India needs digital herbarium to preserve natural wealth (February Week 3 (2006))
A digital herbarium that can preserve detailed information about plants will help to preserve the natural wealth of the country, S. Nagarajan, Chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority, Government of India, has said in a
report published by The Hindu.
A traditional herbarium was a collection of plants, stems, flowers and other natural substances documented and kept under the charge of the curator. However, the material tended to degrade.
"Preservation is possible with the digital camera and modern techniques that make it possible to record information about seed characteristics. We can process and store data on different varieties and species, do statistical analysis and compare new species.
We want to promote the idea and motivate people to examine the possibilities," he observed.
Farmers' Rights Act
He said that the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act 2001 safeguarded the rights of farmers, researchers and plant breeders.
"India has a diverse climate and qualified human resource. We should be able to nurture seed companies that can grow globally. We are opening up an opportunity for entrepreneurs to invest in plant breeding," he noted.
Under the provisions of the Act, farmers could cultivate, harvest and sell whatever crops they wished to grow but they could not brand their agricultural produce, label them or sell seed.
Researchers could conduct experiments on plant physiology and cross-fertilize varieties to produce new ones.
However, researchers needed permission to repeatedly use the same variety.
Mr. Nagarajan said that the rules and guidelines framed in 2003 under the Act were aimed at promoting innovation.
"We expect more creativity and better varieties," he said, adding that India was the only country to have protected the rights of farmers in this manner, mainly because over half the people in the country depended on agriculture for their livelihood. In European
countries, only two per cent of the population were farmers.
By encouraging competition inside India as well as from outside the country, breeders would be motivated to provide high quality planting material.
He suggested that the University offer a one-credit course to all students of agriculture, to familiarise them with national policies and international laws governing plant protection. "Just as in computer science and engineering, agricultural graduates should
think and act globally," he said.
After the progress made during the Green Revolution, a decline in productivity had set in owing to depletion of natural resources, loss of micronutrients in the soil, shortage of water resources and a widening gap between agricultural production and consumer
preferences. More information was available at www.plantauthority.in, he said.
Torture season begins for elephants (February Week 3 (2006))
Festival season is celebration time for humans, but for elephants it is a season of torture. Unscientific training methods, mindless torture and poor upkeep are telling on the elephant population in Kerala and their behaviour, reports The Hindu. .
As the curtain goes up on festivals and percussion ensembles drum up excitement, the State makes yet another painful and dangerous tryst with exploitation of elephants.
The pachyderms are made to walk long distances on tarred roads and stand unendingly on concrete surfaces.
As a result, most of them have pockets of infection under their feet or toenails, veterinarians say.
Section 12 of a Government Order (No 12/2003/F&WLD) dated February 26, 2003, prohibits `marching an elephant over tarred roads for long, during the hottest period of the day, for religious or any other purpose'.
The order also prohibits `making the elephant stand in the scorching sun for unreasonably long duration, and bursting crackers when the elephant is around'.
"Elephant owners and mahouts care two hoots for the law," says K.C. Panicker, veterinarian and secretary of the Kerala Elephant Welfare Association.
Elephants are sorely uncomfortable on tar and concrete. "Blisters are unbearable for the animals. If one foot gets infected, the elephant would repeatedly shift all the weight to the other feet. These legs too would then feel tired," says P.C. Alex, veterinarian
with the Kerala Agricultural University.
Feet are the gauge of an elephant's overall health. Use of custom-made boots for the animals is recommended.
"If the feet get infected, rest is essential. But the owners, who are eager to send the elephants to the maximum number of festivals and earn more, give the animals no rest," says Dr. Panicker.
The elephants are also mostly ill-fed and not given enough water. An elephant normally drinks between 200 to 250 litres of water every day.
Training is torture
Training elephants mostly involves physical abuse and complete domination of the animals. "Training the pachyderm requires a great deal of patience. Mahouts are impatient with slow learners. Torture accompanies lessons. Groups of people sometimes beat up a
chained elephant in a practice called `Nunachattam' when a new mahout takes charge. The practice rests on the belief that a bond develops between the elephant and the mahout when it is nursed to normality. The method is unscientific and resembles a scene from
an absurd play," says V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary, Kerala Elephant Lovers' Association (Ana Premi Sanghom).
Belief also goes that when a male elephant is in musth, it can be controlled only if it is made weak through torture and poor feeding. `Musth' is a Hindi word meaning `intoxicated'. When a male elephant is in musth, its level of testosterone will rise dramatically
by a factor of 20 or more.
