Press on Environment and Wildlife
Bamboo shoots trouble in Kerala (July Week 4 (2005)) Kerala is inching towards yet another environmental hazard as wild bamboo varieties have started blooming simultaneously in almost all forest tracts. This rare phenomenon is being witnessed after a long gap of 48 years. Large-scale flowering of different varieties of bamboosa bamboo is already being reported from Attapady, Ponmudi, Iravikulam, Pathanamthitta, Kothamangalam, Malayattoor, Wayanad, Idukki, Palakkad, Kasargod and the eastern parts of Kozhikode. Blooming and bearing fruit will mark the culmination of the life cycle of bamboo and after this phenomenon no bamboo forest will be left in the State. Hard days are also ahead for the adivasis and poor farmers who depend on bamboo for their livelihood. Wild animals too would be at risk. According to K K Seethalakshmi of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, it would take at least eight years of sustained revitalisation efforts to bring the bamboo forests back to their old glory. A total destruction of bamboo forests would force animals to move out in search of fodder and refuge, ultimately resulting in recurring human-wildlife conflicts. It would also render hundreds of low-income families engaged in various bamboo products jobless. The situation would badly affect the functioning of Kerala Bamboo Corporation and its products like Bamboo Plywood. Experts also warn that after the bamboo fruits are fully utilised, the rodents would turn to the nearby farms. Such a situation would land the marginal agricultural families living close to forests in near-starvation. “Nobody can prevent the blooming of bamboo. But we can regenerate them in the same localities. Only a systematic effort can dilute the adverse impacts,” says Seethalakshmi. However, the Forest Department is yet to develop any kind of strategy for replanting bamboo. The Department is also clueless about the problems which would be created by the dead bamboo in future as it would easily catch fire. It also has no idea on controlling the various pests that eat the new bamboo shoots.
Tiger population decline in Madhya Pradesh (July Week 4 (2005)) The latest tiger census figures show that the tiger population in the National Parks and Sanctuaries of Madhya Pradesh is 394 as against last year's 416. The difference between the two tiger census figures has put the State forest authorities in a tight corner. The question now doing the rounds is whether the last census figures were fudged and bloated or whether there has been a sharp decline in the population of tigers in the Protected Areas of the State. The official tiger census figures released last weekend show that there are 394 tigers in the Protected Areas of Madhya Pradesh. Last year's census had put the number of tigers in the same area as 416. The State Chief Wildlife Warden, Mr. Gangopadhayay said (Hindu, Monday, July 18, 2005) after last year's census, it was declared that there were six tigers in the Rani Durgawati Sanctuary and seven tigers in the Palpurkuno Sanctuary. The current census has revealed that there is not even a single tiger in these sanctuaries. The other forest officials also expressed concern over the decrease in the number of tigers in the State. There is a common view in forest circles here that the rapid fragmentation of habitat is a major danger when it comes to the survival of tigers.
Country’s first eco-friendly housing complex (July Week 4 (2005)) Kolkata will soon have country's first environmental friendly housing complex. A pilot project would build 25 houses of 1800 sq ft costing between Rs 38 and 40 lakh each. "The complex will be having 25 houses and one community centre. The unique feature of the complex is that all the houses will be eco friendly, energy efficient. They will generate their own solar power which will be integral part of the building itself. That is the uniqueness of the project," said Dr S P Ganchaudhury, Director, West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Authority (WBREDA) (Hindustan Times, Monday, July 18, 2005). The two storeyed buildings fitted with two kilowatt integrated solar photovoltaic systems, will ensure that power bills are almost halved. The housing complex would receive power from the West Bengal State Electricity Board and generation from the solar system would be transmitted to the grid. The interactive system will enable owners of the houses to sell off their extra electricity to the WBSEB and that will be adjusted in the electricity bills. The building itself will have solar passive architectural concept.and will generally be cool during the summer time and hot and more comfortable during the winters. Dr Ganchaudhury further added, "In many cities, cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, if 50 per cent of the people go for this type of thing, they can generate 500 to 600 mega watts of power in their roof. Of course this is the initial stage but I am sure that it will have a definite impact and in future lot of people will consider this type of energy generation or this type of building so that they will generate clean energy and at the same time they will do some energy business also. So that will be a unique thing and will create an impact on the society, the whole country itself." Also, an eco-friendly battery power bus would connect the complex to the metropolis. The project cost is estimated at Rs 5 crore with WBREDA providing the land. Work would commence from September and the project was expected to be completed by December 2006.
