Polluted Palar

Print edition : October 23, 1999

"Along the polluted Palar" (October 8, 1999) rightly stated that apart from highly toxic effluents, tanneries generate sludge, which also causes environmental pollution.

The monograph, "Treatment Technology of Tannery Effluents," prepared by S. Rajamani, W. Madhavakrishna and G. Thiagarajan of the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Chennai, which was referred to in M.C. Mehta Vs Union of India and Others, stated: "In the case of chrome tannery waste, the dried sludge should be buried or disposed of suitably as per the directions of regulatory agencies in local bodies." Dr. G. Thiagarajan, who later became the Director of the CLRI, stated that there was no viable method by which tannery sludge can be disposed of without causing health hazards.

In connection with the writ petition filed by the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, the Supreme Court referred to the report of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Centre (TNAURC) in Vellore (now at Virincheepuram), dated March 6, 1992. The TNA URC had observed: "The preliminary survey of tannery pollution has revealed that nearly 35,000 to 40,000 hectares of valuable agricultural land have become partially or totally unfit for cultivation." A similar point has been made by the author of the ar ticle. The TNAURC had also stated: "The people in the tannery belt are found to suffer from skin rashes, diarrhoea and heaviness of head." It added that tannery effluents "cause abortion in cattle".

In the light of such evidence, the question is whether we need the leather industry at all. It is pointed out in the article that the leather industry fetches Rs.2,000 crores in foreign exchange. But at what cost? In its judgment in the case filed by our forum, the Supreme Court observes: "Though the leather industry is of vital importance to the country as it generates foreign exchange and provides employment avenues, it has no right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment and pose a health haz ard. It cannot be permitted to expand or even to continue with the present production unless it tackles by itself the problem of pollution caused by the said industry."

I do not agree with the author's view that pollution in the State has been checked to a great extent with the help of the effluent treatment plants.

P.S. Subrahmanian Honorary Secretary, Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum

* * *

The tanneries may have spent crores of rupees to show the government and society that they are serious about treating effluents. However, many effluent treatment systems currently in use are faulty and do not meet the norms laid down by the pollution con trol boards (PCBs).

A new type of effluent treatment system can be used for tanneries and dyeing units that are clustered in one place. The basic aim of the design is to solidify and burn the contaminants. In the first stage, the effluent is collected in a tank. Then saw du st, agricultural waste, paper waste and municipal waste - 5 to 10 per cent - are added to it. These biodegradable materials absorb many chemical contents such as salts, colours and impurities.

In the third stage the solids are removed by centrifuging, dried and pelletised for use in boilers or to be burnt.

The effluent is then drained and filtered further with a micro filter in order to remove the remaining solids.

In the next stage, the effluent is treated with activated carbon to remove colour and odour. In the last stage it is subjected to a process of reverse osmosis in order to remove dissolved salts. After this the waste water can be disposed of safely.

This ETP unit can be operated independently by qualified technicians. Investment and operational cost can be levied from the tanneries that use it.

D. Anandaraj Coimbatore

Vikram Sarabhai

It is said that adversities bring out the best in a person. The same seems to be true of a nation as well. For more than a century, our country remained under British rule. From being a rich and prosperous nation, it descended to total financial and econ omic ruin owing to the exploitative policies of the foreign rulers. In was under these circumstances that men like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel emerged.

Nehru, who went on to become the maker of modern India, orchestrated the scientific and technological revolution of the country. He was lucky to have people like J. Homi Bhabha, C.V. Raman, J.R.D. Tata and Vikram Sarabhai by his side. While Bhabha became the founder of the country's atomic energy programme, Vikram Sarabhai contributed uniquely to the field of space science.

Dr. Sarabhai, scion of a well-known industrial family and a man of style, became a cult figure. His contribution to the nation included the Physical Research Laboratory and the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and Uranium Corporation of India Ltd at Jaduguda.

In addition, as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Science and Technology, he contributed to the all-round development of atomic energy and space programmes.

Like his predecessor Homi Bhabha, Sarabhai too died early. India needs someone as charismatic, talented and dedicated as Bhabha and Sarabhai.

Your magazine's tribute to Sarabhai ("Remembering Vikram Sarabhai", Frontline, October 8, 1999) was most appropriate.

Amitabh Thakur Superintendent of Police Deoria, Uttar Pradesh

Healthcare and education The September 24 issue of Frontline had good coverage of the state of Indian politics. But it deserves special compliments for carrying a feature on healthcare and education in Karnataka.

Health and education form the backbone of society, and the main reason for India's increasingly poor performance in the social, economic and political spheres is that these areas have been neglected and the media have failed to highlight these issues.

Some of the articles that appear in Frontline on the political scene reflect the intensive study and research that the magazine does. "A Kargil election?" and "Slander campaign" (Frontline, September 24, 1999) deserve special mention.

Dr. Vinay Prasad Sahu Imphal

Kargil and the Falklands It is not quite correct to say that Margaret Thatcher won the 1983 general elections in the U.K. because of the successful war against Argentina over the Falklands ("A Kargil Election", Frontline, September 24, 1999).