`Musth' might last up to 60 days as the male elephant wait for mating. The animal displays aggressive behaviour during this period. The elephant will dramatically reduce his food intake and burn up much of his fat reserves.
The temporal gland between the eyes and ears swell and discharge a viscous secretion. There is continual dribbling of urine too. "Despite several programmes to create awareness among mahouts, elephants are tortured when they show signs of `musth'. Mahouts have
a wrong notion that they can control the elephants only if the animals are weak," says Dr. Panicker.
The elephant retaliates when the torture is unbearable. According to the Elephant Lovers' Association, the number of mahouts killed by elephants rose from 18 in 1997-`99 to 46 in 2003-`05.
The number of elephant deaths rose from 137 in 1997-`99 to 384 in 2003-`05.
The Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules 2003 state that elephant owners and mahouts should maintain records of elephant disease and treatment. Fitness certificates and vaccination records should be available for verification whenever
the elephant is taken out.
"Most of the mahouts do not carry the records. The rules also state that the fitness of the elephant should be checked every day while it is taken out, by the panchayat or town veterinary officer, but this rule is never observed," says Mr. Venkitachalam.
Some animal lovers are against transporting the elephants on trucks.
"Being isolated can make the elephant aggressive," says Mr. Venkitachalam.
Awareness programmes alone will not alleviate the plight of elephants, animal rights activists say.
Only comprehensive and effective legislation will.
Tibetans burning animal skins: Experts (February Week 3 (2006))
The Times of India reports that people in Tibet have started burning the skins of animals like the leopard, otter and fox following the Dalai Lama's call to stop using wildlife products in their attire, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) officials said on Monday.
"For the last five days, during the great prayer festival of Molam Quinmo, people from Huangnan Rebgong area launched a campaign to burn Tibetan garments made from animal furs," said Pasang Lhamu Bhutia, an expert with WTI.
Ashok Kumar, vice chairman of WTI, said villagers of Amdo and Rebgong launched the campaign and placed their own otter, fox and other furs on fires and encouraged hundreds of others to take similar action.
"This is certainly a nice beginning and the initiative of the Tibetans showed that it is not too late to do something for a great cause. If others start following this path, we can still save our endangered wildlife from the jaws of death," Kumar said.
Two months ago, the Dalai Lama had appealed to his Buddhists devotees at the Kalachakra (empowerment initiation) ceremony to stop using wildlife products to either make dresses or as part of their attire.
WTI has been campaigning against the use of animal parts or skins in Tibet.
Grey water recycling needs only simple technology (Issue of the week, February Week 2 (2006))
Widespread use will help cut the demand for water, say experts
• A boon for those maintaining gardens
• Even a small patch of land is enough
• NGOs want corporation to involve them
Nearly 70 per cent of water used in households for cleaning or washing can be treated using simple technology. It can be reused for gardening and groundwater recharge. An even better incentive is that it saves money, says The Hindu.
Speakers at a seminar on ``Wastewater treatment: Opportunities for Chennai's water future'' organised here on Saturday explained that several examples had proved that reusing grey water (term used for water flushed out from kitchen, laundry and bathroom) had
led to substantial cost cutting.
R. Ramani, a grey water reuse expert, said he had been recycling up to 400 litres every day over the past decade and used it for drip-irrigation of his garden. ``For those interested in maintaining gardens, these systems are a boon because one need not spend
money on water." He said he had designed a system for a friend that helped save Rs.36,000 a year that he normally used for purchasing water.
Several grey water recycling designs are available and can be implemented based on the extent of open ground available. It usually consists of a system for collecting water from washbasins and kitchen sinks and some simple filtration chambers. Different types
of filtrations are possible, from using river sand to charcoal to even tuber-plants.
More complex wastewater treatment technologies that can also treat black water (from toilets) are available for commercial establishments and residential complexes. One such system is the DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems) technology that treat
wastewater flows ranging from 1 to 100 cubic metres a day, both from domestic and industrial waste.
Indukanth S.Ragade, who has designed grey-water reuse systems for multi-storeyed apartments in the city over the past two decades, said groundwater recharge through treated grey water could substantially improve the quality of bore-well water.
``It is a myth that you need a large open space for setting up such systems. Even a small patch is enough.''
