state forest department is not taking chances. It has decided to weed them manually. “There is no estimate how far


the algal cover extends. We are not sure how much manpower or time will be needed but we are determined to start removing the algae,” said S Shenbagamoorthy, wildlife warden of the reserve. The algal species, Kappaphycus alvarezii, is a source of a complex carbohydrate—carregeenan—used as a gelling agent in a range of products, from ice cream to shoe polish. The

ACCORDING TO REPORT BIRDS NO MORE: Eight bird species have vanished from the 25 sq km Salim Ali sanctuary in Ernakulam district, Kerala, said a study by Nirmala College in Ernakulam. Changes in their environment, teak plantations for example, may have caused this. The study also recorded the number of bird species increased from 132 in the 1930s to 238 in the sanctuary. This included wetland species that increased from 10 to 32, possibly because of a new reservoir there. TOXIC FISH: Residues of medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies and depression were found in fish near wastewater treatment plants serving five US cities. Researchers from Texas said even diluted concentrations of the residues could harm aquatic species.


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


Scientists are not sure if red alga has become invasive

MNCs amass water rights in US To produce oil from rocks BHARAT LAL SETH

companies have amassed rights to large volumes of water in the US state of Colorado to produce oil from shale, fine-grained sedimentary rock that is rich in organic matter. This could have a disastrous impact on the water-scarce area, said a study by a US-based environmental group, Western Resources Advocates. Oil shale in three US states— Colorado, Utah and Wyoming—hold as much oil as the reservoirs of Saudi Arabia. But extracting oil from shale is expensive and technologically in its infancy despite more than 25 years of research. Oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, are currently carrying


Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), a government agency, promoted its cultivation initially. For the past five years some scientists have been arguing the algae have become invasive thereby threatening to overrun the species native to the ecosystem. In 2005, scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography suggested in an article in Current Science that the algae had become invasive. A study by researchers from Madurai in 2007-2008 also came to the same conclusion. They studied the algal growth off Kurusadai Island in the Palk Straits where the algae was cultivated earlier. “Our study clearly shows the algae has spread over the corals off the island and in the Mandapam region (Ramanathapuram district),” said S Chandrasekaran of Thiagarajar College, Madurai, who led the research. CSMCRI refuted both studies. “There are two small patches of Kappaphycus outside the original cultivation area that add up to just 7 sq m,” said Pushpito Ghosh, director of CSMRI. “Multinationals and self-help groups cultivate the alga and we get the flak. But we will conduct annual surveys to check if it turns invasive,” Ghosh added. ■

out research and development of oil shale technologies in Colorado. As commercial production of each litre of oil from shale would require three to four litres of water, the report said, companies have acquired rights to two billion cubic metre of stored water in the state and the right to divert large amounts of water from the Colorado and the White rivers. The companies have also bought rights to 100 irrigation canals. Under the Colorado water law, a person holding an older right may use his rights over a stream to obtain full supply. Many of the private water rights are older than those held by regional water suppliers. Hence, the reports said, exercising these rights for commercial development of shale oil would hamper water supply. Patrick McGinn, spokesperson of Exxon, which holds the largest chunk of water rights, said the report overestimates the amount of water needed. The report, however, calls for further study of the economic and environmental impacts. ■


Court allows widening of 17 km of road MoEF to clear the 33 km passing through reserve forest spending Rs 75 crore on the road project saying it will improve road connectivity. KRDCL had initially proposed widening the entire road stretch from five metres to 16 metres. After opposition from environmentalists, it modified the project and halved the road width within the forest area. Girish Hosur, deputy conservator of forests for Belgaum, said KRDC has now applied for clearance from MoEF and has sought diversion of five hectares of forestland. Shrihari Kugaji of Paryavarni said the project would still be a waste of public money as the existing BelgaumPanaji national highway provides sufficient connectivity. Widening just one third of the road to 16 metres and then let it taper makes no sense, he said. “In any case, a part of the road will get submerged when the Mandovi river gets diverted under the Kalasa Bhandura river diversion project,” said Kugaji. ■


Karnataka High Court, on March 19, vacated its stay on a road-widening project that environmentalists are opposing. Nearly two-thirds of the 51-km road, connecting Peerunwadi in Belgaum district with Chorla near Goa border, passes through a reserve forest in the Western Ghats. The court said the state government could go ahead and widen the 17-km road stretch in the non-forest area. The state told the court it would start work on the forest stretch only after the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gives clearance. The court deemed the issue resolved and disposed the case. Earlier, in February, the court had stayed this project on a petition moved by Amrut Charantimath of the nonprofit Paryavarni. The petition demanded scrapping the project and pointed out the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd (KRDCL) started work without applying for mandatory clearance under Forest Conservation Act, 1980, from the MoEF. “In all likelihood, after speeding the work in the non-forest stretch, the government will plead fait accompli and demand diversion of forestland for the road project,” said N S Vijayanath Babu, counsel for the petitioner. He said this was the wrong way to push infrastructure projects. The state government justified THE

Group certification for organic farmers in the state SAVVY SOUMYA MISRA

6,000 farmers from 138 villages in Andhra Pradesh who practise organic farming can next year expect a premium price for their produce. Certification by the National Centre for Organic Farming in Ghaziabad will help them earn more. The Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), under the state’s rural development ministry, has initiated the certification process. SERP has been promoting non-pesticidal management (NPM) programme in the state (see ‘Made it’, Down To Earth, January 1-15, 2009). The farmers selected for certification first gave up use of synthetic pesticides under NPM programme and then switched to organic farming which does not use synthetic fertilizers either. They have been practising organic farming for the past two to three years. The National Centre for Organic Farming along with the Organic Farmers’ Association of India will train these farmers to become field inspectors and conduct random checks for soil and crop quality, and maintain field records. The six-month training will begin in May and organic certification will be given late next year. “We are going for group certification under the Participatory Guarantee Scheme so that it is cost effective for the farmers and they get a better price for their produce,” said T Vijay Kumar, the chief executive officer of SERP (see box). ABOUT

“There is a large potential in the domestic market for chemical-free produce which we want to tap,” he added. The certification will fetch the farmer an additional Rs four to five per kilogramme for each crop. The certified produce would carry a unique number indicating its origin. A brand name is yet to be decided, said Jayaram Killi, consultant with SERP. Export potential will also be explored, he added. Though EU and the US do not accept such certification, it opens avenues for export of organic farm produce to Latin American countries. ■

4,400 trees in reserve forest will be cut



Andhra farmers to earn more

Certification systems Certification is of two types: Third Party System (TPS) and Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS). Under TPS, the certifying body inspects and monitors fileds. Charges can go up to Rs 5,000 for an acre (0.4 hectare). PGS entails training farmers to monitor fields. It is a zero-cost system and suited for small and marginal farmers.

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth


NEWS Tristan Da Cunha Islands

Gough Island



Ocean seeding fails Algae grown to trap CO2 become feed for organisms SUMANA NARAYANAN

Turtles return to nest Concern over the survival of Olive Ridleys persist KIRTIMAN AWASTHI WHEN the Olive Ridley turtles did not turn up on the islands off Gahirmatha beach in Orissa last year for mass nesting, the Dhamra port under construction less than 15 km away, was blamed. The turtles were back in droves this March and jostled to find suitable nesting ground. Preliminary estimates of the forest department said about 100,000 turtles nested on the beaches of Nasi 1 and Nasi 2 islands between March 24 and 30. “The turtles came ashore for nesting in groups of 5,000 to 10,000 each,” said C S Kar, senior scientist with wildlife wing of Orissa Forest Department. The endangered turtles may have returned to nest but concern about their survival persists. Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the non-profit, Wildlife Society of Orissa, said, “The coastline along the nesting habitat has reduced in the past one year from 1km to 700 metres. The jostle for space among the turtles may destroy the eggs.” The mass nesting—arribada—takes place every

Defying the code Countries falter after adopting UN’s Voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries 1995 ●

The code sets standards for the fishing industry to ensure sustainable

agement, control of illegal fishing, lowering fishing capacity and

use of resources

clamping down on by-catch/destructive fishing practices

None scored 7, the designated good grade

ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 for complying with the code

India was among 28 countries that failed the test

Malaysia and Namibia scored more than many developed countries

53 countries, accounting for 96 per cent of global catch, were The ranking marked a country on the basis of ecosystem based man-


Countries not complying with UN fisheries code



60 Fail

40 20 0

Norway United States Canada Australia Iceland Namibia South Africa New Zealand Japan Denmark Faroe Islands Netherlands Chile United Kingdom Portugal France Malaysia South Korea Sweden Germany Ireland China Spain Italy Mexico Peru Poland India Ghana Taiwan Latvia Philippines Brazil Argentina Morocco Pakistan Russia Senegal Ecuador Indonesia Iran Thailand Ukraine Sri Lanka Vietnam Turkey Bangladesh Egypt Yemen Nigeria Angola Myanmar North Korea

Code compliance score (%)


THE Indo-German experiment to induce algal bloom in the South Atlantic Ocean has been ruined by tiny marine organisms called zooplanktons. They ate half the algae grown by spraying a swathe of the ocean surface with iron dust. The ocean fertilization experiment

called Lohafex was carried out by scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, to test the efficacy of algae in absorbing carbon to counter climate change impact. Environmentalists opposed the experiment from the start saying it violated UN moratorium on ocean fertilization (see ‘On hold’, Down To Earth, February 15, 2009). The experiment concluded in mid-March. The scientists apparently did not foresee that zooplanktons that live among plants and algae could play spoilsport. “The amount of carbon sequestered was about 50 per cent of the expected amount because the algae were eaten up,” said S W A Naqvi, a scientist with NIO and project co-researcher. The carbon sequestration experiment was unsuccessful for another reason: the algal growth was limited. It was thought spraying iron dust would be sufficient as all other nutrients algae need to grow, are present in the identified patch of ocean. “We are trying to figure out the other limiting factors,” added Naqvi. The experiment was based on the idea that when algae died and sank to the bottom of the sea, they would take the CO2 down with them. Now that the planktons have eaten them, the carbon in the food chain and not sequestered. ■

Reference: The evaluation was done by a group of experts from the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, the Federal University of Rio Grande, Brazil and WWF International


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


year between December and March. Gahirmatha in Kendrapada district is said to be the largest nesting ground for the turtles. The eggs usually take 45-50 days to hatch. The hatchlings make their way to the ocean as soon as they emerge from the eggs. The turtles have missed arribada on five previous occasions between 1981-82 and 2001-02, for reasons not known. Port officials said the return of the turtles belies claims of a few environmentalists that dredging at Dhamra port site is a threat to the Olive Ridley turtles. The port is being constructed jointly by TATA Steel and Larsen and Toubro. It is 30 per cent complete. But conservationists said the port construction is eroding the shoreline and changing it. This will permanently damage the turtle habitat, they said while adding such issues were ignored while preparing the environmental impact assessment and the port’s environment management plan (see ‘Conservationists divided over Dhamra port’, Down To Earth, May 30, 2008). Once the port is operational, lighting


Builder of bridges across troubled waters


Their nesting ground has shrunk

and possible oil spills will further endanger the Olive ridleys, they added. A port official, who did not want to be named, said the port could not be blamed for loss of turtle habitat. The National Institute of Oceanography, in an unreleased study, found beaches in the region get eroded but then recover through sedimentation, he said. Mohanty said this was not true as the eroded beaches have been lost permanently and show no sign of recovery. Port officials said a mitigation plan suggested by the International Union for Conservation of Nature will take care of all environmental concerns. ■

Smitu will continue to be with us an Indigenous encyclopaedia. For through his works. With fertile imagihim learning was not confined to the nation, relentlessly learning to weave walled classroom but in places where together the personal, the political life processes work out. and the social, he inspired students, Parliamentary democracy needs activists and profesto be questioned. sionals. He loved How can a small music, read and minority in wrote to persuade Parliament reprepeople to see sent a culturally beyond the confines diverse one billion? of biographies, and There are civilizaresisted injustice, tion processes wherever possible. A beyond the reach of million memories of this system of govera dear friend come nance. Smitu posito mind. Often he tioned his life and would point out work within these SMITU KOTHARI that activism and non-party processes. 1950-2009 reflective thought He was one of the need to go hand in earliest advocates of hand with the heart. “It is important Pakistan-India peace. to trust the innate goodness of all An important turning point in his human beings. Give love and everyjourney was the Lokayan initiative. one would contribute to the making He saw the World Social Forum as an of a just world,” he would say. avenue to affirm the possibilities He coordinated research to bring against neo-liberal, WTO-sponsored to light creative grassroots initiatives globalization. A third turning point in diverse fields—medicine, social was the formation of Inter-Cultural forestry, biodiversity, health, agriculResources. He said fresh thinking was ture, inter-cultural mutuality. He was needed on what these institutions part of several such initiatives. For will look like. Inter-institutional relainstance, he was a founder member tions become important both in the of the Timbuktoo Collective, a noncontext of a centralizing economy profit endeavour in Andhra Pradesh, and in the context of the exploding where nature healed itself and an ecological crisis which is impoverishentire ecosystem was recovered. ing millions and which increasingly There were many occasions when spans political borders. Deforestation Smitu would share the inspiration in Nepal causes floods in India or fosthat comes from being witness to sil fuel consumption in the industrialnature healing. These, he would point ized world causes floods and displaces out, demonstrate the way resistance thousands in Bangladesh. and life processes are interwoven, Smitu felt the challenge could be both concerned with a celebration of met by engaging communities in a plural possibilities. Resistance was not process of delegitimizing the culture to obstruct development; on the conof consumerism. He said we must link trary it clears the ground for justice. It the democratic “locals” into a system is an affirmation of possibilities inherof mutual accountability further ent in nature healing itself. linked to similar efforts in the North On this and several other subjects that are contesting corporate power, Smitu was clear we need to learn social inequality and violence and from the lives of indigenous people practise humane people-centered across the world. All of this learning, development. he felt, could go into the making of —SAVYASAACHI

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



ARCHITA BHATTA COMPANIES in India that hoped to profit by investing in technologies that minimize carbon emissions are holding on to their carbon credits. The value of these credits or certified emission reduction units (CERs) has fallen steeply world over. In EU, for instance, the price of one CER has fallen from € 31 to € nine between January and now. Carbon credits, created by carbon emission reduction, are sold by companies in developing countries to those in devel-


oped countries. Each CER is worth one tonne reduced carbon emission and can be traded in the international market under a UN mandate. It is the European countries that usually buy carbon credits as they need to cut carbon emissions eight per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 under the international climate treaty, Kyoto Protocol. But the Indian companies are not selling. They are sitting on 63 million CERs as the market is bearish. “The prices are low because of recession. But the situation is not alarming. One should worry if the price falls below € eight,” said Pamposh Bhatt, a director with GTZ German Technical Cooperation, an international development agency. Archak Pattnaik of TUV-NORD, an international company that certifies CDM (clean development mechanism, to minimize carbon emissions) projects, also said the fall in prices is a “temporary phenomenon”. The carbon trade has been driven further down by financial institutions that have withdrawn from carbon trad20

