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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The traditional practice of water harvesting in India

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The importance of water for life and environment is being felt since the man appeared on this planet.Hence, water is being harvested in India since the ancient period. The need of conservation and management of water was felt even by the people of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, about 5000 years ago. Here is a historical account of the practice of water conservation in India, after which I will talk about various water harvesting practices and structures that have been traditionally popular in the different parts of this country.

The Archaeological Studies show that India’s Great Rann of Kutch had several reservoirs to collect rain water run off in the extremely dry region of Dholavira, dating back to the 3rd millennium before the Christ. Kautilya’s Arthashashtra that was written in the 3rd century B.C. has a mention of irrigation by rain- harvested water through community participation.The Junagarh Inscriptions dating back to 2nd century A.D. inform us about the restoration of Sudarsana Lake, which is not seen now since 9th century A.D.

The Vijainagar Tradition of Vijainagar Kingdom (1336-1564 A. D.) laid much emphasis on the development of irrigation and water harvesting for the improvement of agriculture. The kings of olden days like Krishnadeo Rai (1509- 1530) etc. emphasized that prosperity of the empire depended on the construction of irrigation channels and water tanks. The Gond Tradition emphasized on the repairs of channels, embankments, distributaries, tanks or Talabs etc. The Rani Talab of Jabal Pur is a glaring example of water harvesting tradition of Gond Tribes. The Bengal Tradition laid emphasis on irrigation with the water collected through rain water harvesting. The Karikala Chola of 2nd century A.D. built a Grand Anicut across the river Cauvery to divert water for irrigation. Raja Bhoj of Bhopal built the largest artificial lake (65,000 acres) in India. That lake was fed by streams and springs. Kalhan in his Raj Tarangini (12 century A.D.) has described a well maintained irrigation system in Kashmir.

In respect of availability and non- availability of water, India can be divided into 15 Ecological regions, ranging from dry, cold desert of Ladakh to the dry hot desert of Rajasthan, from the sub- temperate mountain of the Himalayas to the tropical high mountain of Nilgiri.Melting glaciers and snows are the only sources of water for the people residing in Ladakh region. The people of this region make intelligent use of their limited resources and make agriculture possible in this dry and barren land. The snow and ice melt slowly through the day and water is available in the streams only in the evening, when it is too late for irrigation. The water in the streams is hence led by channels to storage tanks and used the next day. These storage tanks are called as ZING.

The aptani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh practice another system of water conservation. Under this system the stream water is blocked by constructing a wall 2 to 4 m high and 1 m thick near forested hill slopes. This water is taken to the agricultural fields through channels. The valleys are terraced into plots separated by 0.6 m high earthen dams with inlet and outlet channels (to the next plot) that help to flood or drain the plots as and when required. This traditional system is practiced in Nagaland and is traditionaly called as Aptani System of water conservation.

Another tradition of water conservatio is Zabo.The term Zabo means ‘impounding run-off’. Zabo tradition is practiced in Nagaland.When rain falls on terraced hill slopes, the runoff collects in ponds in the middle terrace. The runoff then passes through slopes where there are cattle yards, and finally reaches the paddy fields at the foot of the hills. Thus it is through this system that not only the irrigation of paddy fields is brought about, but the fertility of the crop- field is also improved.

A very popular tradition of water harvesting in the north-eastern India is the Bamboo drip irrigation. Under this system the rapidly flowing water from streams and springs is captured by bamboo pipes and transported over hundreds of meters to drip irrigate black pepper cultivation in Meghalaya. Many bamboo pipes of varying diameters and lengths are laid to manipulate and control the flow of water through this system of water conservation.
Ahar-pyne is a traditional floodwater harvesting system indigenous to South Bihar, and in Palamu of Jharkhand. Here the terrain has a marked slope, the soil is sandy, groundwater levels are low and rivers flood their banks only during the monsoon. The ahar is the catchment basin embanked on three sides, while the fourth side is the natural slope. Pynes or artificial channels start out from the river, and meander through fields to end up in an ahar.