Rather more important was the fact that there had been a breakaway party from Labour - the Social Democratic Party. Many Labour MPs defected to this party and it entered into an alliance with the Liberals, a so-called centrist party. At the same time, th e Labour Party lurched dramatically to the left - its manifesto has been described as the "longest suicide note in history" - and proposed withdrawal from the European Union. These two factors were much more important than Kargil.

The implications for progressive forces in India are actually good. Kargil, or a rattling of the jingoistic military drum, are less important than unity and credible, coherent policies.

Stirling Smith Bolton, England

Army's views

In ''Changing strategies'' (September 10), Praveen Swami has brought to fore certain aspects of the concept paper on ''Management of Internal Conflict'' that has been prepared by the Army Training Command, or ARTRAC, as known in defence circles. They do sound logical at times, when he tries to throw light on the so-called biased and lopsided view of the Army on solving or managing its burning internal conflict. Neverthless, given the present state of affairs in the country, be it in Jammu and Kashmir or in the northeastern States, it is high time that we stopped countering somthing that is constructive and innovative and that might go a long way in helping solve crises. The article seems to be reactionary and it appears that the author, like the Gov ernment, seconds status quo policies and discourages any meanigful step to solve the crisis.

The paper, as presented by ARTRAC, does warrant a serious thought by the Establishment since it brings out the problem as seen through the eyes of the armed forces. As has been seen by us, the price of the proxy war as also of various ''Kargils'' is app arently going to be borne by the Army in terms of men and machines.

The feature gives no weightage to the views of the organisation that ultimately faces the immediate consequences of the proxy war. How can we expect our soldiers to tick unless the Government gives an ear to what they say and take steps that will have th eir acceptance in letter and spirit?

Seeing the Army's views in the correct perspective - rather than just use the men in uniform as ''cannon fodder'' for insurgents, militants and infiltrators - would be an appreciative step on the part of the Government and our intelligentsia.

Malathi Ranjan Purnea, Bihar

Correction: In the article titled "Somanatha and Mahmud" by Romila Thapar published in the April 23, 1999 issue of Frontline, end-note no. 38 should read as follows: R.H. Davis, Lives of Indian Images, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1997, p. 93.>(110) Against secular NGOs I am writing in response to an item which has appeared in several newspapers, including The Asian Age (Rezaul H. Laskar), regarding a series of "show cause" notices which have apparently been issued to several prominent non-governmental organisat ions (NGOs). The Asian Age report, titled "Home Ministry singles out anti-BJP NGOs", lists some of the best known and most active groups - groups that have been working for over three decades in fields covering the most critical areas of social de velopment, including education, health, gender issues, rural development, tribal development, and Dalit and human rights issues across the country.

I as a founder-director of Ankur, one of the several groups that have chosen to associate themselves with the advertisement campaign initiated by Communalism Combat, and we as citizens who have always appreciated the democratic space provided by our Cons titution and our polity, view with alarm and concern the present actions, which point to increasingly unhealthy trends to harass, choke and silence all dissent and the right to freedom of expression. The dark days of the Emergency apart, there are few pr ecedents to this kind of action to stifle the voice of civil society. Whether it was in the post-1984 riots period or the post-Babri Masjid demolition period, the right of citizens' groups and NGOs to exercise their "watchdog" role was never in question or under assault as it is today.

It is important to analyse and open up to public debate the notion of what constitutes "political activities" and who has the right to decide and determine these definitions in an allegedly open and democratic society. Here again, the role of the organs of the state in defining and determining the parameters of "patriotism", of "nationalism", and now of "political activity", must be subject to scrutiny and widespread critique.

It is not only the prerogative but the duty of civil society organisations - the globally accepted terminology for a range of organisations and groups, including NGOs - to provide information and facts and to create awareness among and educate the publ ic. Most of us joined social movements precisely to be better able to reach out to the unreached, oppressed and exploited masses through education and other programmes, and with a clear, overtly stated objective of empowering people who had been denied a ll access to human rights through oppressive, systemic, social, economic and political structures.

The role of NGOs and CSOs in bringing about a universal recognition for the language of people's empowerment is well accepted today by groups and institutions across a wide spectrum.

In a country which pioneered and spearheaded structural and constitutional changes by way of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in order to enable the practice of grassroots democracy, and in a land which takes pride in calling itself the " largest democracy in the world", it is appalling to see the highhanded use of power and authority to curb and limit precisely these voices and institutions of democratic participation and opinion. This is the sure path to fascism - and it is up to every right-thinking Indian to speak out against the actions of the Home Ministry (if these are true) and to stand up for the freedom and the right to form and propagate opinions. Quoting Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) provisions and other interpretati ons of the laws governing social institutions as grounds for such action is nothing short of harassment and should be condemned without hesitation.

Lalita Ramdas, Alibag, Maharashtra, Sagari Ramdas, Madhusudhan, Usha, Asha, Pandu Dorai, Secunderabad

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