Press on Environment and Wildlife
Chawl residents fight to save patch of green (November Week 1 (2005)) Is it a case of David versus Goliath at Tardeo? Residents of the 130-year-old Talmakiwadi chawl near Bhatia Hospital feel it is. Here is a report by Times of India.
The 20-room chawl, which since 1941 is enclosed within the Kanara Saraswat Association's housing colony (the second-oldest co-operative society in Asia) is fighting to save a small garden of trees and bushes they planted in front of the chawl over 20 years ago.
"Last month, the housing society that owns the land told us that they planned to bring down the trees and use the area for extra parking," says chawl resident Lalita Balsekar, a teacher in the colony's school.
"On October 16, one of the society's committee members came with two workmen, pointed out to my trees and said, 'These must go'," says Balsekar. Several ground-floor residents of the chawl have planted trees (there are around 12 small ones, including sitaphal, karipatta, a supari tree and parijat) and other plants in a strip measuring 15 feet.
They say it was partly in response to an incident in the 1980s when a visitor reversed his car right into one of the rooms.
"We're right on the road and need protection," says Balsekar, who lives with her sister, two brothers and 79-year-old mother. The family has stayed here since her grandfather's time.
Residents say the other main issue is pollution from the increasing number of cars driving through the colony, with the colony's wedding hall being next door.
The society said they'd leave us three feet of space in front of the chawl but that still means fumes would come right into our ground floor houses," she says.
The chawl residents hope their tiny green enclave can survive. "We know the land belongs to the housing society and we are not trying to take it over. We just hope our trees can stay," says a resident.

Migratory bird deaths to be investigated (Issue of the week, October Week 4 (2005)) The West Bengal Animal Resources Development department is inquiring into reports of the death of some migratory birds, mainly fledglings, in the State's Kulik Bird Sanctuary in north Bengal to ascertain whether the cause of the deaths can be related to any avian disease including the dreaded bird flu, reports the Hindu.
"Even though the reports attribute the deaths in the Kulik sanctuary to the storm and heavy rains that have hit the region over the past few days, the local wild life authorities will be asked to send some of the dead birds as well as the serum of a few of those alive for examination", Dr. Dasgupta, Director, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services said. Arrangements will be made for tests to be held at the High-Risk Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Bhopal that has recently been authorised by the Union Government to be the only competent authority in the country to make any announcement on diseases afflicting livestock or birds, he added.
Thousands of migratory birds flock to sanctuaries like Kulik every winter from China, Siberia and South Asian countries and the State authorities are not taking any chances in view of experts' fears that migratory birds could be carriers of diseases like bird flu and be a potential threat to the health of the local bird population. The sanctuaries have been alerted, now that the first flocks of birds have started arriving from South Asian countries, some of which have reported cases of bird flu in recent times.
Twelve States will be represented at a special training programme to be held here on October 28, where wildlife department officials will be trained in the trapping of migratory birds and collecting their blood-samples to check whether they are suffering from avian diseases like bird flu.
The wetlands of Gujarat have come alive with the arrival of more than 4,000 harriers — known to be birds of prey. The maximum numbers were spotted at Velavadar Black Buck National Park in Bhavnagar district. The birds will return to their breeding grounds in Europe, Central Asia and North America only after winter is over.
These winged guests to Gujarat are a welcome sight for farmers as they feed heavily on locusts during the crop season. According to chief conservator of forest (CCF), wildlife, Pradeep Khanna, Velavadar Black Buck National Park has the distinction of being the largest roosting site of harriers in Gujarat.
The harriers belong to genus circus of birds of prey and are commonly known as marsh harrier, pallied or pale harrier, montagu harrier, hen harrier and pied harrier. These birds are members of the family Accipitridae and are a protected species, under the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972.
The Pioneer reports that as the first group of 16 birds arrived at Sultanpur
Bird Sancuary, Haryana, they have been put under observation, lest they be the carriers of avian flu.
“So far none of the guests at the sanctuary has been found to be infected," says a sanctuary official, who has been recently trained to observe the flu symptoms in the birds like inability to fly, bowed neck and dullness in the eyes.
The officials at the park have been instructed to take "instant action" against any bird exhibiting signs of "indifferent gait."
Instant action according to park Sub-Inspector Kanwar Pal means, "Quarrantine them lest they infect other guests and spread the infection to the large number of poultry hatcheries, which exist in the neighbourhood."
If a bird is found to have an indifferent gait, the drill is to separate it from the flock and take it to the park's veterinary hospital. But an official said, "The chances of infected guests arriving are remote as it's too much to expect an infected bird to take a 2000 mile long flight."
About 90 species of migratory birds come every year from Siberia, European countries and Middle East Asia. They include the Flamingo, Common Pochard, Spoonbill, Barheaded Goose, Common Redshank, Ruddy Shelduck, Demoiselle Crane, Yellow Wigtail, Coot, Red Crested Pochard, Shovella, Mallard and Pintail.