Tankas are traditional water storage structures that are round or rectangular in design and are usually constructed to store water in Bikaner of India. Rainwater from the roof or terrace is directed towards an opening in the floor which leads to the tanka. The rain water thus stored in tankas is used for various purposes.Another popular tradition of water harvesting is the construction of Johads. These are small earthen check dams that capture and conserve rainwater, improving percolation and groundwater recharge. This practice was started in 1984 in Rajasthan. So far some 3000 Johads have been constructed across more than 650 villages in Alwar district of the state. What about other districts? Well other districts are also moving along the same path. This has resulted in a general rise of the groundwater level by almost 6 meters and a 33 percent increase in the forest cover in the area. Five rivers that used to go dry immediately following the monsoon have now become perennial. Such is the River Arvari,that has come alive.

Another popular tradition of water harvesting is the construction of Khadins. A khadin- also called a dhora, is an ingenious construction designed to harvest surface runoff water for agriculture. It's main feature is a very long (100-300 m) earthen embankment built across the lower hill slopes lying below uplands. Sluices and spillways in the area allow excess water to drain off to the catchment. The Khadin system is based on the principle of harvesting rainwater on farmland and subsequent use of this water-saturated land for crop production. First designed by the Paliwal Brahmins of Jaisalmer, Western Rajasthan in the 15th century, this system has great similarity with the irrigation methods of the people of Ur (present Iraq) around 4500 BC and later of the Nabateans in the Middle East. A similar system is also reported to have been practiced 4,000 years ago in the Negev desert, and in southwestern Colorado 500 years ago.

As in many parts of the country, the people of Rajasthan have learnt to live with scarcity of water. In Churu, Bikaner, and Sikar of the state people have learnt to harvest rain water in Kunds or Kundis. What are Kunds or Kundis? Dome shaped structures over an underground tank surrounded with an artificially paved catchment sloping towards the centre is called as Kund or Kundis. Traditionally, these tanks were made up of lime, which acted as disinfectant but currently scarcity and demand hassled people to construct Kunds of cement.

A very popular tradition of judicious utilization of water or water conservation is Pani-kheti.In other words, the system of rice cultivation on terraces developed by the Angami and Chakesangs tribes of Nagaland state of the North- eastern India is called a Panikheti. Rather, Panikheti is the term applied to the beautiful rice terraces in the North-eastern Hill Region of India. In this system of farming on terraces, water is supplied to plants by channels that carry water from streams. About 10 to 15 cm of water level is maintained in the fields and rest of the water is allowed to flow down to the lower terraces. This traditional practice ensures that there is no wastage of water while protecting the rights of farmers over its judicious utilization.


Simlipal Biosphere Reserve under threat

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The Simlipal Biosphere Reserve(SBR) of Mayurbhanj district of Orissa state of India which has recently been included in the UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves is under threat of poachers and wood mafias due to the absence of forest guards and survillance mechanisms.

Earlier, the left wing extremists had attacked government establishments in March 2009. Apprehending the attack by the naxalites, the officials of the Forest Department left their duty posts on March 28, 2009. It facilitated wood mafias and poachers to exploit resources since about last four months.

A local NGO -the Mayurbhanj Forum has expressed great concern after it conducted surveys of different areas of SBR especially the Lombugada forests and Dhuduruchampa that fall under Naena range, and Pithabata range. The NGO has demanded "immediate restoration of surveillance mechanism for protecting resources of this unique biodiversity." The state government has started keeping close eyes over the condition and has deployed recently a CRPF battalion to treat mafias and poachers.

Read full story ...
The Hindu. July 27, 2009

About Poverty and Hunger of primitive tribes of Jharkhand

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Poverty and hunger have never been so acute for the majority of the tribal minority in Jharkhand as today -the reports say.Bad reproductive health, a child on the back -bound by a broad belt of torn cloth, and a torn sari - insufficient to cover even half of the body may be the image of a poor tribal lady dwelling somewhere in some remotest part of the state. Malnutrition, poverty and diseases are persistent companions of the tribal people living in their ill built but clean houses in villages without a link road, electricity supply, safe drinking water, school and health facilities.