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

ing. For example, Lehman Brothers, the US-based non-banking financial institution, closed down its carbon desk after it announced bankruptcy. To arrest further fall in prices, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the intergovernmental panel for promoting global energy security, has appealed to governments to take necessary steps. Low CER prices coupled with cheap coal and oil could affect investments in renewable energy, IEA said. But those dealing in CDM projects said market forces, not governments, should determine CER prices. Bhatt said CER demand might increase if more countries commit themselves to carbon emission reductions under Kyoto protocol. “But if prices continue to fall, industrialized countries will need to ensure efforts and resources of so many countries that went into nurturing the carbon market over the past 10 years do not go waste,” Bhatt said. ■

India scuttles curb on endosulfan Only country to oppose restriction SAVVY SOUMYA MISRA

again foiled international efforts to restrict trade in endosulfan, a toxic pesticide, by getting it listed in the Rotterdam Convention. The convention, a UN chemicals information treaty, makes it binding for countries to disclose the hazardous nature of chemicals before exporting them to countries with their prior informed consent (PIC). India was the only country to oppose the entry of endosulfan in the list at the fifth PIC chemical review committee (CRC) meeting held in Rome on March 23-27. Twenty-eight out of 29 members of the CRC favoured inclusion of the pesticide in the list. This followed reports from nine African countries saying many cotton farmers fell ill and died after exposure to the chemical. INDIA

G K Pandey, adviser to the environment ministry, who represented India, reportedly opposed the listing on technical grounds saying the risk assessment of endosulfan is inadequate. He claimed no one in India suffered after exposure to endosulfan. Birth deformities and diseases linked to endosulfan spraying on cashew crops have however been reported in India in Kerala’s Kasargode district (see ‘Lies, damn lies and endosulfan, Down To Earth, April 15, 2004). “The ministry is influenced by chemicals companies,” said Gopal Krishna of international POPs (persistent organic pollutants) elimination network. Activists hope CRC will get the pesticide listed at the next meeting. “There is a provision allowing CRC to base its decision on two-thirds majority failing a consensus,” said Krishna. India had opposed the entry of the pesticide in the PIC list in the October 2008 meeting of the CRC. It also thwarted a global ban on the pesticide last year when it was to be included in the Stockholm Convention list of POPs. ■


Indian companies wait for CER price to rise

REGULATING GM PADDY: The Supreme Court has issued notices to the ministry of agriculture, department of biotechnology under ministry of science and technology and the environment ministry to clear their stand on the regulatory process for approval of genetically modified (GM) crops (see ‘Test tube brinjal’, Down To Earth, April 1-15, 2009). The court sought clarification based on an application filed by Gene Campaign, a non-profit, which alleged that GM trials of paddy in Jharkhand by biotech company Mahyco were illegal and violated all biosafety norms. The court asked Mahyco to respond. The petition, filed in October 2008, demanded a review by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of permission to conduct field trials and the commercialization of GM crops. The next hearing is on April 29.


Recession hits carbon trade


Senior Conservation and Social Scientists Required The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment ( is fast emerging as one of South Asia‘s leading conservation organizations. ATREE seeks to address pressing environmental challenges through interdisciplinary research and active engagement with civil society and policy makers. ATREE invites applications for 3 senior posts in biodiversity conservation, to be based in Darjeeling and Sikkim. The position will require extensive travel in the Northeast states, and will report to the Regional Director, Eastern Himalaya Office of ATREE. The Position Fellows - 2 positions Senior Program Officer - 1 position We require dynamic individuals who will be able to independently lead programs, formulate successful proposals for realizing grants, and contribute to the current debate in conservation and development through various media. Applicants to the Fellows position should have a Doctoral degree, and those to the Senior Program Officers’, a Master’s degree, in relevant disciplines such as conservation biology, management of natural resources, community development, or environment governance/ law. About ATREE ATREE fosters autonomy, professional growth, diversity and gender equity at the work place. Women and persons from underprivileged groups are especially encouraged to apply. Salaries at ATREE are competitive and at par with other academic institutions in India. Salary for the advertised positions will depend upon the qualifications and experience of the candidate. Please e-mail your application by 30 April 2009 to Your application should include your CV, 3 references and a letter describing your professional goals and interests. Please use ‘Fellows application/ NE’ or ‘Senior Program Officer application/ NE’ in the subject head of your mail.

april 30, 2009 Down To Earth




Political symptoms Few states illustrate the socio-economic faultlines of India like Orissa—rich in natural resources but with half its population living below the poverty line. The old economy of fishers and farmers faces a new economy of extraction, dominated by the mining industry. Pitched battles have clear political overtones. As the state goes to the polls, ASHUTOSH MISHRA visited a few zones of conflict Hirakud farmers v industry IN Bargarh district of western Orissa, Lingaraj is known for organizing farmers against an increasing diversion of the Hirakud water to industry. In 2007 and 2008 he played a key role in demonstrations at the reservoir in Sambalpur, which forced chief minister Naveen Patnaik to announce that industrial units will not be provided water from it at the cost of irrigation. But he does not take Patnaik at his word. Lingaraj has thrown his hat in the election ring by contesting the Bargarh assembly seat. “Hirakud is a priority and the election is an opportunity to bring it into public focus,” said the 48-year-old. About 300,000 farmers depend on the Hirakud dam for irrigation. While the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has not taken a stand on diversion of water, the BJP and the Congress are supporting the farmers.

Fishers v conservation “WE have been fishing in the coastal waters since generations but the government has now imposed restrictions in the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary and in the Devi and Rishikulya river mouths in the name of turtle conservation. How can we survive?” asked Narayan Haldar, the president of the Orissa Traditional Fishworkers’ Union. Haldar said the fishing community in Kendrapara would vote for only those who are sympathetic to its cause. “We are also asking parties to incorporate in their manifestoes our demand for withdrawal of the 2008 Coastal Management Zone notification which threatens to shrink space for the community on the coast by 22

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

allowing industries there,” said K Aleya, the general secretary of the union. No party has included the fishers’ demands in its manifesto. State BJP president Suresh Pujari said the demands will be considered sympathetically if the party won. BJD general secretary Narendra Swain said the government was already trying to strike a balance between conservation and fishing.

Indira Sagar dam v villagers IN the southern district of Malkangiri people threatened by the Indira Sagar Multi-purpose Project dam on the Godavari want parties to stop the project. The dam in Andhra Pradesh will inundate 28 villages in Mottu and Pasuguda panchayats of Malkangiri. “The Orissa government has filed a case in the Supreme Court but we want it to take up the matter at the political level as well,” said Ramesh Majumdar, the convenor of people’s group Malkangiri Visthapit Jan Suraksha Manch. A Rabi Kumar, a Manch activist in Mottu, said people can go to the extent of boycotting polls. “It’s a question of life and

Orissa’s protest map That parties must not ignore Hirakud BARGARH

SAMBALPUR Dhamra Paradeep Devi river JAGATSINGHPUR



Rushikulya river

Gahirmatha marine sanctuary

death for us. We are holding meetings to build public opinion against the dam,” Kumar added. The BJP and the BJD said they would fight the project.

Mining v tribals DONGRIA Kondhs of Kalahandi district, close to Bargarh, are determined to prevent bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills they revere. “Our vote will go to those who promise to save Niyamgiri with sincerity,” said Sishir Pujari of Green Kalahandi, the organization spearheading the agitation against the mining company, Vedanta Alumina. Former member of Parliament and Congress leader Bhakta Charan Das, who has been in the thick of the agitation, said, “I and my party remain committed to saving Niyamgiri.” The BJP’s stand is: the ecology of Niyamgiri and tribals’ means of living must be protected. BJD’s Swain, however, said, “Our party is for industrialization, though we have maintained it should be done with minimum damage to the environment.” In Jagatsinghpur in the east, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti is motivating people to pressure parties to scrap POSCO’s steel plant near Paradeep. The Samiti says the project will destroy the region’s betel- and coconut-based economy. “The people must ensure that driving POSCO out becomes the top political agenda,” said Samiti secretary S Mohapatra. On the CPI—whose leader Abhay Sahu was spearheading the agitation until his arrest—making an electoral pact with pro-project BJD, Mohapatra said, “Abhay Babu was leading us not in his capacity as a CPI leader but as someone who felt our cause is just.” ■


april 30, 2009 Down To Earth



Yours privately How Jharkhand misled the Supreme Court into allotting a mine reserved for PSUs to private firms ALOK GUPTA Ranchi

he Ghatkuri mine in West Singhbhum district, containing high grade iron ore worth crores of rupees, has always tempted private mining companies. But they could not lay their hands on it because it is reserved for public sector undertakings (PSUs) to prevent monopoly or cartelization in the steel industry. The mining sector and officials were stumped when the Jharkhand government in December recommended to the Centre that the mine be leased to six private firms. The state government was acting on the Supreme Court’s directions. But there is a twist in the tale: the court’s order followed an affidavit the state government submitted. It did not tell the court the mine is reserved. “The Supreme Court was used as an instrument to legalize the allotment process,” alleged Saryu Rai, BJP MLA from Jamshedpur West. Spread over 2,590 hectares, Ghatkuri was kept aside for PSUs by the Bihar government in 1962 through a notification. In 2006, after Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, the state mining


department invited tenders for mining in the area. Of 150 applicants, it recommended nine private companies to the Centre for mining leases. Government rules require the department assess the quality and quantity of ore before inviting tenders, as also the state cabinet set the lease terms. The department, however, did not take the matter to the cabinet. Nor did it assess the ore. Then, the same year, it issued a notification saying the mine was reserved and would not be allotted to private players. The department also withdrew its recommendations to the Centre, saying it was a mistake to make them in the first place. Six of the nine companies, though, were not willing to take it quietly (see: The mine goes to...). They moved the Jharkhand High Court against the state government in 2007. The United Progressive Alliance government, led by Independent MLA Madhu Koda, argued that the Ghatkuri mine is reserved for PSU s. In December 2007, the court quashed the petitions. The companies appealed the decision in the Supreme Court in January

2008, arguing the 2006 annulment by the state was illegal. The Jharkhand government’s response in the Supreme Court was different from its submission in the high court: it excluded both the 1962 notification of the Bihar government and its own 2006 notification. The Supreme Court’s interim order of August 2008 said the companies “should file an affidavit declaring the area they need in the Ghatkuri mine and their investment plans within two weeks”. It asked the state government, the Centre and the companies to find a solution. Mines secretaries and directors of mines of the state and the Centre sat down in a meeting on October 8 in Delhi. The six companies demanded a certain amount of iron ore, a source from the state mining department told Down To Earth. The Jharkhand mining department said it was willing to allot the Ghatkuri mine on the basis of the companies’ demands. Jharkhand’s mining policy requires that iron-ore mines be allotted to companies having a steel plant in the state. Only one of the six companies, Adhunik Alloys, has a steel plant in Jharkhand. The officials did not ask the companies why they needed the amount of ore they had demanded because there is a loophole in the policy. If a firm signs an agreement with the state for setting up a steel plant it can be allotted a mine. That’s what the other five did. The policy is not clear on whether mining will start first or the steel plant. After the meeting, the Jharkhand government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court declaring it was willing to give operating licences to the six

JHARKHAND Ranchi Pashchimi Singhbhum

J H A R K H A N D Ranchi West Singhbhum

The mine goes to...


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


The coveted hills of Ghatkuri

• Ispat Industries • Abhijeet Infrastructure • Monnet Ispat • Jharkhand Ispat • Prakash Ispat • Adhunik Alloys and Power


firms. The court passed another interim order in December that the Jharkhand government should recommend the six firms to the Centre within five weeks. By this time Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had replaced Koda as the head of the government. Soren directed the mining department, in a letter on November 17, to ask two of the companies to set up industrial units in Jharkhand if they wanted mining leases. The companies were Monnet Ispat and Prakash Ispat. The letter also stated, “Abhijeet Infrastructure and Adhunik Steel can be recommended for mining lease and their names should be included in the list (of recommendations).” Seven days before the meeting in Delhi, Jharkhand’s then chief secretary A K Basu had drawn the mines secretary’s attention to lack of transparency in mining deals. Basu wrote to K K Khandelwal, the then mines secretary, “There appears to be (a) number of complications created by wrong decision making earlier. Mining lease recommendation...used to be made with cabinet approval. Now...the mining proposals are not sent to the cabinet.”

Objection, My Lord Challenging the decision to give the Ghatkuri mine to small private players, Tata Steel, among the original bidders, filed an interlocutory petition in the

“It is the biggest mining scam of the nation. The Supreme Court was used as an instrument to legalize the allotment. The state mining department deliberately allotted the mine to private players and started the game. The state government and six private players are hand in glove” — SARYU RAI, MLA, Jamshedpur West

“We are surprised how the matter is being blown out of proportion. There has been a mistake by our mining department and it’s not that we have allotted the mines to private companies. Mistakes do happen” — SHIBU SOREN, Former Chief Minister, Jharkhand

has been a mistake by our mining department and it’s not that we have allotted the mine to private companies.” Both maintained the process of allotment was initiated by the Supreme Court. Sources in the state mining department, however, said they were under political pressure to allocate Ghatkuri to private companies. They said last year they were verbally informed by Shibu Soren’s office that the process of can-

Only one of the six companies recommended for mine leases has a steel plant in Jharkhand court on January 27 this year. ArcelorMittal, Roongta Mines and JSW Steel Jharkhand, which were recommended in 2006, followed suit. Rai is demanding a CBI probe into the allotment process. “It is the biggest mining scam of the nation. The state mining department deliberately allotted the mine to private players (in 2006) and started the game. The state government and six private players were hand in glove,” he alleged. Since January 21 Jharkhand has been under President’s rule. Koda said during his regime applications for the mine were invited but “we never allotted mines to anyone”. Soren added, “We are surprised how the matter is being blown out of proportion. There

celling the Bihar government’s notification giving PSUs exclusive mining rights over Ghatkuri had started. R N Prasad, mining officer in West Singhbhum, said the department has written a note of dissent to the state government. “It has mentioned that the mining department will not give its clearance till the notification of the Bihar government is quashed,” he said. On March 30, Prasad was transferred to Ranchi. The six companies refused to comment on the matter citing legal reasons. Their corporate officials told Down To Earth they have followed the rules and the court would decide who is wrong. The companies were represented by high-profile lawyers. Abhishek Manu

Singhvi, spokesperson of the Congress, appeared for Monnet Ispat, former solicitor-general of India Harish Salve for Ispat Industries and former attorney general Ashok Desai for Adhunik Alloys.

