Press on Environment and Wildlife
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.
G-8 Summit (Issue of the week, July Week 2 (2005))

The G-8 Summit held in Scotland last week was fraught with many ups and downs. Following is a brief review of what transpired –

Angry radical protesters which included youth groups, peace protesters, anti-capitalists, anarchists, anti-globalization campaigners and environmental activists fought running battles with the police as leaders of the world's richest nations gathered in the Gleneagles estate, in Scotland, the G-8 summit. The dominant theme of the three-day summit was alleviation of poverty from Africa and climate change. Despite one of the biggest security operations, violence erupted as activists of "anarchist'' groups attacked shops and businesses they regarded as "symbols'' of unbridled globalization. Several protesters and police officers were injured, and a number of arrests were made. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is hosting the gathering and has pushed Africa to the top of the agenda, faced accusations of exploiting the issue of poverty in Africa to improve his international image battered by the events in Iraq. At the same time Iraq war allies US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair found themselves advocating rival positions. Bush defended his handling of Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. He sought less aid for Africa than Blair wanted, and leveled renewed criticism at the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Bush also said he recognized that human activity had contributed to climate change - a concession from an earlier position that the jury was still out on such a connection. But he stood by his rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, calling instead for more cooperation on cleaner fuels. ``Kyoto didn't work for the United States and it frankly didn't work for the world. The reason it didn't work for the world was that developing nations weren't included,'' Bush said. The United States is the only G-8 member not to ratify the agreement, which took effect in February. Bush shows no signs of budging from his view that it would harm the world economy to force cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration wants voluntary reductions, incentives for alternative fuels such as ethanol, and nuclear power and conservation.

Then as the summit started the news of the London bomb blasts came through forcing Mr. Blair to leave the Summit and return to London. Meanwhile, the governments of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa held their mini-summit at Gleneagles and came up with an interesting enough Joint Declaration. It called for providing "a greater voice to developing countries in U.N. decision-making," promoting "multilateralism," enhancing North-South cooperation, and a renewed commitment to "sustainable development and the harnessing of the benefits of globalization for all." It also reaffirmed "the role of South-South cooperation in the context of multilateralism" and committed the five large developing countries to "close coordination and cooperation to meet the challenges arising from globalization, and to promote the common interest of developing countries by striving to more effectively bring together our priorities and international engagement strategies." While the issues of mass hunger and poverty in the developing world at large did not get anything like the focus African poverty has got in the Summit and in the run-up to it, it raised trade issues connected with barriers to products and services of interest to developing countries and spotlighted the "fundamental requirement" of achieving "substantive progress, by the end of July 2005, regarding agricultural negotiations, access to non-agricultural markets, services, trade facilitation and rules." It demanded a reduction in "trade-distorting" domestic support for agriculture in developed countries, and an end to all forms of export subsidies by a date to be agreed. On the gamut of issues relating to climate change, the Joint Declaration highlighted the key point that the international regime represented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol rest on "the differentiation of obligations among Parties," according to "the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of States," namely the developed as distinct from the developing countries. It will be tough sailing for the informally banded group of five in a world where the Bush administration, and like-minded developed country governments, refuse to accept any such dictum.

India’s stand-

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a strong pitch at the G8 summit for converting environmentally clean technologies into a “public good” — to be shared without the restrictions of the Intellectual Property Rights regime. He said technology was available today for eradicating poverty, ill health and protecting the environment but unless “proper mechanisms” were developed, the benefits would not reach the developing countries. Clean energy technologies that would prevent global warming by not generating greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide needed to be shared, Singh said. For this, he argued, the international community needed to address the issues relating to intellectual property rights, find new financing mechanisms for spreading the use of new clean energy technologies in the developing world and collaborative international research in environmentally sustainable technologies on the same scale as was done in the field of agriculture in the 60s. He has reiterated that the G8’s action plan on the environment must not come at the cost of development. But he has much more clearly articulated the core value that the G8 should take into consideration. It would be tragic if the G8 were to enact measures that made it difficult for millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty. At a very abstract level, it is easy to pronounce that the care of the environment and reduction in poverty can go together. But the concrete measures that are often proposed in the name of protecting the environment have repercussions for developing countries. These measures diminish their comparative cost advantages and often act as a non-tariff barrier against greater exports. The implication of the prime minister’s intervention is to direct our attention to the concrete costs and benefits of specific measures. He has taken a leadership role is asserting that developing countries will make these trade-offs on their own terms. But the other implication of the prime minister’s stance is that mere development alone cannot be a paramount value in judging the impact of environmental measures. The argument about development is often used indiscriminately to block any sane discussion on the environment. But development as an argument is justified only if its relation with poverty reduction is made clear. This stance is also consistent with some of the other demands India has put forward — like the relaxation of intellectual property rights in the case of specified new technologies and the dissemination of affordable technology. In each of the cases the core value of reducing poverty is paramount. In fact by stressing poverty reduction, the prime minister has cut through some of the polarities that have marked recent debates. The choice between developing versus developed countries, environment versus growth, intellectual property rights versus a regime without such rights, big versus small technology, is simply a false choice. The issue is simply which elements of these different positions will help the poor and which won’t. But to be swayed by a dogmatic allegiance to one side of the argument will almost certainly not help the poor.

Cheap solar power for villages (July Week 2 (2005))

For as low as Rs 10 a day, a villager can avail of solar power in his home, an amount that he pays a grameen bank for financing his solar power system. And it is such innovative financing that has led Bangalore-based Solar Electric Company or SELCO to win the Rs 24 lakh 'Green Oscar' award this year. SELCO managing director and co-founder H. Harish Hande is one of three Indians to win the prestigious award (actually known as the Ashden award) for his company’s mission: alleviating poverty through sustainable energy technologies. SELCO operates in places such as Sirsi, Bidar, Gulbarga and Kumta. It sells all-in-one power systems that can, depending on the requirement, electrify one bulb (meaning one room) to four bulbs. Fans and television sets can also be 'powered' if the villagers can afford them. Costs range from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. "So far, we have installed 42,000 such systems," Hande is reported to have said. “The system improves income levels too. Villagers save money on kerosene and women make more money because they can work for longer hours," he explained. SELCO plans to reach 1.38 lakh households in rural Karnataka by 2010.

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