The central and the state governments have launched various schemes for the tribal people but the surveys narrate the same tragic stories of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and bad reproductive health even after the implementation of these schemes.The hunger deaths of 35 tribals from different districts of the state is a clear evidence. Who is responsible for these conditions?

A human being comes on the earth with two hands and two feet- hands to work and feet to go whereever the work is to be done.But what about the hands and the feet that have deformities by birth.Since nature has produced independent beings and has created all the resources to help these beings, why do these die of hunger? Is it because of their deformed and powerless hands and legs? Some learned people including sociologists say that resources that have been created by nature for all beings have been caught by some strong hands and weak hands are too weak to snatch their share out from the strong hands. Is it the survival of the fittest, and hence okay in the human society too that keeps the democracy at the highest place?

How long are the poor and inefficient to remain the poor and inefficient, and how far can a government adopt and feed such people? is a basic question.The government sends its officers far below upto block headquarters. Block officers move up to village panchayats that in turn have to contact villagers. Thus run a number of welfare projects of the government.There are a number of projects run by national and international agencies to help the marginalised and to empower the poor women. The poor of some areas have recovered and women of such areas have also been empowered.But neither the poorest tribals living in remote villages of Jharkhand could recover nor could their ladies be empowered so far, as per the reports.

The monitoring committees report that enforcement agencies dare not go to remote villages due to the fact that they fear from the naxal activities. A number of journalists have already walked through those areas and have closely observed the conditions of the people especially the ladies living there.Their reports reveal true stories of the tragic conditions of primitive tribes of those areas.

Some of the non-government bodies too have worked or they are still working for those people and are doing jobs under some or the other national or international agencies.A number of researchers and writers have sharpened their pens by researching and writing on issues related to the tragedies faced by those people who are still the same, though their population is decreasing.

"The Primitive Tribes are in great need of the goverment support" - reported Mr. U.K.Sangama the chairman of the investigation committee and the secretary of the Welfare Department of the Government of Jharkhand. Accordingly, the government tried to support those 'Primitive Tribes' and in the process of support sent its men to do the needful.The report that these men could not help those distressed people due to the fear of naxalites, does not enter into the mind of a common man. It has been reported by the local media that more than a dozen projects pertaining to the construction of roads, bridges and embankments in some remote areas of Jharkhand are pending due to the terror of naxalites(Hindustan, 17 July 2009) is unfortunate. If naxalites are well wishers of the marginalised people including the Primitive Tribes, they should not interrupt or stop a person sent by the government for conducting developmental activities.The matters of naxalites- let naxalites know, but in my opinion if a person goes to the poor with a fair and strong will to help, he should neither be stopped nor harassed by anyone. Moral values are to be protected and conserved at any cost as no society can exist on immoral foundation.It is history, and it will be in the infinite future too.

More than 20 government sponsored schemes are under implementation for the welfare of the primitive tribes who constitute 70 per cent of the whole tribal population under the line of poverty in the state. During the financial year 2008-09 Rs. 19.28 crore was sanctioned under Antyodaya scheme for those below the poverty line. But instead of the report of welfare, reports of hunger and deaths are being read from different sources.It is also being commented by some politicians that hunger is not the reason behind the deaths, and tribals in different districts have died either their natural deaths or due to some dangerous disease. From where do these reports come? From places where deaths occur- may be the natural answer. But who does bring these reports? One who goes there - may be the natural answer again. If naxalites kill everyone who passes through those particular areas, how do reporters come back safe after meeting the people in distress, after talking to them, after taking their photographs and after playing with their children?

Pollution of Indian Rivers

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About two decades ago, the government of India came to realize that many of the Indian rivers were polluted. A number of reports regarding the levels of pollution in different Indian rivers reached to the government through either the Central Pollution Control Board which is its own agency, or through the Public Sector Laboratories. When the impacts of pollution of these rivers was assessed and reported, the government came to feel the problem and formulate plans for cleaning these rivers. Accordingly, the Ganga Action Plan with an expenditure of Rs. 87 crore was launched.