How much is the booty? There has been no assessment of the quantity and quality of ore. Estimates show Ghatkuri has iron ore worth crores of rupees. In 2005-06, the state geological department floated a tender for assessing the iron ore content in Ghatkuri but the government is yet to give its nod for assessment. The same year the Geological Survey of India sought the state government’s permission for assessing the Ghatkuri mine for PSUs but the state government refused. Next year, Mineral Exploration Corporation, a central mining consultancy, paid an advance of Rs 50 lakh to the state for assessing the mine. This time the state forest department sat on the files. Public sector giant Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) had also bid for Ghatkuri mine. “The legal battle between the state government and private players forced us to be fence sitters. We have little role after the court ordered to give a share of Ghatkuri to private players,” said a SAIL officer. Other PSUs among the applicants included MMTC, Kudremukh Iron Ore Company and the National Mineral Development Corporation. ■ April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth




On two legs and a prayer Automobiles overwhelm Indian urban space: physical and imagined. Walking does not figure in the Great Indian Urban Plan. Pedestrians face grave risks. But automobiled city managers ignore a simple fact: walking is the basis of urban mobility. Even in carcrazy Delhi, one in every three trips is only on foot. JAYEETA SEN, BHARAT LAL SETH and NIDHI JAMWAL talk the walk

tuck in traffic on an old scooter, Amarnath Tewary, journalist in Patna, was getting late for an appointment. After progressing 100 metres in 20 minutes, a question occurred: why not walk? Two legs could speed up things on the road. And then there was the inviting prospect of shedding a few kilos around his waistline. He discussed it with his wife and daughter. Tewary described how his first walk-to-work day began: it featured a recently purchased pair of Nike joggers, an absent scooter, and a chartbuster from the Mumbai film factories that whistled through his lips. An estimated 25 minutes would transport him across the four-km daily commute to his office at Fraser Road. Four minutes into his new routine, he hit the marketplace and saw things he had not noticed from above the safety of two wheels. “There just wasn’t the space to walk, no pavements,” he said. He discovered the difficulty of walking past someone without body contact. “I should have bought a horn instead of the Nike shoes,” he said. The horn, though, would not have helped negotiate a bull that he skirted, but that meant his leg slipped into sludge heaped beside an open manhole. Before long, a bicyclist expectorated betel juice right on to his trouser legs and shoes. Next on the obstacle course was a series of puddles. Tewary rolled


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

up his trousers and attempted a jump. Without so much as a splash, he landed on his athletic feat. Before he could feel too happy, a motorcycle sped past, depositing the contents of the puddle on to his trousers. He had had enough of walking. He hired a rickshaw on his way back.

How many people walk? Hiring a rickshaw or riding a scooter are not options available to Annapurnabai. Her 60 years saw her leave farm labour to become a domestic help in Nagpur. Now, she does not work—not because she is too old to work but because traffic makes it impossible to walk. She used to walk between 10 km and 14 km every day. “In those days, there were wide roadside spaces and shady green trees.



…and then one day Amarnath Tewary decided to walk to work. The next day…

One could walk barefoot,” said she, claiming she is physically fit to walk the same distances but cannot cope with the traffic and the heat—the trees are gone to create more space for motorized traffic. Indian cities have millions of stories like Tewary’s and Annapurnabai’s. But it isn’t easy to put a number to these stories. Geetam Tiwari, professor at Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, tried to obtain data on walking. She could not find any from before 1994. For motorized vehicles in Delhi, data is available since the 1950s. “This shows walking has not been a priority in the planning of cities and transport infrastructure.” A 2008 study of 30 cities showed 16-57 per cent of all trips involve no vehicles at all. Smaller cities and hill



A devotee takes her chances near the Kalkaji temple in Delhi at 6:38 pm on April 1, 2009

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



towns, where walking commands a greater share of trips, figured at the higher end of this classification. Bigger cities, which have some semblance of pedestrian infrastructure unlike the smaller cities, have fewer people relying only on walking. The study by US consultancy Wilbur Smith Associates assessed footpaths and overall infrastructure, including pedestrians’ ratings of the facilities. The Union Ministry of Urban Development had commissioned the study to draft a transport strategy. The study indexed cities for walkability. The national average was 0.52. Chandigarh came on top with 0.91; cities such as London score 1.5 to 1.7. The survey showed 21 per cent of all trips in Delhi were only on foot. This

Measuring walkability Indian cities ranked on scale of 4 Chandigarh








































Hubli Dharwad

















Insurance for walkers?



0.22 0


0.4 0.6 0.8 Walkability index


Source: Anon, 2008, Study on traffic and transportation policies and strategies in urban areas in India, Wilbur Smith Associates, for Union Ministry of Urban Development, May, New Delhi


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

share was 34 per cent in another 2008 survey, this one by RITES Ltd, a government-owned consultancy. The figures vary depending on the survey, but there is no other way to estimate the unestimated. The two studies are not comparable, said Vinoba Sunder Singh of Wilbur Smith. “There are limitations to our study. While people’s perception got 50 per cent weightage to the score, mere presence of footpath was accounted,” said Singh, adding they did not study its quality. Mumbai has more walkers than Delhi—43 per cent, according to a 2005 study by the World Bank—about four times the number of people using private vehicles. Another survey from 2005-08, by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, estimated the number at 52 per cent. In Ahmedabad, cycling and walking constitute 54 per cent of all trips, said a 2005 report of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology. Walkers outnumber those using vehicles in Indian cities. Even in carcrazed Delhi, the percentage of walkingonly trips has remained high over time, said Yash Sachdeva of RITES; it was 32 per cent in 1994 and 33 in 2001. The walk-only trips in cities would be higher if public transport trips were included in estimates; each public transport user is also a walker at least four times a day. The Wilbur Smith report showed Kolkata ranked low in terms of pedestrian share in trips per day—19 per cent, excluding trips linking public transport. But the city has the highest public transport share: 54 per cent. So, people walk. Was Tewary in Patna too hasty in reverting to his scooter after a one-day trial? A close look at roads in Indian cities shows how the pedestrians never seem like a constituency to city managers. The employment—and safety—of Annapurnabai in Nagpur is not a real concern, though the old woman and her need for employment is very real, as is her fear of roads.

Diwakar Mohani is 80 and an inveterate cyclist. “The roads of Nagpur are better than ever before. But traffic has become unruly and law enforcement has not kept pace. The bicycle has become a vulnerable mode. My family is always nervous about me moving around on one.”

A close encounter at a Delhi road, featuring eight wheels, a driver, a rider with a pillion, and a non-entity on two legs

Unlike Mohani, Subrata Sen, writer and social activist in Nagpur, has stopped walking. “On improved roads, vehicles speed at no less than 60 km per hour. Because of poor traffic regulation, people jaywalk. It is dangerous,” he said. The number of people killed in road accidents in India has increased about 8 per cent each year for the past decade. Pedestrians account for 60 per cent— more than 80,000—of all fatalities in urban areas, revealed a joint report by researchers from the US University of Michigan and IIT, Delhi. Ramchandra Nayak knows. The 75year-old from Bhubaneswar survived a road accident six months ago. “A car hit me during my morning walk. Since there are no footpaths, I had little choice but to walk on the road,” said he. He has stopped going for a walk since. During 1970-2005, the number of motor vehicles registered increased 50


“A car hit me during my morning walk. Since there are no footpaths, I had to walk on the road. I don’t go for walks now” RAMCHANDRA NAYAK, 75, Bhubaneswar times. While the road network grew less than three-fold, accidents increased four-fold. Lack of footpaths, cycle tracks and unchecked speeding were to blame. India’s National Urban Transport Policy acknowledged the risk: “Use of cheaper non-motorized modes like cycling and walking has become increasingly risky, since these modes have to share the same right of way with motorized modes.” From policy to urban plans is a short

journey. Delhi’s Master Plan 2021 desires a pedestrian friendly city, major work centres with large numbers of pedestrian networks.

No walking public, no transport The master plan talks of upgrading public transport to international standards for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. To optimize the carrying capacity for each mode, transport projects must be integrated, said Pradeep Sachdeva, an archi-

tect in Delhi who designs public spaces in Indian cities. The Public Works Department in Delhi has commissioned a pilot project to improve walkability in select areas. The project is to design and develop about 25 km around four stadium areas and some arterial roads. The concept design along side footpaths includes lanes for non-motorized transport and auto rickshaw stands, he said. It is essential to connect Delhi’s metro stations with pedestrian networks, said Tripta Khurana, chief architect, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. “We plan jointly with the Delhi Transport Corporation to establish feeder bus services. For pedestrians, urban local bodies must ensure their needs are fulfilled.” A senior official of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation admitted that more needs to be done. The Centre for Science and April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Environment, NGO in Delhi, surveyed pedestrians on Delhi walkways to understand their convenience, security, safety and quality of services. No location made the top grade. Of all the sites assessed, the dedicated pedestrian path in the pilot bus rapid transit corridor (between Ambedkar Nagar and Chirag Delhi) scored the highest. “Little attention is given to pedestrians outside the corridor,” said Sachdeva. The captive pedestrian, who cannot afford alternative modes of transport, is the biggest loser.

Faulty designs and urban land use policies are fast razing the walking environment in India. The widening of roads alongside elevated routes and flyovers are a constant hindrance on pedestrian routes. The direct course of access for pedestrians is replaced by long-drawn routes. The vehicle lobby pushes pedestrians to subways and foot overbridges. To save time and effort pedestrians put themselves in harm’s way. Ill-planned motorization kills one person every six minutes on average.

This has pushed the Union Ministry of Shipping, Highways and Road Transport to draft a National Road Safety Policy. It talks of traffic education and social and economic implications of road accidents. It says the government will provide financial assistance to states and local bodies to improve the quality of investigation of crash incidents for data collection, transmission and analyses. The Indian Road Congress, premier technical body of highway engineers set up in 1934, has design guidelines for

Vehicles, vehicles, vehicles The reasons for congested cities are well known. Planners focus on the movement of vehicles, not people. Governments invest large sums in roads and elevated roadways to provide mobility to a minority: vehicle owners. Yet traffic speed and road availability per vehicle have reduced, despite road widening and flyovers.

“I know it is wrong but cars never stop to give way to walkers. People honk or abuse if one attempts to do so” ROHIT PILLAI, motorist, Delhi


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


roads and pedestrian pathways. These ask for a minimum footpath width of 1.5 m to 4 m. But no urban body is legally bound to maintain a dedicated space for pedestrians.

Not binding by law In a 2008 consultation paper, the Law Commission of India observed that in the absence of a Central legislation, it is left to the states to legislate on road safety. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, is supposedly a deterrent to rash and negligent driving. The Rules of Road Regulation, 1989, do mention pedestrians’ right of way at unregulated crossings. But little of all this means anything on the road. “I know it’s wrong but cars never stop for pedestrians,” said Rohit Pillai, a Delhi motorist. “People either honk or abuse if one attempts to do so.” A Down To Earth correspondent caught up with Chandrasekhar, in Mumbai, as he was waiting to cross the road at the

Marine Drive. “One needs to sprint, even on a zebra crossing. The traffic signal turns green for such a short while that barely half the road can be crossed. The Marine Drive is a three-km stretch along the Arabian Sea. It has a promenade that lends itself to pedestrians. But the footpaths are too high, especially for the elderly. Other parts of the city are devoid of pedestrian facilities. “There are no footpaths in Mumbai’s suburbs,” said Pankaj Joshi, architect and executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is busy implementing infrastructure projects such as the metro, monorail, sea links, expressways and flyovers. But footpaths are not on its agenda. “Business districts have been developed for only those who have cars. Even though footpaths have been provided in some places, these do not connect or integrate with other parts of the city,” said Joshi. Urban planners and architects claimed the state government was working against its own data, which showed that walking accounts for about 55 per cent average daily trips. “In its right sense, any planning agency should cash in on this figure and strengthen infrastructure for walkers,” said Ashok Datar, a transport expert working with the non-profit Mumbai Environmental Social Network. “But it looks like the development authority wants people to use their cars. It has now started constructing skywalks for pedestrians. The skywalks resemble caterpillars, are ugly, and do not solve the problem. These are required in some areas but should not be replicated all over.”

Off the road, on to a skywalk

At the ITO intersection in Delhi, the road is a theatre for the drama of urban tension, law enforcement, and rapid SWOT analyses. One person is killed in a road accident every six minutes in India

Elevated walkways are meant to disperse commuters from congested areas like bus stations. The development authority has planned 50 skywalks in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at an estimated cost of Rs 600 crore. One such pilot skywalk, between Bandra (E) station and Bandra-Kurla Complex, is operational since June 2008. It is 1.3 km long and four metres wide. “The skywalk was constructed for a peak hour capacity of 5,500 commuters but less than 100 people use it. The authority spent about Rs 13 crore on it,” said Datar. He added there is a mis-

More cars, fewer bus rides Walking needed to reverse trend Vehicular trips, 2007-08 (in per cent) Car/Taxi 13.73

Cycle Rickshaw 9.68 Bicycle 6.6 Train 0.58

2 wheeler 21.32 Bus 40.97

Metro 3.63 Auto Rickshaw 3.49

Vehicular trips, 2001 (in per cent) Cycle Rickshaw 3.6 Bicycle 5.3 Train 0.7

Car/Taxi 10.3 2 wheeler 17.2

Bus 59.8 Auto Rickshaw 3.1 Source: Yash Pal Sachdeva, General Manager, RITES Ltd.

match between pedestrian needs and what the state has to offer. Sudhir Badami, transport consultant in Mumbai, said mindless sprouting of skywalks proved the government did not want to get footpaths in order. Badami, who studied at IIT Mumbai in the 1970s, lives in Babulnath Marg in south Mumbai. “Footpaths in Mumbai were in a much better condition earlier. I would walk back from the Grant Road station. But now I am forced to take a taxi because the footpath is a mess and nonexistent.”

Non-negotiable right Everyone has a right to space on the road, said Faizan Jawed, an architectcum-activist in Mumbai. “Why should they be left for private cars, and pedestrians be pushed on to skywalks? Pedestrians must be provided space on the road. This is non-negotiable.” Nonprofits have launched a campaign against skywalks in areas that have footpaths. Jawed also campaigns for dedicated cycle tracks in the city. “Cars cannot solve the transportation and congestion problems. They are the problem. We must pressure our government to provide good footpaths and dedicated cycle tracks,” said he. Neera Punj, convener of a people’s group called CitiSpace, alleged the state government was ready to push only April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



those transportation projects that involved crores of rupees and private companies. “The footpath in front of our society used to have hundreds of hawkers,” said Punj who lives in Lotus Court near Churchgate station in south Mumbai. “In 2001, our residents’ association decided to adopt the pavement and maintain it. It entailed a lot of administrative hassles but we managed to remove the hawkers. Our association spends Rs 40,000 per month for the pavement’s protection and upkeep.” But not all associations are rich enough to spend that kind of money. “Why should residents pay when they are paying taxes?” asked Punj.

