Friday, June 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Time to tackle freshwater crisis

Juhi Bakhshi’s article on the freshwater crisis (May 31) was quite informative. However, I would like to add a little more to the information provided.

Hardly 10 per cent of all freshwater used is for domestic purposes. Of all freshwater used by humankind, a staggering 70 per cent is used for irrigation. Almost a third of this is lost to evaporation and seepage. And by far the thirstiest crop of all is rice, which consumes absurdly large amounts of water when you compare its nutritive value to far less thirsty cereal crops like wheat.

Hopefully, genetic engineering may be able to reduce rice’s thirst in new GM varieties. Relatively simple technologies like drip irrigation, which can effect massive reductions in agricultural freshwater use, are simply not being promoted well enough by the world’s governments. Instead, irrational subsidisation of electricity for agriculture, mainly due to short-term vote-bank politics, is promoting accelerated depletion of groundwater the world over.

Interestingly for us in India, a recent study by Jianguo Liu of the Michigan State University shows that the break-up of the joint family system has an adverse effect on the environment, including on freshwater conservation. As families break up into smaller, independent nuclear units and start living in separate houses, their freshwater consumption shoots up. This phenomenon is being witnessed even in countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. where the population is actually declining.


Despite the gradual worldwide acceptance of the fact that we face a catastrophic freshwater crisis in the near future, many water experts are of the view that we are possibly already too late to halt the rapid despoliation of our water resources. In the long run, probably the only thing that can turn things around is that Holy Grail of cheap, abundant, non-polluting energy: thermonuclear power. Only thermonuclear reactors, using the enormous hydrogen reserves in the oceans to produce virtually limitless power, and giving off inert helium as the only “smoke”, can provide energy for massive seawater desalination plants.

However, researchers say they are still at least four decades away from viable fusion reactors of this size. (Of course, if Arthur C. Clarke has predicted correctly again, we could all have our own personal thermonuclear power plants, courtesy the still discredited “coldfusion”, within a few years!) So far, the only desalination plants of any consequence exist in the oil-rich Persian Gulf emirates and kingdoms, consuming vast amounts of petroleum to produce pure water from seawater. As any visitor to Dubai will know, all the water in the Wild Wadi Water Park is desalinated.

N.S. Dhami, Ludhiana

Ill-mannered toll collectors

Apropos of the letter “Road tax for Army, not for cops” (May 31), it is very easy to find an answer to this. In our civil life, an ordinary policeman commands a lot of respect out of fear. A Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) is indeed a very big man. He can give a big “danda” to the persons on duty at the toll plazas on the highway. He can fix his boss also if he so desires and that too without any reason. And this fact is known to all on duty there.

In sharp contrast, what can an army officer do? A big nothing. Even if he is in uniform and is proceeding to some place on duty, he will dish out toll charges because he would not like to argue with toll collectors. Most of the toll collectors on duty have never known a thing called politeness or good manners. Better avoid any argument and just pay the toll charges. Long live our ill-mannered police and long live our corrupt system!

Sarabjit Singh, Ambala Cantonment

Jaya’s sycophants

Apropos of the editorial “Amma’s tantrums” (May 6), it doesn’t behove a seasoned politician like Ms Jayalalithaa to behave in an unpleasant manner. Her style of functioning exposes her ruthlessness. She represents the class of leaders who shoulder little responsibility. Ms Jayalalithaa encourages sycophancy both in the party and in the government. The result: ministers and officials in Tamil Nadu are all sycophants. They should at least behave so for their individual survival. Otherwise, Amma will throw them out!

If Ms Jayalalithaa wants fame and pride, she cannot become a successful leader. She has to change her style of functioning. It is a pity that our leaders are tactful enough to fool the masses by making empty promises. This may be a bitter pill to swallow. But this is the truth.

Shivani Chaudhary, Mahadev (Mandi)

Why rush into CAS?

This refers to the editorial “Over the top” (May 31). It is a matter of concern that our Information and Broadcasting Minister is insisting on implementing the Conditional Access System (CAS) for viewers in four metros which would force them to go in for Set Top Box for TV sets at an exorbitant price. Moreover, monthly bills, instead of going down, would inflate and we shall have to pay more. It is unwise on the part of the government to rush into the scheme which can create chaos. There is need for a rethinking on the part of the government on this controversial issue.

Can the poor sections of society living in jhuggi-jhopri clusters afford such a luxury? Why is the government in such a hurry for an obsolete technology and why cannot we wait for DTH (Direct to Home) transmission system where there will be no need for middle men?

It is difficult to imagine why the government is bent on burdening the country with crores of foreign exchange on these sets? Why to fitter away time, money and energy on such trivial matters which are not the basic issues to be addressed? On the face of it, the CAS, as envisaged, appears to be unviable and illogical. It can result in a fiasco.

Prof K.L.Batra, Yamunanagar

A superficial view

The editorial “Rein in returning officers” (May 10) is right in so far as it criticises the Returning Officer responsible for lapses in the election to the Safidon Assembly constituency which has been set aside by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. I feel that there should be a stringent punishment for such erring officers.

However, the editorial has taken only a superficial view of the things while being oversympathetic towards Mr Ram Phal Kundu, the legislator who has been unseated by the court. “Why should Mr Kundu, who was duly elected by the people, be made to suffer because of the wrong action on the part of the Returning Officer,” asks the editorial.

The point which the editorial overlooks is that Mr Kundu might have become a beneficiary of the wrong decision taken by the Returning Officer. What is the guarantee that Mr Kundu would have won had Mr Kamal Nath, the Congress candidate whose nomination papers were wrongly rejected, remained in the fray? Was it not possible that Mr Kamal Nath would have won or his presence in the fray would have changed the equations in favour of some third candidate?

Surendra Miglani, Kaithal


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