Press on Environment and Wildlife
High fluoride levels in groundwater of Guwahati (August Week 2 (2005)) A study carried out by a research group has revealed high levels of fluoride in the groundwater of certain localities of Guwahati. There is a strong possibility that unless appropriate action is taken, a large number of people would be exposed to serious heath risks. It is a well-established fact that fluoride in drinking water can have toxic effects. While excess fluoride could lead to dental or skeletal fluorosis, lack of fluoride may also cause health problems. “High fluoride concentration has been found in the southeastern plains of the city. The eastern part of the southeastern plains was found to have highest fluoride concentration,” it was noted in the paper ‘Hydrogeochemical study of ground water fluoride contamination: A case study from Guwahati city, India,’ published in the Asian Journal of Water, Environment and Pollution. The final results of the study underlined the fact that fluoride concentration peaked in the foothills and followed a decreasing trend away from the hills. At places the concentration of fluoride was as high as 10 mg/liter. A survey conducted by the researchers sought to ascertain the presence of any industrial activity releasing significant amount of fluoride as industrial waste. However, such sources were found to be absent. Referring to the methodology adopted in the study, a member of the research group told The Assam Tribune that more than forty samples were obtained from the localities, which include Bamunimaidan, Basisthapur, Birkuchi, Bonda, Chandmari, Matgharia and Noonmati. The samples were analyzed for fluoride content in an environmental lab by SPADANS method. For further verification, the samples were retested in an ion selective electrode system. The test results matched each other. Their findings have led the researchers to suggest that the potability of ground water having high fluoride content should be tested. They favor the Brahmaputra as a better source of urban water supply than fluoride-contaminated ground water. As a practical measure, they have recommended identifying water sources having fluoride content beyond the permissible limit and posting warning signs on such sites.
CZA asked to place six endangered species on high-priority list (August Week 2 (2005)) The ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has asked the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) to fund the infrastructure for preserving, researching and monitoring six prioritized endangered species. Worried over fast-declining population of snow leopard, red panda, lion-tailed macaque, western tragopan, pygmy hog and Asiatic Lion, the ministry’s committee on wildlife conservation also wants to implement the ongoing planned Conservation Breeding Programmers (PCBPS) in phased manner. The Chairman of the 10-year-olld technical committee is R P Katwal, Director of wildlife preservation. Its five members are J R Singh, MoEF’s internal finance director, P R Sinha, former CZA member- secretary and currently chief of the wildlife institute of India (WII), L N Acharya, a retired veteran in veterinary sciences, S K Patnaik, a retired additional chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden, and S C Sharma, a former CZA member-secretary. The committee has asked Dehra Dun-based WII to maintain the studbooks for the programme. The CZA is also looking forward to a natural population growth of these or similar endangered animals. That of course is the ultimate aim of the captive program as well.
Extinct snake species rediscovered! (August Week 2 (2005)) Sometimes, the dead come back to life. In one of those rare feel good stories in conservation, a species of snake believed to be extinct since nearly a hundred years has been rediscovered in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. The Indian egg-eater, Elachistodon westermanni was last recorded in 1913 in India before it entered the annals of history. Then in 2003, Parag Dandge found a dead snake, partially eaten by ants, a few yards from his backyard in Vardha. It would easily have been looked over, but for the fact that Dandge is a volunteer snake-rescuer and found this specimen to be unusual, something he had never seen before. It took him over two years - and a lot of research - to arrive at the conclusion that this was the once-extinct Indian egg Eater. Dandge sent pictures of the snake to the Center for Herpetology, Chennai, Bombay Natural History Society and the Indian Herpetological Society, Pune. Further collaboration with a team of taxonomists from India and Germany resulted in it being identified as the Indian egg-eater. Fewer than ten specimens of this species have ever been found, leading several authorities to believe that the snake was extinct. Besides India (Bihar, West Bengal and Uttaranchal), there are old records of the Indian egg-eater from Nepal and Bangladesh, which is considered to be snake's original range. Strangely, the snake has now been rediscovered, about 900 kms south-west of its known range.