As a policy, agreed a few town planners and architects Down To Earth spoke to, cities need to ensure there is an adequate network to help pedestrians directly travel to destinations. But the urban habitat model is changing rapidly. With segregation of land use supporting low-density development, commuting distances have steadily increased. The burgeoning Indian middle class is aspiring and looking at motor vehicles as an indispensable extension of itself. Indian cities, unlike the ones in the US, have dense urban cores that are highly conducive for walking. But the share of walking trips is fast disappear-

ing with the modern urban expansion being more car and two-wheeler oriented. “A disturbing trend revealed in the 2008 survey is the share of bus trips has slipped drastically,” said Sachdeva. Delhi faces the danger of losing its walkability heritage, he added. The percentage of bus trips have fallen from 60 per cent in 2001 to 41 per cent in 2008, while over the same period car trips have increased 3 per cent to 13 (see graph: More cars, fewer bus rides). RITES projects if Delhi implements all the public transport schemes as planned today, there would still be a shortfall of nine million trips. The projections are based on estimates that the

Unlikely little Amsterdam Nanded is trying out a pedestrian haven along European lines


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


Road No 32 in Nanded, which leads to the airport, has four swanky lanes for vehicles with space for parking and street vendors, a neat row of trees, a one-metre cycle track, and a wide footpath. There are traffic signals for non-motorized traffic, too. The municipality of Nanded and a private firm have taken up renovation of 48 km of roads under the Centre’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. “The idea is to streamline traffic so that the slow moving and fast moving segments, and pedestrians, can move at their own pace without getting into each other’s way,” said Deepak Mhaisekar, municipal commissioner. “It will also make way for off-road activities for hawkers.” The new design would meet the city’s traffic needs till 2038, he said. The Rs 276 crore project, along the road design in the Netherlands, has got a mixed public response. People say the wider roads have reduced congestion, but not all kinds of road users are happy. Of the 38 stretches chosen, 16 have been renovated. The remaining are held up because of problems like land acquisition and shifting of utilities like street lights and electric poles, said Mhaisekar. Road No 8, a busy shopping area, has vehicles encroaching footpaths and hawkers’ platforms. Shoppers

Right off the drawing board complained the new design reduced the main road to to half. “In the Netherlands, the main carriageways are spacious enough to accommodate all the motor vehicle traffic. But in Nanded, roads are small and congested, and vehicle numbers are showing no signs of reducing,” said Harshad Shah of the Green City Cycle Club, Nanded. “If these conditions persist, the new design will be redundant and the non-motorized vehicles and pedestrian spaces will be consumed to widen roads again.” Mhaisekar blamed auto rickshaws: “We will introduce a fleet of 50 buses as soon as the election code of conduct is lifted. The number of auto-rickshaws, which cause most of the traffic problems in the city, will come down as a consequence.” Shah thought cars were the real problem. He criticized

the municipality for reducing the octroi on cars from the earlier 2 per cent of the total cost to a standard Rs 500 per car. “What do you expect with such sops for cars?” he asked. Not all hawkers are happy. Relocating can mean an end to their business. Vishwanath Deshmukh, a journalist, said the project was not marketed. “There is very little awareness regarding what the new spaces are meant for,” he said. “We tried to talk to the municipality officials several times, but their focus appears to be construction. They are not coming forward to take up awareness campaigns,” said R K Singhal, founder president of the cycle club. Shah said it is unlikely that a little Amsterdam would materialize in Nanded if cars are not checked. —APARNA PALLAVI



Steel caterpillars for tinseltown: Mumbai will sink Rs 600 crore to erect 50 skywalks

“Simple measures like painting population of Delhi between 2001 and 2021 shall grow from 14 million to 23 million. During this period vehicular trips are estimated to grow 131 per cent.

Walkability is no rocket science Urban planners say it is easier to turn Mumbai into a pedestrian-friendly city provided the planning authorities will it. It will also be cost-effective compared to other transport projects such as the Rs 20,000 crore metro rail project. Joshi of the Urban Design Research Institute said there is a need for citywide study to identify bottlenecks for pedestrians first and then take simple measures such as painting zebra crossings, reprogramming signals or increasing the duration of traffic signals so that people like Chandrasekhar don’t have to sprint to cross the road. These measures can go a long way in easing pedestrian problems, he said. The institute has launched a year-long project to study how Mumbai can be made more walkable. Initial findings show how the system discourages pedestrians. Two traffic signals in front of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, one of the busiest stations in Mumbai, illustrate the problem. “Both these traffic signals are programmed in a manner that pedestrians can never cross the road,” said Kirti Maknija, architect with

zebra crossings, reprogramming signals can go a long way in easing pedestrian problems” PANKAJ JOSHI, architect, Mumbai the institute. “The divider between the road is so narrow that barely one person can stand on it. There are many more traffic signals like these which discourage pedestrian movement.”

A public space called the road Architects are trying to incorporate hawkers in the city’s plan. An architecture institute in Juhu in Mumbai is conducting one such study. “Our study area has a mixed population, ranging from film personalities to two urban villages, fishing villages and slums,” said Benita Menezes, lecturer at the design cell of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture (KRVIA). “We realized that the Irla nala flows through these areas and we could use it.” The institute, along with P K Das and Associates, an architecture firm, and Juhu residents conducted a study in 2008. Commonly known as Vision Juhu, the aim of the

study was to integrate various public spaces in Juhu and make the areas more pedestrian friendly. The institute has proposed a sixmetre-wide stretch on both sides of the Irla nala should be protected and developed in a way that the water flow is enhanced and the developed area used to relocate hawkers. The developed area would also have walkways and be connected to other open areas of Juhu, allowing pedestrian movement. Then there are three metro stations within Juhu and all three open on the main roads. “Can you picture the chaos on roads when commuters from these stations come out? We have proposed realignment of these stations. If that is done, then burst points for metro stations would be open spaces. From there people can use footpaths or the developed sidewalks of Irla nala,” said Menezes. April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

small and medium towns where the problems of mobility have not yet manifested, provision and planning could include cycle tracks and pedestrian networks. Civic authorities need a wing working full time on traffic calming measures, alongside attempting to maximize the transition of commuters from motorized modes of transport to nonmotorized and public transit trips. Perhaps Amarnath Tewary will then junk his scooter for good. ■

we provide proper footpaths for pedestrians, there is no need to construct a single skywalk in the city.”

Immobile and dangerous The immediate sign of the mobility crisis in Indian cities is traffic congestion and pollution. This may worsen as more commuters shift to personal vehicles. While city managers and leaders have begun to eye the political returns on public transport investments, the most crucial link that remains invisible and neglected is walkability, the link between different modes of transport. If this is neglected in the planning process, it could, as in the case of Delhi, reduce demands on public transport. Eventually those who can afford it will switch to personal means of transport. The pedestrian movement has gone beyond footpath development for safe and comfortable passage. The aim has been to create an new ethos of urbanity by reducing automobile dependence. Urban planners and architects say the first step should be to improve the engineering and environmental features of pedestrian ways. The next step is to enforce measures to calm the traffic. One well known example is from the Netherlands, called Woonerf; it literally means a group of streets where pedestrians and cyclists are prioritized. Indian cities have the chance to grow differently. In most cases people walk, cycle or take the bus. These cities could build on this inherent strength. In

…Amarnath Tewary is back on his Bajaj Chetak. His Nikes back in the rack

With reporting by Alok Gupta, Rajil Menon, Ashutosh Mishra, and Aparna Pallavi


There are several nalas like Irla, and small rivers in Mumbai, that can be developed along the same lines. But Menezes is of the opinion that one big plan for the city won’t work. The city needs a multi-scalar approach in which neighbourhoods prepare their own plans and see how best their area can become walkable, she added. Citizens are becoming assertive. Several cities now have campaigns to push the pedestrian agenda. Hyderabad’s Right To Walk campaign has led to the creation of a pedestrian safety cell. Last year, a Mumbai group headed by Krishnaraj Rao formed Sahasi Padyatri (meaning brave pedestrians), an informal group of residents demanding easy and safe footpaths. In March 2008, the group went around Mumbai suburbs and painted lanes on the road and declared them “only for pedestrians”. “We organized many such events. We expected people in cars to get angry, but their response, surprisingly, was positive. I think people saw the point,” said Rao. He said foot overbridges were coming up in some areas but a lot more needed to be done. Architects demand that the comprehensive transport survey 2005-08 be made public. “We have tried our level best, even through Right To Information application, but haven’t been able to lay our hands on the survey. I feel the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority fears if this study is made public, people will question the very basis of sanctioning costly transportation projects,” said Joshi. “Without a comprehensive assessment, such projects should not be cleared. If


Let’s talk about access to space PHILIPP RODE, executive director of the Urban Age Programme at the UK’s London School of Economics and Political Science, spoke to MARIO D’SOUZA about the promise and problems of cities On the promise of cities

In cities the lifestyle of the rich is not hidden from the poor. Exposure to consumption patterns of the very rich creates lifestyle desires among people belonging to poor income groups. There is a constant promise of glitz from the media: you are worth living only if you have a mobile phone, nice clothes, a new car—the list is endless. This triggers an increase in the crime rate as many act violently to fulfil their desires. But cities, with their far more dynamic environments compared to rural areas, also facilitate climbing the social ladder. If you are poor and in a rural community it is very difficult to get out of the cycle of poverty. On urban sprawl

We don’t know what the ideal population size for a city should be. In the European context cities with a population between 100,000 and 500,000 people have delivered a high quality of life and high environmental standards. Below that it is getting into a dispersed population, characteristic of rural areas, and above that we are getting into congested agglomerations. Nevertheless, large regional economies have highlighted the economic superiority of places that accumulate more than a million, in fact more than 10 million people, in one locality. So agglomerations have economic advantages. What we need to understand better is whether it is important to connect all people in a city or it’s only a fraction that needs access to one another. If it’s only a fraction that needs access, the socalled network cities could be an alternative growth model—rather than growing massively in one space you have a central hub not larger than 4 sq km connected with several hubs or cities. I don’t know if this is applicable

to India—it is a democracy and it is hard to control migration. I’ll probably say with Pune being close to Mumbai, high-speed trains between the two cities will stimulate thinking towards the alternative I talk of. Then there is the density question: Indian cities have a higher population density than most cities in the world. The attempts to decongest these cities should not result in urban sprawl. While some decongestion is probably needed, I think the basic characteristic of the high-density Indian cities, highly mixed use of space, is worth maintaining. On cities and climate change

Take the case of motorization. The classic concerns have been the emission effects, congestion and accidents. On the emissions front, technology can achieve a lot. Particulate matter can be minimized through modern technology. We can’t, however, filter CO2, so here the thinking needs to change: there aren’t any technological answers here. Adaptation to climate change is an urgent concern for Indian cities. A vast part of the population is exposed to the risks of climate change such as flooding, droughts, lack of water and freak weather. But there are complexities that prohibit innovation. An example is the freshwater provision where the poor pay much more for the water than the rich because they often don’t have access to tap water. They pay by the container or

Emission figures make the debate on climate change abstract. But bringing in the issue of space makes the debate lucid

the canister. There is a whole business involved, which throttles innovations. Building standards have to be improved to make sure you don’t have to rebuild after each flood or risk death when there are natural calamities. Related to that is the issue of technology transfer. A top-down strategy cannot implement adaptation measures. We must allow for local initiatives. On the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

We have limited road space and have to get most out of the existing infrastructure. If we use a three-metre-wide traffic lane with mainly car-based vehicular traffic we may be able to move between 800 and 1,200 people an hour. On the same lane and same width, if we have a proper and very effective bus system it’s 10 to 15 times that number. Cyclists and pedestrians also have a lot to celebrate. That is the real value of BRT: it has reallocated space. Walkability and climate change

The climate change debate can sometimes be very abstract. But instead of abstract conversations of emission, let us debate about space. About the social dimension of the city and how we can make it more sustainable through walking.Such questions will question the automobile industry as it is structured. I am not saying automobiles are really over. I think the product needs to be rethought. The car needs to be public. Ninety-five per cent of the time these cars just stand around. ■ April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



sleep-deprived animals to attain the adequate level of slow-wave activity in the brain once the animal resumes normal sleep. This increase in slow-wave activity during rebound sleep helps restore normal memory and attention skills to the sleep-deprived, the scientists reported in the February 4 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.


Mussels in surgery Natural adhesive proteins secreted by marine mussels may replace sutures in surgery. Sutures, made from sheep intestines, are used to repair tissues in a surgery. Sutures can cause infection and inflammation. Synthetic adhesives are also used to repair tissues but they are not biodegradable and damage the tissues. The researchers found the mussel proteins to be much better, non-toxic and biodegradable adhesives.


Catch up on sleep Feeling foggy and forgetful after a few sleepless nights? Didn’t the elders advise to catch up on a good sleep? A team of scientists has identified a key molecular mechanism that regulates the brain’s ability to mentally compensate for sleep deprivation. Working with mice, they found that a molecule in the brain cell, called adenosine receptor, helps 36

Expedited meltdown


4,000 and counting


Mussels secrete these proteins for attachment to underwater surfaces. The mussel proteins can also be made into a solution and applied using inkjet printer technology to create customized medical adhesives which could have a host of applications, said the researchers. The study was published in the April issue of The Journal of Biomedical Materials Research B.

the form usable by trees, by microbes. The difference is because the microbes under the different tree species vary considerably in their production of nitrates, the study explained. More research is required on why this happens but the study is important because it highlights the plant species to be grown for nitrogen retention in forests. The study was published in the MarchApril issue of the Soil Science Society of America.


Some deep-sea coral communities are more ancient than was previously known. A team used the radiocarbon dating method to determine the age of two proteinaceous coral communities: Gerardia (gold coral) and Leiopathes (black coral) species. The colonies of the Gerardia sp were 2,742 years and the Leiopathes sp, 4,265 years old, reported the study that was published in the March 23 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The annual growth was found to be less than a metre. This proved that the corals grew very slowly over a long period of time. Corals are hotspots of marine biodiversity. They are dying due to destructive fishing practices, global warming and their commercial use in the ornament trade. In the light of the new find, better understanding of the coral ecology is needed to improve its conservation programmes. Black coral species

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


The West Antarctica Ice Sheet (WAIS) is predicted to collapse in the next 1,000 years, due to global warming. A pair of research teams studied sediment samples reaching 600m below the surface of the ice sheet and used computer models to simulate the Antarctic ice sheet variations. They found that the area has been going through a cycle of “catastrophic collapse” and reformation for the past five million years. A catastrophic collapse of the current cycle, hastened by global warming, is imminent, said the study. The event is expected to boost a sea level rise by 5m, said the study published in the March 19 issue of Nature. FORESTRY

The type matters Forests retain nitrogen depending on the kind of trees they have. A research focused on nitrogen cycling in the Catskill forest preserve, US, and found that forests dominated by the sugar maple trees were susceptible to nitrogen loss due to leaching. Forests with an abundance of red oak and hemlock trees were better at retaining nitrogen. Nitrogen is converted into nitrates,

A protein lure



For years biologists have believed that attractants secreted by the ovule, located at the base of a flower’s stigma, attract the pollen tube towards it. A team of scientists has found that synergids (sterile cells found on either side of the egg cell) are the ones that release the chemicals to attract the pollen tube. They isolated the synergids of the plant Torenia fournieri and found them to secrete protein-containing compounds called LURES which guided the pollen tube. When certain organic molecules were introduced to inhibit the function of the LURES, the growth of the pollen tube was impaired, proving that synergids help the plant achieve the most important step prior to fertilization. The study was reported in the March 19 issue of Nature.