To distinguish between the guests and local feathered residents, the officials here are using microphones and numbered rings. 225 species of resident birds are found in the lake sanctuary.
"Since there are reports of the spread of flu in the ports of origin of these birds and transit areas like Pakistan, we have felt the need for precaution and creating a distinction between the guest birds and resident birds," the official added. Migratory birds begin arriving by the end of October and they enjoy India's hospitality till mid-March.
Park officials are conducting regular inspections in the hatcheries and piggeries in the area. According to Dr DN Grover, Deputy Director, District Animal Husbandry department, the department has taken blood sample of birds from around 12 hatcheries adjoining Sultanpur Park. The samples have been sent to the Disease Diagnostic Lab in Sonepat.
Since the flu is believed to be highly infectious, the officials have been instructed to use surgical masks, special costumes, gloves, handlers, tubes and eyeglasses.
Green nod for Andhra river-linking project (October Week 4 (2005)) One of India’s first river-linking projects, Polavaram, today received the Centre’s environmental clearance. The project’s work was stopped two months ago as it did not have the “green” clearance. Work is now expected to be resumed immediately.
Chief minister Dr YS Rajashekar Reddy, while disclosing this today, said the revised project cost was Rs 13,000 crore, of which Rs 4,000 cr was to be used exclusively to address environmental issues, apart from relief and rehabilitation of the displaced.
The project, renamed Indirasagar, aims at taking 80 TMC of water from river Godavari, the country’s second-largest river, to river Krishna. The multi-purpose project, when completed, will irrigate some three lakh hectares of farmland and generate 960 MW of power. Dr Reddy has been showcasing te project as the centrepiece of his government’s ambitious “irrigation mission” costing over Rs 45,000 crore. He said the crucial part of relief and rehabilitation for 48,000 families across 288 habitations has already begun and would be completed in time. Displaced tribal families would be compensated with equal amount of land in the same district, said the chief minister. The project has been coastal Andhra Pradesh’s farmers’ dream for over half a century. It was first conceived in 1947, six years after the first survey was undertaken at a cost of Rs 129 crore.
A day after the State Government secured the much-awaited environmental clearance for the Polavaram (Indirasagar) project, noted environmental activist Medha Patkar and the tribals facing displacement strongly opposed the Government's moves to go ahead with the project.
"What the project has secured from the Centre is only environmental clearance. But there is no forest clearance yet which is mandatory for any major dam," Ms. Medha Patkar said at an interface with the adivasis.
Asserting that the project was part of efforts to boost industrialisation at the expense of agriculture and tribal areas, she volunteered to spearhead the agitations to be launched by tribals against giving clearances to Indirasagar project in violation of the people's right to life and the right to livelihood guaranteed by the Constitution.
Well-known agricultural scientist and chairman, National Commission on Farmers, M. S. Swaminathan, has favoured construction of the Polavaram project and for that matter any big project, provided the environmental and social aspects are taken care of.
Speaking to reporters after meeting the Chief Minister, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, on Thursday, he said such big projects were the need of the hour in the light of the Bharat Nirman programme under which 1 crore hectares of additional ayacut would be brought under the plough.
It was not the first time that big projects were taken up in the world, he said, citing the Aswan Dam in Egypt and the Three Gorges project in China.
Dr. Swaminathan, however, wanted a realistic assessment of benefits and risks before embarking upon any big project. If a particular project displaced tribals and others and affected the environment, sufficient steps must be taken up. "It's a win-win situation for people and the environment. There is no free lunch." Asked to comment on Medha Patkar's strong opposition to Polavaram project, he said, "some people are ideologically opposed to big dams and prefer smaller ones."
He said his policies "are going on right direction." During the meeting, Dr Swaminathan and the Chief Minister discussed the need for bridging the gaps between scientific knowledge and field-level needs. Dr Reddy told Dr Swaminathan that all villages in the State would get Internet connectivity by 2007.
China allows limited trade of tiger bones (October Week 4 (2005)) In yet another deathblow to the critically endangered tiger, China has reportedly permitted the domestic sale of tiger bone, banned since 1993, reports The Pioneer.
According to NGOs operating in China, the Department of Wildlife Conservation, State Forestry Administration, has circulated a document to provincial forestry departments that authorises the sale of tiger bone from farms to certain traditional Chinese medicine factories only for use in manufacturing medicine. It is learnt that open sale of tiger bone products will not be allowed in retail markets but will be used only in select hospitals authorised by the government.
Reportedly, the document details that only farms which have more than 500 tigers can sell tiger bones subject to permission from the State Forestry Administration.
At this point, according to the Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT), there is at least one tiger farm in China that has a population of sufficient size to qualify. When questioned, the Press aide in the Chinese embassy said that they don't have an official statement as yet.