Sultan Ahmed Ismail, Vice-Principal, New College (evening) and managing director of Ecoscience Research Foundation, said used water recycling was an essential part of maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. ``With any doubt, the systems require some level of
maintenance on part of the resident. But one must acknowledge that eco-friendly technologies liberates. Modern technologies like reverse osmosis may be convenient but they subjugate you and leave you forever at the mercy of private companies."
Though an amendment to the Chennai City Corporation building rule in 2003 has made grey water reuse mandatory, there has not been much of awareness on various systems of recycling. Chennai Corporation had attempted grey water recycling in some of its parks
last year but NGOs feel that they could have been involved by the civic agency to widen the appeal.
Wetlands more productive than forest ecosystem (February Week 2 (2006))
The ecosystem service values provided by wetlands in the country is worth about a whopping Rs.5,60,000 crores a year, according to Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History founder Director V.S. Vijayan.
Dr. Vijayan was delivering the key-note address at the national conference on `Wetland bio-diversity' organised here on Thursday jointly by the Department of Zoology of St. Aloysius College, Elthuruthu; the Limnological Association of Kerala and the Indian
Association of Aquatic Biologists, Hyderabad.
He said even this figure could only be a conservative estimate considering that the total area of the wetlands in the country is considered to be 7.6 million hectares. Pointing out that wetlands are the most productive ecosystem, he said studies estimate that
in terms of the values of ecosystem services they outweigh forest ecosystems by seven times. The ecosystem service value of tropical forests is estimated to be $2,007 a hectare while that of the wetlands is $14,785 a hectare.
Dr. Vijayan said the ecosystem services used in such calculations include the contribution made by the area in gas regulation, disturbance regulation such as flood control, water storage and supply including ground water recharge, habitat refuge, food production,
raw material, recreation including tourism and cultural.
Quoting from some studies, Dr. Vijayan said the extent of wetlands in Kerala is estimated at 3,28,402 hectares and its ecosystem values work out to be Rs.15,797 crores a year, which is more than State's revenue receipts for 2004-'05. ``If the ecosystem values
of the paddy fields, extending to around 3,30,00 hectares are also included, the figure will go up to Rs.23,115 crores a year. Interestingly, it is more than the combined receipts of revenue and capital during 2004-'05 of the Budget of Kerala,'' quotes The
Dr. Vijayan said there is severe lack of appreciation of the productive value of the wetlands and their critical significance as life supporting systems, across the country. In many parts such areas are often treated as wasteland.
Unsustainable exploitation and sheer lack of awareness among the developers lead to disappearance of a large extent of wetlands across the world. In India, there has been an alarming loss of 38 per cent wetlands between 1991 and 2001, he said.
State launches conservation plan for Gir lions (February Week 2 (2006))
Even as the controversy of shifting Asiatic lions from congested Gir Lion sanctuary in Junagadh to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh is raging, the Gujarat forest department has prepared a long term conservation plan under which 100 square km of grassland
is to be developed adjacent to the sanctuary as the new home for the big cats.
The new habitat for the big cats, whose population has increased to 359, is being developed in 10,000 hectare grassland in Amreli and Bhavnagar areas bordering the sanctuary.
Despite precautionary measures taken by the state forest department, it is a fact that 90 to 95 lions "a majority of them cubs" have died due to infection and factors like poaching.
Though the state government has not yet given any reaction to the suggestion of shifting Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh, it has launched a long-term conservation plan to protect lions to prove that rare species like Asiatic lions are well protected in Gujarat.
The department, in a note on the long term conservation plan, said,"The Gir Protected Area has consistently supported the Asiatic Lion Conservation, as can be seen from the gradual increase in its population in the last four decades, from 177 in the year 1968
to about 359 (+ or - 10) in April 2005."
The forest department has over a period of time successfully facilitated the process of reclamation of the territory lost by the lion...
Lions now inhabit forests and grasslands in the region beyond Gir forests, including Girnar, Mitiyala forests and grasslands of Savarkundla taluka, Babara reserve grasslands in Maliya taluka and the coastal forests.
State chief conservator of forest Pradeep Khanna told TOI that avoiding in-breeding is required by providing corridors linking the different lion prides.
As part of this endeavour, the government in February 2004 notified Mitiyala sanctuary covering about 1,820 hectares. In addition, the forest department has identified over 10,000 hectares of grasslands in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts that are important lion
habitats. Lions now inhabit forests and grasslands in the region beyond Gir forests, including Girnar, Mitiyala forests and grasslands of Savarkundla talukaa Babara reserve grasslands in Maliya taluka and the coastal forests.