ECOLOGY : food web

Whales give clues To lives of elusive giant octopuses and squids

SEAFARERS’ tales abound with giant octopuses that emerge from the deep seas to rip apart ships. They may be fantasy stories but have a grain of truth in them. Giant octopuses and squids do exist at the bottom of the sea—but rarely do they show up, and certainly don’t go about attacking ships. Marine scientists know of the existence of different species of cephalopods (mainly octopuses and squids) in the ocean deep from rare photographs and specimens caught by whaling ships, not much else. Some of the mystery surrounding them unravelled when a group of researchers decided to analyze the stomach contents of three sperm whales found beached near the Bay of Biscay, France. These whales are known to prey on cephalopods which have beaks unique to each species. The beaks, used to hold and bite the prey, are made of chitin, a hard-to-digest complex carbohydrate. The beaks of 19 different cephalopods of varying ages were found in the whales’ abdomen. A chemical analysis of the beaks helped scientists learn about the food habits and habitats of these elusive creatures. The beaks were examined to determine the ratio between two carbon isotopes (carbon 13 and 15) and two nitrogen isotopes (nitrogen14 and 15). The nitrogen isotopes indicated the position of the cephalopods in the food chain. The carbon isotopes indicated whether they prefer to spend time close to the ocean floor, near the coast or in the open ocean. “This way we can investigate the food chain hierarchy of hundreds of specimens of virtually inaccessible species and gather vital information about them,” said Vlad Laptikhovsky from UK administered Falkland Island Fisheries Department. The carbon and nitrogen levels of the cephalopods were also compared with that of other marine animals like sharks to understand their inter-rela-



A giant squid attacks a bait squid near island of Chichijima, 966 km from Tokyo

tionship. The researchers found the carbon levels did not vary much indicating cephalopods and some other sea animals live in overlapping habitats. The nitrogen levels varied a little more, but not much, indicating the two groups were closely bunched in the food chain. The results changed accepted notions about some cephalopods. It showed the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) does not live in the nether region as the name indicates. This was inferred from the low carbon levels in its beak. “Higher carbon is seen in near-bottom prey species (they live off carbon rich food available near the sea floor) and if found in a predator, it indicates it was feeding closer to the bottom,” said Laptikhovsky. The beak of the giant squid Architeuthis dux had high carbon levels revealing it is a bottom sea dweller. The giant squids, Taningia danae and Lepidoteuthis grimaldi, live at a depth of 200 to 2,000

The giant squid T danae, thought to be sluggish, is as aggressive as a sperm whale

metres and the flying squid, prefers to live closer to the coast, the researchers concluded. The research threw up a few surprises. Some open sea species of squids had high carbon levels, not low carbon as one would expect. This meant they spent the initial phase of their life near the sea floor closer to the coast where carbon rich food is plenty and changed habitat later in life. Different species of giant squids were found to occupy different positions in the food chain. Going by their size they should have stayed close by like other heavy marine predators. It also turned out the giant squid T danae, thought to be sluggish, occupies the same place in the food chain as a sperm whale meaning it is equally aggressive and predatory. The findings were published online on March 18 in Biology Letters. The paper is important in understanding the role of cephalopods, a major marine group, said Marek Lipinski, researcher with marine and coastal management department, South Africa. “Ocean decides our survival on the planet and monitoring its health indicators through marine life is vital. For this we must first know how the marine ecosystem works,” Lipinski said. ■ April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



LIFE SCIENCES : enzyme activity

Root out cancer Plant extract used in traditional medicine controls colon cancer


Licorice on paan for sore throat VIBHA VARSHNEY

THE root of the licorice plant (mulethi in

Hindi) is used to treat sore throat, ulcers and eczema. New research suggests it may have a greater use—prevent the growth of cancer of the colon, the last section of the digestive system. Scientists found the compound that imparts the sweet taste to licorice, glycyrrhyzic acid (GA), prevents cancerous growth in the colon. Studies have found different compounds of licorice effective against cancer of the skin, prostrate and stomach but the mechanism of action was not known. Colon cancer is one of the five deadliest forms of cancer in Western countries though its incidence in India is low. What triggers the disease is unknown. The only way to reduce colon cancer deaths is to prevent the growth of cancer cells. But the few drugs that can do this have severe side effects. Aspirin and ibuprofen, prescribed as painkillers, are used in colon cancer treatment. They control the growth of cancer cells by suppressing the enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11βHSD2), found in colon and kidneys. This in turn blocks the activity of another enzyme cyclooxygenase 38

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

(COX-2). Controlling COX-2 by suppressing the enzyme prevented the development of cancerous polyps—bud-shaped tissues. Experiments on mice showed removing COX-2 completely prevented growth of polyps. These painkillers cannot be used for long periods as they damage organs like the heart and the stomach. Using extract of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a safer way of suppressing 11βHSD2. Researchers had earlier shown suppressing 11βHSD2 in the kidney suppressed the production of COX-2 in the organ. As colon is the only other organ that has a high presence of the enzymes, the team decided to study the role of the enzyme in the progress of colorectal cancer. “We postulated maybe one of the mechanisms by which the normal colon might prevent excessive expression (production) of COX-2 is through 11βHSD2,” said one of the researchers, Raymond Harris, Department of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Tennessee, US. This study was published online in the March 23 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The scientists used synthetic compounds and glycyrrhizic acid to understand the relation between the two enzymes. Cell cultures of intestinal lining of mice and human beings were treated separately with synthetic and natural compounds. The researchers found both suppressed the enzyme 11βHSD2. They also suppressed the gene that produced the enzyme. Suppressing the enzyme and the gene that produced it also inhibited COX-2 and prevented the development of polyps, tumour growth and spread of cancerous cells. The enzyme is present in high amounts only in the kidney and the colon and blocking its production with glycyrrhizic acid affects only these two organs. On the other hand, painkillers, steroids and other COX-2 inhibitors affect other organs too. Long term use

of licorice does cause low blood potassium and increased blood pressure but these problems are inconsequential compared to those brought on by pain killers. “We didn’t see side effects in the mice…but these side effects can easily be treated with a diuretic,” said Harris. Though glycyrrhizin provides a good lead for developing cancer drug, the researchers are trying to develop more specific compounds for controlling 11βHSD2. “We think we can make a better inhibitor that can better target cancerous tissues,” said Ming-Zhi Zhang, the lead researchers. In their commentary accompanying the study, Paul M Stewart, University of Birmingham, London, and Stephen M Prescott, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, USA, said, “If the findings are confirmed, locally acting inhibitors of 11βHSD2, may be the way forward in colon cancer treatment.” The glycyrrhizic acid, found specifically in licorice plants, is 60 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice is used extensively in European candies. ■ CLIMATE SCIENCES : rainfall

Rain check Warming of the seas is rerouting monsoon ARCHITA BHATTA

monsoon winds are avoiding India for one-third of the months of July and August and taking a route south of its peninsula. This is because the winds have found a highly attractive low pressure region in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean near the equator. According to a study, warming of the sea surface in this region is happening at a faster rate than the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal and has contributed to this intensification of low pressure. Monsoon in India starts around the end of June when the moisture carrying southwesterly winds from the Arabian Sea are drawn towards the intense low pressure region over the Bay of Bengal and on their way pass over most parts of the subcontinent bringing rain. As the new low pressure region in the eastern Indian Ocean intensified over the last 50



years, the monsoon winds started turning towards this region. In the process they passed south of the Indian peninsula thus avoiding it. This is called a break in the monsoon period. The breaks could be short or long. Prolonged breaks in the monsoon can create drought conditions all over the country like the one caused in 2002 by a 34-day break in the monsoons. The researchers, from the National Institute of Oceanography at Goa, India, found that between 1950 and 2007, the long breaks in monsoons increased from 16 per cent to 32 per cent and the periods coincided with intensification of low pressure over the eastern Indian Ocean. Drawing from previous studies on warming of the sea surface in this part of the Indian Ocean, they found that while the temperatures of the part of the Indian Ocean near the equator former rose around 0.75 degree centigrade, that of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea rose around 0.4 degree centigrade. Rates of increase of sea surface temperature matched the rates of change in wind speed. When the low pressure is intense, the speed with which the winds move to the low pressure region is higher. This led the researchers to conclude that rise in sea surface temperature in this region contributed to the intensification of low pressure. The study was published in the April 2 issue of IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters. However, the reason why the sea

surface in the Indian ocean is warming faster than the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea is not clear and requires further studies. According to M R Ramesh Kumar, lead author of the paper and a scientist with the National Institute of Oceanography, it could be because this region receives more rainfall. “The fresh water which falls on these regions absorbs more incoming solar radiation than the saline water,” he explained.

“The speed of the Tropical Easterly Jet Stream (a wind stream that forms over Southern Asia and East Africa during the summer months and affects the formation of Indian monsoons) decreased in the last 50 years. The number of depressions over the Bay of Bengal have also decreased. The low pressure system over the Bay of Bengal is one of the main rain generating mechanisms for central and northern parts of India,” said Kumar. ■


Ships contribute to warming

Rains are skipping India more often


SHIPS are responsible for nearly a third of the world’s nitrogen oxide emissions. Shipping is also believed to contribute to as much particulate matter emission as road traffic, globally. For example, it emits soot or black carbon, which is a stronger warming agent than CO2. Black carbon is responsible for a quarter of all Arctic warming. It is also known to lead to adverse health effects, reduction in visibility and premature mortality. David Lack, at the earth system research laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US, and other researchers from US, UK and Switzerland, tried to quantify the amount of particulate matter and gases emitted by ships to come up with some accurate data. An NOAA research cruise sampled commercial ships for two months in 2006. The plumes of smoke emitted by 211 ships were recorded, along with other relevant data like ship size, commercial type and speed. The results showed that composition of particulate matter was found to depend on a number of factors: the sulphur content of the fuel used, engine type, vessel activity and maintenance. Ocean-going ships contain slowspeed diesel engines which burn lowquality fuels containing large amounts of sulphur and heavy metals. Smaller vessels like ferries and fishing boats operate medium-speed diesel engines whose emissions meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, US. The larger commercial


Reduce speed of ships to control their emissions

Ships release 3.3 per cent of global CO2

ships, however, are in violation of it. The most commonly released greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide and ships account for 3.3 per cent of the total global emissions. The study found the global annual particulate matter emission from ships to be 0.9 gross tonne per year which included direct emissions of sulphur dioxide (46 per cent), organic matter (39 per cent) and black carbon (15 per cent). The study was published in the February 25 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. The simplest way to decrease emissions would be to reduce the speed of ships. Studies have shown that a reduction of 10 per cent in speed would result in 23 per cent decrease in emission. Other measures include using cleaner fuels and redesigning relevant parts of the vessels to maximize efficiency. ■ April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



MATERIAL SCIENCES : nanoparticles

Detecting proteins MEETA AHLAWAT / CSE

Linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s made easy BIPLAB DAS

diseases requires cumbersome biochemical processes which are very time-consuming. A research team has employed a class of semiconducting nanocrystals called quantum dots (containing microscopic amounts of the semiconductor material) to detect the concentration of proteins in blood samples. Levels of certain proteins increase during diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. A quick detection of these proteins is what this research promises. The team had earlier studied how amino acids and DNA bases interact with semiconducting nanoparticles. For the present study, they took quantum dots of cadmium telluride and the enzyme glucose oxidase (GOX) which plays a major role in glucose metabolism. The nanocrystals were capped with the amino acid cysteine to make them biocompatible. The researchers prepared solutions of GOX and the nanocrystals and studied their interaction under ultraviolet light. Every protein has the amino acid tryptophan that absorb and emit light or, in other words, fluoresce. The nanocrystals were found to bind with tryptophan in GOX and reduce its intensity. This reduction in fluorescence is proteinspecific and can be measured to reveal the proteins’ identity and, in turn, the diseases associated with them. For the test, samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid can be used. “This method paves the way for developing nanoparticle-based sensors for detection of enzymatic activity,” said lead researcher Abhijit Saha who led a team from UGC-DAE Consortium for Scientific Research, Kolkata and department of chemistry, Jadavpur University. The findings were published in the March issue of Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences (Vol 8, No 3). ■



Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

SOIL SCIENCES : productivity

Farmers face land crisis A quarter of the world’s arable land has degraded ROHINI RANGARAJAN A MAJORITY of the farmers in Angola is facing land crisis. Two-thirds of the country’s land has degraded. In the aftermath of the destruction left behind by the civil war (1975-1991), forest after forest was cut down for timber. Landmines in open areas have left many places completely uncultivable. Such degradation not only causes an immediate decline in productivity but its effects are long-term. Z G Bai of Wageningen University, Netherlands, and other researchers from Sweden and Netherlands assessed land degradation on a global scale. They used parameters like Normalized Difference Vegetation Index or NDVI (measure of the amount of sunlight reflected by a particular surface) of different kinds of land, productivity of an area and rainfall variability. The study showed that 24 per cent of the world’s land has degraded. The team studied images of lands taken by remote sensing over the past 25 years and calculated their NDVI. Plants require light for photosynthesis. Hence they absorb more light than barren grounds which reflect more. If there are more crop plants in an area, that region would show a higher NDVI. This would also indicate that the net primary productivity of the land is high. As more forests are cut down, larger areas show a lower


indicating further degradation. “Degradation is primarily driven by land management and catastrophic natural phenomena,” said David Dent of ISRIC -World Soil Information, one of the authors for the study published in the September 2008 issue of Soil Use and Management. A previous study had deemed 15 per cent of global land degraded. The regions pointed out by the new study do not overlap with the previous ones indicating that the extent of degradation is increasing. Climatically viewed, the study found that humid areas are degraded the most with Indo-China being one of the worst affected. In their country-wise estimate, the team found 18.02 per cent of India’s land to be degraded. This is also the figure that a June 2007 report released by the National Remote Sensing Authority, Hyderabad, came up with. Called the Wasteland Atlas of India, this report used both NDVI as well as physical surveys to calculate the amount of land that went waste in India. About 55 million hectares (ha) or 17.45 per cent of India land was found to be a waste. Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Tripura had the highest percentages of degradation. K P Tripathi of the Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Dehradun, one of the collaborators in the report, attributed this to hotels, roads and other infrastructure due to increasing tourism in these places. Water erosion removes millimetres off the top soil. This is also a factor adding to degradation and too small to be measured by NDVI. Based on his own physical measurements, Tripathi said 57 million ha more should be added to the official figure of 55 million ha of degraded land. ■