Recycled surgical gloves being circulated in Punjab (August Week 2 (2005)) Discarded by hospitals, dispensaries and even nursing homes, used surgical gloves are reportedly finding their way back to healthcare institutes in Punjab and other places. If patients turn into victims in the process, nobody is apparently bothered about it. A survey of the junk markets in Chandigarh and neighboring villages reveals “operation recycle” to be an organized activity. The gloves are picked up by scavengers from outside the healthcare institutes before being sold to junk dealers in and around the city. From there, these are purchased for a paltry sum of Rs 5 per kg by “unscrupulous agents” for onward transmission to the “manufacturers” involved in the process of recycling the gloves. In fact, the used gloves — some of these stained with dry blood — are packed in sacks before being loaded in mini-trucks for the national Capital and other cities. Almost all junk dealers involved in the activity are ignorant of the fact that they, along with the patients, are also exposing themselves to health hazards by handling the disposed of gloves with bare hands. And the dealers insist there is nothing to worry about. “We have been doing this for years” — their argument is simple, yet forceful. Though they claim that the gloves are melted and moulded into toys and other plastic goods, including dustbins and dustpans, their recycling after washing and drying is an open secret. Only recently, PCMS Association members discovered that “sterile disposable surgical gloves” supplied to various hospitals in the state were certainly not of standard quality. Giving details, the association president, Dr Hardeep Singh, says (The Tribune, 5th August) “a pair of gloves taken from a sealed pouch were neither of the same colour, nor of the same texture”, raising suspicion. Moreover, the size mentioned on the pouch was different from the one specified on the glove. Elaborating on the perilous implications of using recycled gloves, Dr Hardeep Singh says: “It can result in serious infection to a patient already suffering from one problem or the other. In cases, infection can also be fatal. Besides, the rag pickers handling plastic syringes, needles and even gloves can find themselves infected with hepatitis-B, and even HIV”. Seeking action against the suppliers of such gloves, Dr Hardeep Singh says: “The state Health Minister, Mr. R.C. Dogra, should also look into the recycling of gloves, along with syringes and vials, before submitting a detailed report to the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh”.
Tiger task force calls for more scientific methods of tiger count (August Week 2 (2005)) The tiger task force report submitted to PM this week has called for a scientific census to get realistic estimate of the tiger population in India. In fact a new methodology that also uses GIS as one of the tools has been ratified to avoid old census mistakes like attributing the same tiger’s pugmarks to two or three big cats. Once this is done in November the country’s tigers count could fall sharply from the current and allegedly inflated figure of 3600. For instance a recent census in Ranthambore done under watchful eyes of experts revealed that there were about 26 tigers there. The last figure for this world- famous reserve put the count closer to 50. Similarly the official census from 1997 to 2004 showed that Sariska’s tiger populace varied from 27 to 17, while the number of big cats sighted by the filed staff remained between 17 and Zero. The report has called for moving beyond the pugmark count method. Apart from taking India’s tiger count to a healthy 3600 the method has been faulted for not encountering pugmarks to more than one big cat or similar pugmarks of different ones being counted as one. The task force has recommended the use of DNA analysis for the purpose.
Monsoon wrecks havoc in the Parliament (Issue of the week, August Week 1 (2005)) Monsoon seems to have caused disturbance not only on the flood-hit areas but also in the parliament, the most prominent debate being on the issue of inter-linking of the rivers. A report from The Pioneer, July 27th:
The vagaries of monsoon in the country figured prominently on Tuesday, July 26th, in the Rajya Sabha with the members expressing acute dismay over the Indian Meteorological Survey of India's inability to predict it accurately. The short discussion on the prevailing flood or drought in various parts of the country also turned out to be an opportunity for some members to demand expeditious inter-linking of rivers, which, however, was hotly contested by Congress. MP Jairam Ramesh termed the proposed interlinking of the river as ‘the greatest man-made calamity in waiting’. Despite many Congress MPs from the South, too, subscribing to the view that the inter-linking of rivers would put to an end to the recurring problem of flood and drought, Mr. Ramesh asserted that "there could be room for smaller river inter-linking project of the scale of Telgu-Ganga project or the Ken-Betwa project, but a country-wide project of this nature would spell disaster. BJP member from Gujarat Jayanti Lal Barot, while narrating the flood situation in his State suggested that the Central Government should give tsunami-type assistance to flood-hit states. Mr. Karnendu Bhattacharya (Congress) said the flood situation in Assam should be declared a national calamity as the State suffers heavily every year on account of this. He demanded a regular chairman for the Brahmaputra Board which was constituted last year. Moti Lal Sarkar (CPM) wanted to know why "we have not succeeded in tackling the flood situation in a comprehensive way" despite the fact that there are certain areas which are either flood or drought prone. PG Narayanan (AIADMK) said the UPA government was not serious about the rivers-linking project initiated during the NDA regime to tackle the menace. Referring to failure of Karnataka in releasing Cauvery waters, he said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should intervene in the matter. R Chandrasekhar Reddy (TDP) underlined the need to expedite the rivers-linking project which, he said, was kept in cold storage by the UPA government. Subbarami Reddy (Cong) suggested the Government should concentrate on linking of rivers and even earmark a definite budget every year for it.
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