Action Plans for other Indian rivers like Yamuna and Damodar were also planned with a budgetary provision of Rs. 1,306 crore. Years passed on through the implementation of action plans for these rivers. Now, after two decades experts see that the conditions of these rivers are the same as two decades ago. Experts are of the opinion that mixing of municipal sewage in the river water is the biggest problem as it contributes to about 75% of the pollution. Industries cover the remaining 25%. As per reports, the treatment of only 50% of the sewage of 35 metro cities could have started so far. Currently bout 32% of the sewage generated in 497 class I cities is treated before releasing into the river water.

Now, a sum of Rs. 250 crore has been allocated for the National Ganga Basin Authority – as per the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ report, and a town based approach for the sewage management is being planned at the country level.

Desertification: Are there human hands behind?

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It has already been accepted that climatic variations and atmospheric changes are responsible for desertification. However, it is also accepted that a number of human activities too are equally responsible for causing desertification during the current time. It is agreed that desertification has many serious consequences that cause suffering and dangers to the whole life that exists in a deserted area. Desertification disrupts many of the environmental processes making the land completely unfavorable for life. Some of the serious consequences of desertification are – reduced ability of land to support life, reduced plant cover and nutrient level in the soil, self reinforcing nature of desertification causing expansion, reduced biological productivity leading to reduced economic productivity etc.

Human hands behind the problem of desertification are visible in many forms like massive deforestation, overgrazing, over cultivation, growth of human population and consequent degradation of land, and unscientific practices of irrigation like flooding of fields etc.
Desertification can be controlled by averting the processes that cause desertification. Desert lands can be reclaimed by adopting appropriate technologies of developing plant covers over the desert lands. Rows of trees can be planted at the margins of deserts as shelter-belts for checking the spread of deserts. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) suggests a number of measures that can be adopted for controlling desertification. Some of these measures are – banning of goat farming, reclaiming decertified land, development of appropriate farming practices suited to the fragile semi-arid regions, refinement of economically viable traditional practices controlling land degradation etc.

Another step towards afforestation

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In view of reducing pressure on forests, the central government has already launched a number of novel schemes and Social Forestry is one of them. In fact, the rural people living nearby forests have a traditional practice of collecting firewood and fodder besides seeds, fruits, flower buds etc. Through social forestry, villagers are being helped a lot to remain away from forests, but it is felt that the pressure is still mounting on.In view of reducing pressure from forests the government has come up with an elaborate plan and that is about the development of Fringe Forests. The fringe forests are to be developed on one million hectares of land including the non-forest land adjoining villages with an allocation of Rs. 1,600 crore. It is hoped that the scheme may boost up water-conservation and biodiversity conservation efforts continued across the country. This new afforestation scheme is to be launched under funding by the Japanese International co-operation ((JIC) in view of taking care of the fuel and fodder needs of the villagers who otherwise create pressure on forests.


According to the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) which has been formed under the Central Ministry of Agriculture, the afforestation scheme would enable villagers to create renewable resources in fringe forests and in adjoining non-forest land. The implementing authority has been decided to be the Ministry of Agriculture and the NRAA. The expert committee is due to prepare a project paper within three months to submit the same to the Japanese agency. Decisions has also been taken to harmonize two acts namely the scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act and the Forest Conservation Act in view of protection of forests from further exploitation.


It is planned to involve the Joint Forest Management Committees working in different Rainfed areas of the country for the implementation of the scheme. The Joint Forest Management Areas in the country include parts of Rajasthan, Gujrat, northern part of Kurukshetra, and some areas of Chhattisgarh. As per reports about 1.7 lakh villages are located within 2 to 3 km radius of 32 million hectares in fringe forests and adjoining non-forest land.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shifting Responsibilities

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60th Van Mahotsav has passed. It has left behind a number of reports and press releases for us all the same in language and style as they usually remain to read and forget, nothing new, and without any relation in speech and action. The same age old slogans and politically colored dialogues as we Indians tend to do – that trees are essential part of environment, so plant trees; that forest productivity must be raised, that forest cause rain and control floods (a child of Vth class knows it well), that every school going boy and girl should plant a tree and what not. Some people are born to deliver dialogues while others are born to listen them and still a very few like Sunderlal Bahuguna and Medha Patekar are born to stand fast and suffer without delivering speeches and listening long lectures of those who are born to lecture and preside over those meetings.