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ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES : wastewater treatment

Sponge it clean Aerogels could help in treating oil-contaminated water ROHINI RANGARAJAN AN AEROGEL is best described as jelly sans


IT’S ON THE MAP NOW ● 2.4 billion people worldwide are living at risk of cerebral malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. The parasite kills more children and pregnant women than other strains ● A world map of malaria caused by P falciparum, created for the year 2007, pinpoints areas at risk. It will help countries take appropriate control measures

● The map shows three spatial classes based on constant risk of P falciparum malaria: low prevalence, medium prevalence and high prevalence ● The Americas have a low prevalence of P falciparum ● 80 per cent of Central and southeast Asia come under the low prevalence area, though 11 per cent shows medium prevalence and less than 1 per cent has high prevalence ● Africa shows a high prevalence. 0.35 billion people live at high risk

Malaria free Low risk Low prevalence (Less than 5%) Medium prevalence (5-40%) High prevalence (40% and above)

Aerogels are made to be hydrophobic


the moisture. But unlike jelly that dries up and cracks when water is removed from it, aerogels do not crack. They are like sponges with a surface containing millions of nano-sized pores that can absorb anything—dust from air or mercury from water—making them great at pollution control. A team of researchers decided to look for the ideal aerogel pore size that will maximize absorption of oil from polluted water. Jose Quevedo and other researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, US, kept aerogels with pore sizes between 500 and 850 µm in a chamber. Contaminated water was made to flow downwards towards the aerogels. The oil particles were absorbed

by the nano-pores. The experiment showed that the smaller pores filled up with oil with greater efficiency when the water was flowing at a slower speed. Oil concentrations of about 2000 mg/l in water could be reduced to less than 10 mg/l using this procedure. It is the way in which aerogels are prepared that makes them hydrophobic. They are made by absorbing water from silica gel using acetone. The acetone is removed using liquefied carbon dioxide. The preparation is heated till carbon dioxide turns into a gas. The gas is released, leaving behind a solid in the form of an aerogel. This unique method of preparation gives it an affinity for oil. Large amounts of wastewater containing oil are released by industrial companies daily. Oil degrades very slowly and sewage processing plants are

not very effective. In some cases, as from the waters of the Yamuna, oil is extracted manually by the poor work force in that area (see ‘Look, oil’, Down To Earth, March 31, 2005) and sold to oil collectors. These are the fields where the aerogel technology can be useful. The concept of aerogels is yet to catch up with India. “The efficacy of aerogels in treatment of effluents is yet to be studied in India, said T Rajaram, Sastra University, Tamil Nadu. ■

The rest of the world comes under two categories: low risk areas and malaria-free areas ● The team, led by the University of Oxford in the UK, studied a total of 8,938 P falciparum parasite incidence surveys from across the world for an age group of 2-10 years ● The last map was created in 1968 and suffered from limitations. The present map takes care of those limitations by including relevant data on climate and dominant mosquito species ●

Source: Hay et al, PLoS medicine, March 2009

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



PHYSICAL SCIENCES : energy conversion

Phone’s dead? Keep dialling Nano generators connecting the fingers and the phone’s battery recharge the device


HOW many times did your mobile phone

run out of battery exactly when you needed to make an urgent phone call? What if in such a case, instead of cursing your mobile, you could do this: Rejuvenate your battery simply by pressing the mobile keypad or dialling the number. Seems incredible but Zhong Lin Wang and his team have found a novel way to convert such light, irregular motion into electrical energy to recharge cell phone batteries. While we bank a lot on the motion of the dynamo to produce electricity, a number of inconsequential movements like fluttering of flags and tapping of fingers, which could otherwise be a good source of energy, go unnoticed everyday. There is no method by which these low-scale movements could be harnessed for the production of electricity. Nanotechnology provided Wang with a solution but he did not have the material which could help in the conversion of energy. Certain chemical compounds which have a crystalline 44

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

structure, produce electricity under mechanical duress. At the same time not all of such compounds can form nanowires which is what the team needed to make their device. Finally, Wang and his team zeroed in on crystalline zinc oxide which fitted their bill. Nano-sized zinc oxide wires produce electrical charges when they are bent and then relaxed. Wang’s research team constructed nanogenerators by encapsulating single zinc oxide wires within a flexible polymer. One end of the single wire generators was fitted with the index finger of the person using the mobileand the other end to the battery of the cell phone. As the finger tapped on the mobile keypad, the contraption generated tiny amounts of current to charge the mobile battery. “Using nanotechnology, we have demonstrated ways to convert even irregular biomechanical energy into electricity,” said Wang. This study was reported in the February 11 online version of the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters. Wang estimated that thousands of such single wired generators would be needed to charge a mobile phone fully. The device could be carried around by mobile users and when the mobile is low on battery, it could be fitted to the fingers of the hand operating the mobile. More the fingers move, more is the energy generated to charge the battery. ■ HEALTH SCIENCES : drug discovery

In the making A universal drug to work against all strains of flu virus ARNAB PRATIM DUTTA

vaccine makers are often flummoxed by the changing nature of the virus. The makers need to keep producing new vaccines because the virus keeps mutating into new strains. World Health Organisation estimates that about 250,000 people die from influenza every year. A team of researchers tried to rework the basics of the influenza vaccine. A vaccine basically contains the antigens from the pathogen it protects


against. In some cases, it is the pathogen in a weak or deactivated form. The vaccine activates the body’s immune cells which release antigen-specific antibodies, a group of proteins. This alerts the body against the germ and helps the body recognize and neutralize the germ from invading. The team led by researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has used antibodies directly. If they succeed, their work may lead to one-of-a-kind drug which could work against different strains of influenza A viruses including the dreaded H5N1 bird flu virus. The researchers first identified 10 groups of monoclonal antibodies. These are manmade clones of natural antibodies that are completely identical, produced by the same immune cell. These groups of antibodies have been successful in combating the H5N1 bird flu virus and also the Spanish Influenza virus that was responsible for over 40 million deaths in 1919. The researchers then found out what makes the antibodies so successful against the virus. The team discovered that the monoclonal antibodies worked by attaching themselves to a section of the virus called the hemagglutin whose shape resembles that of a lollipop. Hemagglutin is the part via which the virus penetrates healthy cells. By attaching themselves to it, the antibodies prevented the virus from entering a cell. When the researchers tested them on mice, they found three of the cultured antibodies neutralized 10 of the 16 known influenza A strains. According to Wayne Marasco of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the antibodies could perform a dual role: one as a vaccine and the other as an antidote to treat people already infected. “It lends itself to a therapy that can be used to prevent and treat a broad range of avian and seasonal influenzas,” he said in the study that appeared in an online edition of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology in February 2009. Influenza raised havoc in the last century. The Spanish flu which struck between 1918 and 1919 killed more than 40 million people. Two other outbreaks known as Asian influenza and Hong Kong influenza had high morbidity rates. In 2002, Madagascar reported 27,000 cases of influenza A infections and death of about 800 people. ■


50 years of dropping catches A researcher’s analysis of anglers’ photographs shows fish are not as large as they used to be in the 1950s


September 9, 1958



January 15, 2007

here have been many changes in the fishing docks of West Key in Florida since the 1950s: boats have changed, trousers are a little less flared and caps are tilted a little less rakishly, even the coastline has receded a bit. But anglers still take pictures to flaunt their trophies. These usually make their way to family scrapbooks. But they have allowed Loren McClenachan to confirm scientifically what has been preached for years: fish aren’t as big as they used to be. In a study recently published in Conservation Biology, this graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the US, analyzed fish photographs taken in Key West since 1956. She found the average size of sport fish has reduced substantially. The loss of large fish species from the top of the food chain is dangerous: it can throw the system of checks maintaining diverse ecosystems out of balance. “A second tier fish species’ population that was once kept in check by a top predator can suddenly explode,” McClenachan said. Such large swings in species composition eventually lead to an unstable, less diverse reef community more susceptible to environmental disturbance. ■

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Opening to the past An annual fair in a cave is a rallying point for Gond tribals


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009


APARNA PALLAVI Gondia, Maharashtra

hen I visit the cave, I feel a sense of history with an intensity that cannot be described. My parents and grandparents never saw this. I feel for them, for my community, as much as for myself.” Forty five-year-old K S Loya, a resident of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, speaks with a passion that a detached outsider might find difficult to understand. But for the Gond community of central India, the three-day Maagh Purnima jatra (fair, pilgrimage) of Kachhargadh is a rare opportunity to reconnect with community history. This annual fair in the richly forested Salekasa tehsil of Gondia district in Maharashtra attracts around 500,000 Gond pilgrims from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The fair, held to celebrate the liberation of the children of Mata Kali Kankali, regarded as the mother of the Gond tribe, from the Kachhargadh cave, was just one of the thousands of obscure tribal jatras held all over central India till around 1976, when a group of activists from the tribal students movement in Maharashtra found out about it. “We read about this fair in the books of English historians like C U Wills,” said Motiravan Kangali, a researcher who has written 40-odd books on Gond religion, culture and language, and is the leader of the Gondi Punem Mahasangha, the apex cultural and religious body of the tribe. Kangali visited the site out of curiosity and found the Kachhargadh cave. “All Gonds had heard of the Kachhargadh legend, but very few knew where Kachhargadh was or if it existed at all. Those days the newly-formed Gondwana Ganatantra Party was trying to unite the Gond community. We felt the fair would be a powerful symbol for the purpose and started propagating its significance.” That was 1985. At present, the Kachhargadh fair is the largest tribal fair in India. The central event connected with this fair is the climb to the Kachhargadh cave in the steep, thickly forested hills close to Dhanegaon, a small tribal village. Slogans of Jai Bada Deo and Jai Gondwana rent the air as groups swarm over the jagged hillsides on the way to


Gondia city Darekasa

A view from inside the sacred cave of Kachhargadh in Maharashtra



April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



the cave. At the end of a three-km trek from Dhanegaon is a huge cavernous opening on a hillside, smelling of the presence of wild animals, and littered with their dung. “Except for three days of the pilgrimage, this cave is the abode of big cats and wolves,” Kangali said. “This is the beauty of tribal culture. We do not believe in taking anything away from its rightful owners.” Crowds of pilgrims jostle their way in the dark of the cave, over sharp undulations of rock, to reach a small pool of cool water located below a large, dazzlingly sunlit hole hidden behind a ledge of rock. The pilgrimage is over. Then begins a descent more torturous than the climb because of the jagged outcroppings of sharp rock and loose stones. The pilgrims stop at thana (shrine) of the primordial mother Kali Kankali before going back down to Dhanegaon. At the shrine, Kangali pointed to a havan kund constructed in the courtyard to make offerings of coconuts and burn incense, “This was not there last year,” he remarked. Inside the shrine, a large terracotta horse stands on the altar. “Two years ago there was an elephant here,” Kangali said and added, “One never finds out how and under whose influence these symbols keep changing.” He later explained that the Gondi religious ritual has been heavily influenced by Hinduism over centuries. “Rituals are minimal in our religion. Offerings are made to Badadeo only Entrance of the Kachhargadh main cave


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

three times a year, and they consist of the produce of the season—mahua oil in summer, wild vegetables in monsoon and paddy in winter. Coconuts, incense, oil lamps, all are imports from Hinduism. It is not easy to fight such strong influence.” Once the pilgrims are back safe, the completion of the pilgrimage is celebrated with more music. It is not unusual for bystanders to fall into a trance and run amok, albeit, harmlessly. What draws the throng to the pilgrimage? For the rural masses, the fair’s significance is largely religious. Chhanni Devi, an agricultural labourer from Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, said, “We come because it is teerath (pilgrimage).” But for the educated younger generation, questions of identity are involved. A group of rural youth in their early 20s, burst out in loud Gondwana slogans when asked what the fair means to

own state, our own language, our own punem (religion).” The revival has been an uphill path, however, for there is hardly any documentation to fall back on. “The Gondi language and script is nearly forgotten. Most Gonds use the language of the state they live in,” Kangali said. He was forced to write a book on Gondi grammar for the simple reason that none existed. L R Maravi, a community leader, elaborated: “Many Gonds had changed their Gond last names for upper caste Hindu names—Maravi to Malvia, Kudsam to Kulkarni under cultural pressure. In recent years, some have reverted to their old names. But the roots of Hindu assimilation run very deep, and lately, influences of westernization and commercialization are also affecting the world view of the young generation. In this hotch-potch, it is not easy to chart a cultural identity.”

The script nearly lost, reviving identity is tough. Gonds use the language of the state they live in them. One boy shouted , “We are proud to be Gond. We are not Hindu.” Rahul Tekam, young editor of the Bhopal-based weekly Gondwana Kiran who has been visiting the fair for eight years now, explained: “Rural tribal culture has not been documented. Many of us try to identify with dominant cultures for self-protection. This fair is one place where we can all be Gond and be proud of it. Here we learn to respect our traditions, legends and literature.” So has the fair, in the 20-odd years of its existence, helped define Gond cultural and political identity? “A lot, actually,” said Anand Madawi, head of the Gond Sangha Mandi, a body of the community, “We now talk about the significance of our matrusattak (matriarchal) culture, our close-to-nature lifestyle, our perceptive social organization and our rich philosophy. And even the least aware are willing to listen.” “When we revived the fair,” said Raje Vasudev Shah Tekam, a Gond chieftain and Maharashtra state chief of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, “We had meant it to be purely a means for rediscovering our religious and cultural identity, but it is difficult to keep out political overtones. We Gonds want our

The hotch-potch is manifested in the make-shift market. Stalls selling paraphernalia of Hindu ritual worship do brisk business alongside smaller stalls selling herbs and roots traditionally used by forest-dwelling Gonds as medicine, and for rituals and magic. Young people sport Gond insignia and slogans on virtually everything—from pens to caps to scarves to key-rings to Tshirts. Books on Gondi script, spoken language and mythology are in great demand, as are pictures of Gondi deities—they are influenced by Hindu iconography. A calendar which provides information on Gondi religious festivals, and political and social events, depicts Badadeo as a Shiva-like figure seated on a bullock, carrying a trident. In the evening, there are speeches. Political demands of the Gond community are raised—implementation of the forest rights Act, inclusion of Gondi language in the Constitution’s eighth schedule, rights of the tribal community to education in the mother-tongue. As the night falls, men, women and children spread out their meagre beddings and lie down just where they are sitting—under trees, in courtyards, on the tar road. ■


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april 30, 09 Down To Earth




The unskilled Venkataswamy PANKAJ SEKHSARIA finds out why handloom is viable—yet neglected Venkataswamy u/s—a small sign painted in grey beside the door of a locked house in the new weavers colony of Chinnur in the Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. It is an image from a visit almost a decade ago, but it remains vividly etched in my mind. So does the story. U/s stood for unskilled and this is what Venkataswamy had advertized about himself. I never met Venkataswamy, but was told he was employed as a chowkidar in the Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited—in the identity card issued by his employers he had been identified as: V Venkataswamy u/s. He gave up the chowkidar’s job, moved to Bhilai to work as domestic help for a while and then came back to Chinnur to make a living as an autorickshaw driver. The unskilled Venkataswamy was in fact one of the finest weavers of cotton handlooms in the entire region. Why did Venkataswamy give up weaving? How did he get the u/s label? Why did he accept it? Did he not believe



Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

weaving needed skill? What kind of a system do we have that turns a craftsperson into a daily wage earner and then brands him u/s?