A solution to biomedical waste disposal (July Week 4 (2005)) An innovative plant that can manage biomedical waste in hospitals safely and cheaply has been developed by a team from the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). It is an alternative to the incinerator and the deep-burial method followed in India, which are not recommended by the Stockholm Convention of 2002 and need to be phased out. Bio-reactors that combine engineering concepts and microbial intervention to reduce anatomical wastes quickly into liquid form makes treating of biomedical wastes easy and safe, said Dr AK Sabhapathy (The Pioneer, Monday, July 18, 2005), Patron of Qualified Private Medical Practioners Association (QPMPA). The research, financed by the QPMPA of Kerala, has successfully conducted trials in 14 hospitals across Kerala after developing a prototype and the results have proved that the method is quite effective and easy to operate. Highly hazardous and infectious biomedical waste comprising contaminated needles, human anatomical waste, waste from culture and laboratory, body fluids, plasters, discarded medicines, cotton and dressings continue to be dumped in the backyard of the hospitals. As a result of the absence of a waste management system, the unsegregated waste is piled in the hospital campus and thrown recklessly at the dumping sites, where the highly infectious medical waste gets mixed up with the domestic waste and makes the entire dump yard a hotbed of diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Leptospira, skin problems and allergies. According to QPMPA, a single bed in a hospital generates 1.1 kilogram of solid waste daily, of which only 10 per cent is infective. 150 millilitre of liquid waste is also generated per bed. Interestingly, most of the hospitals in India don't have any system for disposal of the biomedical waste. "The new system is also economical and the management of waste is done inside the hospital that reduces the danger from transportation," Dr Sabhapathy said. The four-stage plant costs only Rs 1.25 lakh and negligible expenses are needed to maintain the plant, he said. Emissions and effluent water from the plants were tested in laboratories and found to be well below the unsafe level. After approval from the Pollution Control Board, the plant and the technology would be patented. The Pollution Control Board insists on individual incinerators or common incinerator facility, which is highly dangerous for a densely populated State, Dr Sabhapathy said. Incineration is a dying technology and as a waste treatment technology, it is unreliable and produces a secondary waste stream more dangerous than the original. Individual incinerators in hospitals would cost Rs 14,00,000 and the daily expense would come close to Rs 400. Due to the cost factor, hospitals with a capacity of more than 200 beds only install the facility leaving the rest to contaminate the land, he said. Common incinerators also pose a threat as the waste needs to be transported and it may be a risk in Indian conditions. Deep burial is natural, but reports also show that in places with high rains and rising groundwater level, there is possibility of leaching leading to spread of disease agents.
US recognizes India as a nuclear power state (July Week 4 (2005)) The US has decided to treat India at par with recognised nuclear weapon states and accord it all their "benefits and advantages". This includes nuclear fuel supplies for safeguarded civilian nuclear reactors at Tarapore. US President George Bush will work to remove Congressional constraints that stand in the way of American supplies of nuclear fuel and dual use technology to India. He will also work with other recognised nuclear power countries towards this end. In turn, India has "reciprocally" agreed to assume "responsibilities and practices" of leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, like the US, including voluntarily placing its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, continuing unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests and adherence, among other things, to Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers' Group guidelines. The path-breaking decisions that signify radical shifts in American and Indian nuclear policies are contained in the India-US joint statement issued after a summit level meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush in the White House last week. The joint statement, which took nearly five hours to hammer out, says: "President Bush conveyed his appreciation to the Prime Minister over India's strong commitment to preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and stated that as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states." Mr Bush told Mr Singh that he "will work to achieve full civil nuclear cooperation with India as it realises its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security". Since Congressional approval is crucial to implement US nuclear supplies, "the President would also seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws and policies, and the US will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India, including but not limited to expeditious consideration of fuel supplies for safeguarded nuclear reactors at Tarapore. In the meantime, the US will encourage its partners to also consider this request expeditiously. According to the joint statement, "India has expressed its interests in ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and willingness to contribute. The US will consult its partners considering India's participation".
Soft Drink companies in trouble again (July Week 4 (2005)) Pepsi and Coca-Cola are in the dock again, not only in India but back home in the US too. While in India, the beverage majors are preparing to fight the August 3 deadline of complying with the Rajasthan High Court ruling of having to disclose the contents including the level of pesticides on the product label, in the US a call for putting a cigarette-like statutory warning on soft drinks has put the beverage industry in a tight spot. In a situation akin to India, a consumer group called Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a petition last week with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA, demanding that companies post health notices on soft drinks highlighting the harmful effects of high calorie sweeteners. Suggested warnings by CSPI include: “US Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay, and other health problems” and “To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water”. The issue has triggered a debate within the soft drink industry with the American Beverage Association (ABA), the trade association representing the beverage giants in the country, posting a strong statement in its website. Terming the CSPI call a shallow gesture, ABA president and CEO Susan Neely said it defied common sense and consumer sensibility. Meanwhile, in India, both Pepsico India and Coca-Cola India are currently in closed door meetings to decide on the future legal course on the label. Whether the companies will again get away clean remains to be seen.
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