It appears that the government, fearing a severe backlash from NGOs and various international bodies and governments involved in tiger conservation issues, has chosen to maintain silence. In an e-mail to concerned authorities and NGOs, CATT has said that while they have been reliably informed about China's decision to permit tiger bone sale, all efforts to get a confirmation from the Chinese government have failed. Tiger bone has been used in traditional Chinese medicinal use as a painkiller and is anti-inflammatory.
It is feared that, opening the trade even marginally, will be the final act that drives the tiger towards extinction. Says Judy Mils of CATT, 'Any trade in tiger bone, no matter how small or tightly controlled, could prove fatal to the world's last wild tigers. News of any sort of legalised trade will confuse consumers and reignite demand quieted by the 1993 ban of tiger bone from China's pharmacopoeia. Even a tiny upswing in demand from a nation of 1.3 billion people could wipe out many wild tiger populations.'
Ashok Kumar, of the Wildlife Trust of India, points out that if true, this will spell disaster for the few remaining wild populations. 'Countries across the globe have striven hard over the years to make tiger part trade illegal. Giving legal sanction, even in the smallest quantities, will give the trade a stamp of respectability. If supply is legalised, it will give a boost to the illegal trade in wild tiger derivatives.'
Studies show that derivatives from wild tigers prove cheaper, than those from captive or farmed tigers, thus increasing pressure on wild tigers.
Less than 5,000 wild tigers survive in the world, and are protected in their habitats, both by national and international laws. They are hunted relentlessly for their skin and bones, which are used to treat rheumatism and related ailments in traditional Asian medicine. It has been proved, beyond doubt, that the Royal Bengal Tiger in India -presently facing its worst ever crisis - has been harvested to meet the supply of skins and bones across the globe. Giving a legal stamp, even in the moist limited manner, will be the final nail on the tiger's coffin.
A shy monkey discovered (October Week 4 (2005)) Itanagar: Macaca munzala, a new monkey species, has been found in western Arunachal Pradesh, reports The Hindu. Located at the junction of the eastern Himalayas and the India-Burma border, the region is one of the world's 25 global biodiversity hotspots.
According to a joint survey report prepared by C. Mishra, A. Datta and M.D. Madhusudan, Macaca munzala, locally called the Arunachal macaque, shares morphological characteristics independently with the Assamese macaque and the Tibetan macaque. It apparently belongs to the Sinica species-group of the genus. It is distinctive in relative tail length.
Budda Nullah high on toxic metals (October Week 4 (2005)) Notwithstanding the claims of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) that all Industrial units in Ludhiana are treating industrial waste, effluents, including lethal heavy metals like lead, nickel, cadmium and chromium, are finding their way into the Budda nullah and underground water, reports The Tribune.
The industrial units are allegedly dumping toxic elements directly into underground water through pits dug up illegally.
A fresh study by a team led by Dr Mukand Singh Brar, a Professor in the Department of Soils, PAU, stated that a high concentration of toxic metals was present in tubewell as well as handpump water samples taken from areas adjoining the Budda nullah.
A previous study showed that the nullah was almost clean till Dhanasu village where it enters the city. After that the presence of heavy metals shoots up by over hundreds times.
The presence of heavy metals in high concentration in the underground water has become a cause of alarm for city residents as the metals are known to cause cancer. Lead cause toxicity in humans and animals.
The nullah eventually falls into the Sutlej. The water of the river is used for drinking purposes in the Abohar — Fazilka belt and in Rajasthan.
The highly polluted air consisting of poisonous fumes and fly ash in this industrial city is reported to have caused tuberculosis to over 10,000 patients, according to an estimate of the TB Eradication Society, Ludhiana. The concentration of patients is more along the nullah.
The effluents were also resulting in high concentration of toxic metals in vegetables grown alongside the nullah and those irrigated with its water.
According to the study, the concentration of lead, chromium, cadmium and nickel in sewage contaminated water was 20, 118, 13 and 186 times higher, respectively, than the permissible limits in handpump water being recharged by the nullah.
Shockingly, in the underground water, the concentration of these metals was 21, 133, 280 and 300 times higher, respectively, than the permissible limits.
Similarly, the concentration of these metals in crops irrigated with this water was 4.88, 3.95, 0.25 and 3.68 mg per kg.
The study further points out that the nullah could be a boon for agriculture if only domestic waste, high in nutrients, was allowed to flow into it and industrial waste was completely banned.
The study suggests segregation of industrial and domestic waste as the only measure for saving the nullah.
The departments concerned seem content to be waiting for the completion of the Sutlej action plan which requires installation of sewerage treatment plants at key places along the nullah and the Sutlej this may take years.
The PPCB secretary, Mr Malwinder Singh, said the industrial units in the city had installed treatment plants as per reports reaching him. He, however, admitted that it was possible that some industrialists might not be using the treatment plants regularly to save money.
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