A viable industry Certain basic facts might help explain the continued and vital relevance of this industry to the country and place the unskilled story in context. Andhra Pradesh is a good case in point. Not only is the state known for some of the most famous handloom traditions like the khadi of Ponduru, the silks of Pochampalli and the handloom sarees of Mangalgiri and Gadwal, it also pro-

vides employment to nearly 200,000 families across the state and generates an annual output of more than Rs 1,000 crore. A large number of families are also involved in activities that are considered ancillary but critical to the handloom production cycle. The national scenario is not very different—an estimated 12 million families are employed in the handloom sector that produces nearly 13 per cent of the nation’s textiles. It is a livelihood that is rooted in the local context of the weaver, is completely in control of the weaving family, involves high degree of skill and precision and is one of the most environment friendly and economically viable activities, whose carbon emission, for instance, is virtually nil. That the handloom industry has not got the kind of understanding and support it deserves from the State, from society as a whole as also from the consumer, is well known. What is perhaps less known is in the past few years there have been a number of promising initia-





1) Most pre-loom processes are done by women. The women of Ponduru (Srikakulam, AP) are skilled spinners; 2) Yarn from this village is used to produce muslin; 3) Weavers from Kolluru village, Adilabad, at a workshop organized by Dastkar Andhra

tives that connect the weaver with the rapidly changing realities of urban markets and design sensibilities that are constantly evolving. There is a whole basket of such new attempts—larger ones like the entrepreneurship based business models of Fabindia and Anokhi; non-governmental initiatives like those of Urmul in Rajasthan and Dastkar Andhra in Andhra Pradesh and smaller, localized ventures like the Charkha Weavers co-operative run by dalit women in Karnataka’s Shimoga district. Hundreds of other weavers cooperatives work well across the country and there is also a growing interest in the international market. These initiatives prove that the concern over the viability of handlooms is misplaced.

The new weavers of Kolluru The point was driven home to me recently when I visited the small village of Kolluru in Adilabad district. Eight youngsters here have recently taken up weaving as part of an initiative of the non-profit Dastkar Andhra. Talking to those enthusiastic youngsters revealed that all stories need not be like that of Venkataswamy’s. Like a large number of young men in rural India today, these eight had no permanent jobs earlier. What they managed at best was 15 days of agriculture labour work a month. “I used to work on fields, spraying pesticide,” said 21-year-old Sampath, who is part of this group of new weavers. “The monthly income was never more than Rs 2,000. After I have taken up weaving, my income has gone up to Rs 3,000.” This is far less strenuous compared to labouring on fields or construction sites,” added Sampath’s colleague Bhaskar.” Putting up a loom requires Rs 10,000. The nature of the profession is such that more family members can join and boost income. “We feel proud,” Sampath said, “when we wear what we have woven and see others wearing our fabric.” The choice before India is evident. More Venkataswamys of Chinnur? Or more Bhaskars and Sampaths of Kolluru? Does the question need be asked even? ■ Pankaj Sekhsaria is a journalist and photographer. His first photographic exhibition on Andhra Pradesh’s cotton handloom industry was held in 2008 April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



The freedom to ride

SIMON BISHOP e think of the car as a magic carpet taking us where and when we want. But when we drive, society becomes an obstacle: pedestrians, cyclists and whoever or whatever gets in the way. The more we drive, the more we seek the freedom the road promises but always denies. Governments indulge this fantasy. India’s urban population doubled between 1980 and 2004 and the number of vehicles on the road rose 15 times. Delhi’s six million vehicles on the road exceeds the number in most cities of the world. Vehicles already occupy half of all 32,000 km of available city road space and a further 1,000 are added everyday. Climate change gives the problem greater urgency. Transport contributes 23 per cent of greenhouse gases globally and around 18 per cent of India’s emissions. Transport projects are mega and high in carbon emissions. The metro rail is only two-and-a-half times more energy efficient than a car—not including the energy needed to build it or the energy required to power the escalators, air conditioners, lifts and lights. It is 10 times costlier than the bus rapid transit. On grounds of cost and convenience, it cannot compete with motorcycles, which run for less than Re 1 a km. The richer we get, the more we like less crowded busess. Travelling by bus takes longer than by car unless there are dedicated lanes. In the UK, where most households own a car, free public transport would only result in a 6 per cent fall in car use. In London buses are not even twice as energy efficient as an average car and they aren’t yet airconditioned. Buses will be insufficient to help stabilize global per capita CO2 emissions at little more than the level in India today.



Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

So let’s look at strengths of Indian cities. The majority of Delhi’s citizens live close to workplaces. Once the rich lived like this too. Tree-lined streets made it more comfortable to travel short distances on a cycle or on foot. Building mixed neighbourhoods close to work, shops and services would have a greater effect on climate change than any new technology since over two thirds of transport emissions come from journeys between cities. Over 70 per cent of the urban development of Asian cities envisaged by 2050 has not occurred, so there’s time if the political will is there. Healthy transport would then come into its own. A cyclist can travel for about 100 km on the energy of one litre of petrol—100 times less global warming impact than a car. Twelve million cycles are sold each year in India compared to just over a million cars. But this peaceful mode of transport is ignored. The national climate action plan doesn’t mention walking and cycling to tackle climate change yet more people walk and cycle than use cars and motorcylces combined. In the run up to the Commonwealth Games, Delhi could adopt the Los Angeles model of urban planning and sleepwalk into commuter stress and climate change or take a closer look at cities like Copenhagen. The Danish capital thought as small as the kid who wanted to get out and play more often. Within 10 years the city cut traffic and made streets safer for children. Nearly half of Danish children now cycle, compared to less than 5 per cent 30 years ago. Copenhagen now understands the benefits of street café culture, unexpected social interaction, walking hand in hand with kids to the park or shops. Rarely does this happen in a car-city like Los Angeles. Differing crime rates in the two cities indicates effects on wellbeing. We have to think out of the box for such sensitive planning. ■ Simon Bishop is a transport and environment specialist working as a consultant in Delhi


Also means a healthy social lifestyle


Never too many pedals Investing in urban cycling provisions is ultimate climate strategy

JAAP RIJNSBURGER uropean countries have committed to reduce carbon emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990. This includes my country: the Netherlands. The targeted reductions are realized at home or through “offset” to other countries under the flexible instrument of the Kyoto Protocol, one of which is clean development mechanism (CDM). The mechanism is designed for buying emission rights from developing countries. The Dutch airline company KLM is already buying carbon credits to compensate 10 per cent of its carbon emissions, on a voluntary corporate responsibility basis. When this came in the news I approached KLM with the idea of obtaining the value of emissions avoided as a result of cycling in their destination cities, like Delhi. It seemed obvious that a transport company from a typical cycling country—in the Netherlands 30 per cent of metropolitan trips are by bicycles—would try to offset its emissions by investing in the ultimate zero-emission transport mode, cycling. It was not that easy. KLM liked the idea but needed official CDM certification . That made me think: how to bring cycling mobility under CDM? There are two important strategies in addressing the problem of climate change: to reduce actual carbon emissions and to prevent potential carbon emissions. In the transport sector the common strategy is to reduce the actual pollution of the vehicles transporting passengers and goods and curtail release of fine particles as well as curb emission of CO2 from fossil fuel. The focus is therefore on fuel-efficient vehicles and


renewable energy sources. Cycling adds another dimension: it permits a prevention strategy. If cyclists were to switch over to public transport, motorcycles and Nanos there will be an increase in carbon emissions. So we need more cyclists. Preserving cycling mobility is not difficult; it basically comes to countering prohibitive aspects such as lack of access and unsafe roads. Cycling can be humanized by providing bridges over physical barriers (rivers, roads) and separate bicycle lanes along dangerous roads. What keeps city governments from making these investments? The answer probably is that cyclists are poor and are not always political priority. But what if these poor cyclists happen to represent carbon credits? Once city government start selling cycling credits, cyclists are surely to get into political agendas. And good cycling provisions will make many leave their motorcycles, or even Toyotas and Mercedes, to stay fit. Cycling could be the transport sector’s contribution to the carbon reduction obligations of emerging economies. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change issues a validation and verification manual for projects, which provides the basis for offsetting emissions from vehicles and fuels. But then bicycles do not emit. So should we model a hypothetical situation in which we estimate the emissions of a multitude of public transport vehicles to which the cyclists would flee if not provided with bridges and dedicated paths? But I think we are at a dead end if we try to squeeze cyclists into a validation system for vehicles and fuels. Validation mechanisms should give a say to people making mobility choices and climate strategies should not be built around engines or fuels. We should build cities for people and not for cars. ■ As founder member of Interface for Cycling Expertise Jaap Rijnsburger is one of the creators of the Bicycle Partnership Programme for cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth


REVIEW B O O K > > THE LAST OIL SHOCK • by David Strahan, John Murray • London • 2008 • Indian price Rs 395

When oil goes bust AMITABH RAHA

he story of The Last Oil Shock has been told countless times. World oil production is expected to peak soon and then plateau—known as the peak oil theory—no alternative forms of energy can replace fossil fuels sufficiently and it’s not far when we will have to kiss our car keys goodbye and our financial, trade and agricultural systems will struggle to cope, recessions, depressions, and global turmoil will ensue. The theory was put forward by Hubbert in the 1950s, and many geologists and scientists have elaborated on it. But David Strahan takes the reader through this oftrepeated story with elan, revealing something new to even old eyes. Strahan is an award-winning investigative journalist. His knowledge and understanding of the oil crisis was


evident in two-award winning documentaries and it is clearly distilled here. The Last Oil Shock is written with wit, insight and sometimes contempt. Strahan brings the subject from the battlefields of West Asia, boardrooms in London and North Sea drilling platforms into your home, so to speak, making concrete the implications that will change our lives forever. And it is full of startling insights. Consider this: apples grown in the UK are flown to South Africa to be waxed and polished before being flown back the UK to be sold in supermarkets. What an enormous wastage—even to those who seek cold comfort from the current ratios of oil reserves to production. There is lot else to praise about The Last Oil Shock. Strahan reaches out to the lay reader without simplifying. The Last Oil Shock is not a technical book, but where necessary

the data is presented in a comprehensible manner that will not deter the average reader. Strahan also presents and deconstructs the arguments of the doubters. He also takes environmental organizations such as Greenpeace to task for not pushing the peak oil message when in theory it provides extra impetus to climate change mitigation strategies. Strahan’s last chapter on mitigation strategies is his weakest. In effect he says nothing more than discard your SUV. Right. But all the SUVs jettisioned will not make for a solution. Strahan’s predicament is a difficult one given his disenchantment with alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar energy.


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

Amitabh Raha teaches Economics at the University of Calcutta, West Bengal

D O C U M E N T A R I E S > > CHARPASHE • Films by Children • A project of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan • Kolkata

Many hands in media KAVITA DAS GUPTA

hat is waste for someone is survival for another. This is the theme behind a short one-minute film made by a young school student of Kolkata when she looked charpashe or around. The Films by Children project aims to encourage children from Germany and India to take a closer look at their immediate environment and share their experiences interactively through films. Students from schools of Kolkata and Hamburg



It is not just cars and buses and airplanes that strain the Earth’s oil reserves—though the pressure from them is the most acute. Electricity generation, agriculture, medicine and a myriad other activities depend on fossil fuels. The fertilizer and pesticide derived from petroleum and natural gas, water is pumped and farm inputs and labour transported to the field with the help of coal or oil. This food in turn reaches consumers with the help of further hydrocarbon use. It’s scary to think of the time when we run out of oil. ■

were selected and trained to make these films. We have 38 films here. Such projects are commendable. They not only help young minds relate to their everyday lives creatively and express themselves publicly, but also putting cameras in the hands of non-professionals intensifies the movement to democratize media. The digital revolution has made it possible for anybody to access and control technology today. Most cell phones have cameras and it


B O O K > > PAYMENT FOR ECOSYSTEM SERVICES • Edited By Pushpam Kumar and Roldan Muradian • Rs 695

Pranab Bardhan and Isha Ray, OUP, Rs 695 The book explores the theme of common environmental resources from the perspective of two disciplines: economics and anthropology. Written by senior scholars in economics, anthropology, sociology, and political science, the essays touch upon economic security, ecological sustainability, identity formation and participatory decision-making, particularly in the developing world.

Price of nature S P SINGH

eople are generally familiar with ecosystem services like pollination and flood protection. But they rarely understand they will have to pay a huge price if these services are lost. Much of the problem lies in the slow progress of scholarship in quantifying nature’s services in monetary terms. Payment for Ecosystem Services is a timely contribution in this respect. The 12 chapters discuss varied ecosystems and their services. These include wetlands, groundwater, watershed, pollination, agrobiodiversity and forest reserves. Several of the studies touch upon social factors like equity and livelihood, and


is easy to shoot something and upload it on the net and share it with the rest of the world in just a few hours. However, what has worried me about this trend is a growing irreverence, leading to a common-sensical approach towards making media. Everybody is a filmmaker today. Is it enough to hold the camera in your hand, look through the view finder, press the record button and wave it around like a flag? Hey presto a film is made! Sadly, I noticed this even in the films that the young people of Charpashe have made. I can see some very interesting and innovative thoughts, which are squirming to come out and express

pertain to developing countries. But the editors have not given short shrift to developed countries: there are studies from Australia and the UK. The editors set the tone for the volume in their introductory chapter. It tackles

themselves. I can see the compassion in these young minds and also a satirical look at themselves. But the lack of effective training and a common-sensical approach to filmmaking has stunted their visual expression. Their ideas have got trapped in the clichéd images of Kolkata’s poverty, hunger and rags—I am sure that was not their intention. Critiques apart, projects such as Charpashe should be supported because they perform the very important task of creating many hands in media, inspiring responsible citizens’ journalism. ■ Kavita Das Gupta is a community media practitioner in Ahmedabad


the decline in economic value of rural areas worldwide. This reviewer feels that valuing agroecosystem services other than food production can help slow down the slide in economic value of rural areas. There is an interesting statistic in the chapter on pollination: research in Kenya shows that only 47 per cent of the respondents were aware of the function of pollination in crop production. The authors here stress the importance of education in promoting willingness to pay for nature’s services. This reviewer has some problems with the arrangement of the chapters. Since equity is not the main theme of this volume, there is no gain in having it as the second chapter. A summary at the end of each chapter would have helped. But these are just minor quibbles. ■ S P Singh, ex vice-chancellor SGRR Education Mission, Dehradun, is one of the pioneers of the study of ecosystem services in India

LANDSCAPES AND THE LAW by Gunnel Cederlöf, Orient Blackswan, Rs 320 The book examines law’s role in consolidating early colonial rule and regulating people’s access to nature in forests and hill tracts. It also focusses on the multitude of claims to land and resources, and the complex ways by which customary rights in nature were codified during colonial rule. TRADE SERVICES IN SOUTH ASIA by Saman Kalegama, Sage, Rs 750 This collection of essays explores the opportunities and risks of the liberalization of trade in services in South Asia. These provide an overview of issues related to WTO’s general agreement on trade tarrifs.

WOMEN AND SCIENCE IN INDIA by Neelam Kumar, OUP, Rs 695 The reader probes the tests women face in science and impact of globalization on their careers. Connections between work lives, demands of their profession and domestic responsibilities are examined to understand the work of women scientists.

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Double standards t’s not uncommon for scientists to publish medical studies acclaiming the benefits of a drug without disclosing their financial ties with the drug’s manufacturer. The Journal of American Medical Association(JAMA) is a critic of the practice. In 2008, the journal’s Catherine De Angelis was even awarded the Catcher in the Rye humanitarian prize because of “her leadership on discussions of conflict of interests in medicine”. So it’s quite shocking that JAMA’s editors have passed a gag order on writers who question the credibility of research published in the




Full marks for a dance


arl Marx looks set to meet Broadway and Las Vegas. Das Kapital is being adapted into a musical in Shanghai to show “how the thinking of Karl Marx is as relevant in today’s economic crisis as when his book was first published in 1867”. “The entertainment will help ordinary people better understand the financial crisis,” said Zhang Jun, a



Catherine De Angelis

journal. In an online editorial published on March 20, they wrote “We will instruct anyone filing a complaint to remain silent about the allegation until the journal investigates the charge.” The trouble started in May 2008 when the American journal published

Fudan University economics professor, who is an advisor on the production. The director, He Nian, told the newspaper China Daily, he will incorporate modern elements to connect the show to people’s lives and feelings. The musical will revolve around a group of office workers who discover their boss is exploiting them and each responds differently, he said. Nien said the idea was inspired by the popularity of a Japanese manga comic book adaptation of Das Kapital published in December. Three years ago a German theatre group had another bash. But despite an added inducement to attend —a copy of Volume 23 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels for each theatre-goer—spectators said the play was “something of a lecture, at times dry and boring”. ■

Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

a study which acclaimed the benefits of the anti-depressant drug, Lexapro. JAMA did not disclose the the association of the study’s lead author, Robert Robinson, with the American pharmaceutical firm, Forest Laboratories. The impropriety came to light after Jonathan a Leo, a scientist at the Lincoln Memorial University did a bit of googling and found that Robinson had served as a paid speaker for Forest Laboratories. JAMA told him that the matter would be investigated. After enduring five months, Leo reported the matter to the British Medical Journal. According to the Wall Street Journal, De Angelis rang up Leo and threatened to cut of access to its prestigious pages. De Angelis denies the charge. ■

P L A Y > > PRISONS • Lebanon

From Bowels of Lebanon F

or a Cold War after-dinner television drama, Twelve Angry Men has travelled unusually far. Set in a hot, stuffy New York courthouse, the play focuses on a jury deliberating the fate of an 18year-old accused of patricide. The script was made into the nowclassic film starring Henry Fonda. The parable for America’s McCarthy years, found its way to Bollywood in 1986: Ek Ruka Hua Faisla. Now, from the bowels of

NEWS S N I P P E T S >> Malaysia’s government has banned two newspapers, ahead of key political developments. Harakah and Suara Keadilan have been told they cannot publish for the next three months, with immediate effect. The announcement came a week before the expected designation of a new and controversial prime minister, Najib Razak, and two weeks before important by-elections. >> More than 50 million people across the world switched off their lights between 8.30-9.30 PM to observe the Earth Hour. The event was organized by the WWF.

Lebanon’s largest prison, the has emerged its grittiest and most striking adaptation. Directed by Zeina Daccache and performed by Roumieh Prison inmates, the work has been renamed Twelve Angry Lebanese. The production is result of a year-long drama therapy initiative. “It’s a microcosm of Lebanon. People don’t want to see it,” says Daccache, who first visited the prison 10 years ago as a stage manager with Clowns Without Borders. “But it’s theatre is nourished by hunger.” The inmates scripted the scenes; one illiterate cast memberlearned to read and to write through the creative process. ■


recently been plastered with a slogan “If you don’t have a proper lavatory in your house, don’t even think about marrying my daughter.” The slogans are part of state government campaign: “No toilet, no bride.” People in the state agree that the campaign-which also runs TV adverts, radio jingles and cleanliness rallies has changed their thinking. “Our daughter will be married only to a family that has a toilet at home . If need be we will hold out for the construction of a new toilet,” Satwant Kaur, of the village of Khanpur Koliyan in



Loo to woo T

here is new courtship ritual in Haryana. Villages in the state have

Kurukshetra told the news agency INS. There are pockets of resistance, however. Some upper-caste communities are not happy with lavatories in their homes because tradition dictates that such an arrangement is unclean. But many are changing. “Toilets should not be in the home as the food is also cooked within the premises. One also gets fresh air during the morning walk to the fields. But I guess one has to change with the times,” said Bhaiyya Ram Sharma of Shahar Malpur village in Panipat. ■


on the streets are dirty, abundant and threatening,’’ said Han Joo-hee, a Seoul office worker. They make the street dirty and get hurt by the trash there, said another Ha Jong Ho, another Seoul resident. In recent times, Domestic pigeons have been called “chicken-pigeons’’ due to their fatness or “mouse-pigeons’’ because of their dirtiness. ■

South Korea

P R O T E S T S L > > FINANCIAL CRISIS • European Cities

People take to streets T

here was a man in a gorilla suit, Ethiopian campaigners, socialist workers and green activists. On April 2 and 3, as leaders of the G20 discussed ways to extricate the world out of the financial rut, pressurewashers were turned on Wellington’s statue outside the Bank of England and a band played I am changing my name to Chrysler. Tens of thousands had

taken to the streets in European cities on March 28 as well. In Rome, protesters threw red paint, egg and smoke bombs at banks and insurance companies. In London placard-waving crowd of 35,000 snaked

SWISH TILL YOU DROP Swish and don’t shop is the mantra the website swears by. The dictionary meaning of swish is to rustle, as silk. The idea here is to rustle clothes from friends. Started by Futerra, a communications agency in London, swishing involves people getting together to swap clothes and accessories and save the planet in the process. The idea is to dig out all those skirts, shoes, jeans, shirts, belts and bags that one has not used and swap them for stuff that one really wants. Futerrans say it helps reduce waste. People network over and plan a swishing party, where they pool all clothes for exchange. Transactions take place over a glass of wine. No one is allowed to pick up any clothes till the swish rules are explained. Everybody must bring at least one item of clothing and can leave with as many items as they want.

along a six km route. The gathering was peaceful. But Chris Knight, professor of anthropology at the University of East London was suspended two days before. His crime: he said bankers will hang on lamposts. ■

A banner in Barcelona reading "Not more lay-offs"


n Korean folklore—as elsewhere—the pigeon is a messenger. But today, the domestic pigeon has been designated a harmful creature in Korea and will be hunted down. The country’s Ministry of Environment gave advanced notice of legislation on the pigeons on March 28. Domestic pigeons will be declared “detrimental wildlife,” which also includes animals that damage fruit trees and crops, such as magpies and wild boars. According to the new designation, pigeons will be classified as vermin and heads of local government asked to authorize their capture late this year. For many Koreans, domestic pigeons have become an object of evasion and disgust with feathers and their excrement dirtying buildings, including major cultural assets. “The pigeons


Messengers of dirt I

April 16-30, 2009 • Down To Earth



Mining at all cost Where is the will to find out what is best for the people and the economy? in India is frequently in the news these days. There has hardly been an issue of this magazine lately where an article on mining was not printed. The headlines are predictable by now: mining destroys forests; mining pollutes rivers; people are evicted to allow mining; mining encroaches on wildlife habitat; police file cases against people protesting mining; fight breaks out between the community and the mining company during public hearing; government colludes with mining companies to divert ecologically sensitive area. The list is endless. The crux of all these stories is same. The government is mindlessly allowing mining and communities are not willing to take it lying down. Sindhudurg is no different (see p10). In 1997, the district was declared an ecologically fragile region by the Maharashtra government. The area is known for its natural beauty, beaches, backwaters, waterfalls, mountains and forests. It is also famous for Alphonso mangoes and cashew, on which the area’s economy depends. But the Maharashtra government has come to realize this area also has iron ore. It therefore withdrew Sindhudurg’s ecologically fragile status early this year and allowed mining and construction of power


plants. With mines in neighbouring Goa excavated hollow and large deposits of iron ore still to be tapped in Sindhudurg, mining companies have moved in. The government is happy, but the people are not. This is a prosperous district with more than 80 per cent literacy rate. More than 90 per cent people live in rural areas; most of the land is held by small and marginal farmers. They don’t want mining to destroy their land, water, forests and environment. But the government is not listening; it is more interested in making deals with mining companies. Just because there are minerals underground, does it have to be mined at all cost? Aren’t there better and ecologically sustainable ways to boost the economy? Sindhudurg is most suited for tourism, agriculture and horticulture, which will be completely destroyed if large-scale mining is allowed and this Maharashtra must know from the experience in Goa. Mining has wrought havoc there. The fact of the matter is no clearance mechanism for mines demands a cost-benefit analysis to see whether mining is the best option for a particular region. Until there is a mechanism to explore what is socially and economically the best choice, India will continue to mine mindlessly. ■

Handloom is haute But the market is still too far for India’s weavers BY LATE 19th century, commentators of various political hues had begun writing the Indian weaver’s obituary. The impoverished Indian weaver was the central figure in the writings of nationalists like R C Dutt and Dadabhai Naoroji. Cotton from Manchester was blamed for this ruin. A few decades later, Gandhi made khadi and charkha the emblem of India’s freedom movement. Khadi became the uniform of a large section of freedom fighters. Worn by the nifty Jawaharlal Nehru, it even became a fashion statement—unintentionally perhaps. Independent India locked khadi and handloom in emporiums. The handloom, however, proved more resilient. The loudest cheers at the Lakme India Fashion Week in early March went out to the models donning handloom outfits—one would assume for the apparel. Today, in many wardrobes, a Benetton or a Tommy Hilfiger shares space with a jamavar or a khadi silk jacket. Why go that far: you would not be labelled a jholawalla today if you wore a khadi kurta with jeans. A handloom spaghetti top would even be considered chic. For the 17 million craftspeople in India, all this


Down To Earth • April 16-30, 2009

is good news. But there are some knots that must be disentangled. While the Ministry of Textiles regularly announces credit card schemes for weavers so that they can finance the orders they get, government exhibitions don’t have the backup needed for bulk supplies. Fancy stores like Cottage Industries Emporium rake in foreign exchange, but not much of it goes to the producer. But a whole basket of attempts does bring the weaver into focus. These include the entrepreneurship-based models of Fabindia and Anokhi, and non-profit initiatives like those of Urmul in Rajasthan and Dastkar Andhra and smaller, extremely localized ventures like the Charkha Weavers cooperative run by dalit women in Karnataka (see p50). Many weavers’ cooperatives have also found out it pays to cater to urban fashion demands. What are these demands though? Does the weaver get to interact with the market or do entrepreneurs still mediate between craftspeople and their consumer? The capital’s Dilli Haat once provided an avenue for face-to-face interaction. But even here the trader has overwhelmed the artisan. ■


SUMMER CERTIFICATE COURSE ON THE POLICIES AND PRACTICES OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT IN INDIA JUNE 1 – 30, 2009, NEW DELHI You have a month to explore the complexities underlying the environment-development debate in India. Lectures. Readings. Presentations. Occasions to debate and deliberate with leading policy makers, experts and grassroots activists. Includes considerable field exposure. THE COURSE MODULES

State of India’s environment: An overview ■ The environmental movement in India ■ Poverty and the biomass economy ■ Ecological rights & natural resource management ■ Land and its use: Agriculture, food security ■ Conservation & conflict: Wildlife management debate in India ■ Urban growth challenges: Water & waste management, air pollution & mobility ■ Sustainable industrialisation & public health concerns ■ Climate change & global environmental governance ■

Week-long field trip to explore eco-restoration efforts in rural India ELIGIBILITY 30 participants (young professionals & college students from any stream) Applicants must submit a 500-word essay on any one of the following topics: Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “Water should be everybody’s business” ■ More flyovers or better public transport: What will reduce congestion in Indian cities?

Send your essay, application form and résume/CV soon Medium of instruction: English Course fee: Rs 5,000 (includes local and outstation field excursions) Accommodation for select outstation participants: Rs. 5,000 (stay & food) Kamla Chowdhry Fellowships: Will be awarded to select outstation candidates to cover some of their stay costs Please pay your course fees after your participation in the course is confirmed. APPLICATION FORM Name_________________________________________________ Contact Address____________________________________________________________________________ Telephone_________________________ Email__________________________ Education (most recent): Institution__________________________________________________ Subject_______________________________________Year________________ Work Experience (if any): Organization_______________________________________________ Period ___________________________________ Position_________________________________________________ Accommodation Needed: Yes__________No_________ I wish to be considered for the Kamla Chowdhry Fellowship Supported by an endowment from the late Dr Kamla Chowdhry, a distinguished academic and an ardent Gandhian, whose interests spanned forestry, ecology, environment, women's issues and people's participation. Course contact: Sharmila Sinha Fill this application form and send it with your essay and résumé/CV to: Agenda for Survival CENTRE FOR SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area New Delhi–110062, Tel: 91-11-29955125, Ext: 270/ Fax: 91-11-29955879; E-mail:; Register online:

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ISSN 0971-8079. R.N.I. NO. 53588/92 POSTAL REGN. NO. DL(S)-01/3109/2009-2011 Licensed to Post without Pre-payment U(SE)-44/2009-11 at PSO Kotla Road, New Delhi-110002. Published on 14-15 every month. POSTED ON: 16-17 every month.

Anil Agarwal Reader A decade of incisive commentary on environment-development issues

The Anil Agarwal Reader collects in three volumes some of his writings on the environment. They range from the 1990s to the early years of this decade. The volumes showcase the intensity and acuity with which he engaged with the dominant concerns of the times. They are an essential introduction to environmental questions, moving seamlessly between local, national and international perspectives.

Price One volume : Rs 300 (US $15) Three volume set : Rs 750 (US $35)

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