All the captions and slogans and theories mentioned above have lost their popularity. But what more can be done? This is the way most of our environmental duties are being done through years. What pains most bitterly are the same old dialogues and directives that put all the responsibilities on the delicate shoulders of our children. Why a child in a school is asked to plant a sapling? Why not elders alone do that job? Are they only for snatching and stealing away the share of resources of children and then ask them to regenerate and develop alternatives? Are not the shoulders of children already aching carrying the heavy school bags that are becoming heavier year after year by the addition of new books and notes? Meetings and lectures form major part of environmental programmes these days. A political leader presiding a Van Mahotsav meeting in a school delivers impressive speeches and lays all the responsibilities of environmental preservation on children, addressing them as citizens of tomorrow. So does a teacher in his/her classroom. Certainly children will do their part if they are left with resources to synthesize a little blood and other tissues in their bodies as long as they their metabolic activities are left unaltered inspite of drinking contaminated water, breathing in polluted air and taking in pesticide contaminated food. But don’t they actually have the right to inherit some of the resources, atleast those resources that are given by God? Aren’t parents selling and eating away all the natural property before the development of teeth and jaws in their children? Some of us may come angrily with a negative answer. Wood mafias may claim that they are already trying to box bundles of bank notes for their children taking all those pains generated by vigilance and enforcement agencies. Scammers may claim that they have faced a lot of dangers in collecting money for better development and better education of their children. Poachers earn a lot of money by poaching animals and doing international trade. They too probably think that they commit crime and all the immoral practices for their own greed of wealth and put responsibilities on others and even innocent children are not spared.

The Indian culture tells us that children belong to all. But it is in principle and not in practice. As regards the practice, not only biological difference is applied there. Some children deserve hatred and negligence because they are rag pickers, beggars, laborers or hawkers, since they don’t go to schools they neither know about environment nor about Van Mahotsav. Rich parents can think only about the two or three children who have been brought into this world by them to feed on bank notes and to breathe in laboratory prepared oxygen. What? …Yes, because they have poisoned the food, water and air and have eaten up or have damaged all the other resources given by nature.

Today’s children are being taught all those lessons that elders could not understand in their childhood. Just compare the environment of our childhood to the environment of the childhood of our children and go a little ahead. Who has done all this damage? Haven’t we all ? Hence, if least sense of responsibility is left in us, we should depart only after repairing the damage or only after arranging alternatives for what we have squandered. The human life is not unlimited one. Go away only after disposing off the garbage you have created, after bringing back the natural quality of resources you have altered, after arranging school bags and food to every rag picking, begging or laboring child. Don’t celebrate Van Mahotsav as you have not raised nurseries. Nurseries are to be raised first. Forests cannot be regenerated without raising nurseries or without caring and reviving the dying plants. Environment cannot be protected through speeches and slogans nor can it be protected by putting responsibilities on coming citizens. Environmental Education and celebrations have their own importance but we too need some sort of education about that and a little more of moral education first.

... and now the turn of elephants

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Besides in some other countries, the stories of man-animal conflict are commonly told and heard in many parts of India. In Jharkhand, the newly formed state of India, stories of man- animal conflict can specifically be called as the stories of man-elephant conflict. Why? Are there more elephants in Jharkhand than in other states of the country? It is not. But I hear and read the stories of elephants invading and destroying homes and properties of farmers who stand fast and claim compensations. Compensation and relief are the two most important terms that any one going to publish a dictionary of democracy should include in.

The principal complainants of elephant-activities in Jharkhand so far, have been the farmers who complain about the destruction of their houses and crops by elephants who come from the forest nearby. About two years back, once a wild elephant had entered into the city area of Ranchi. It had travelled upto a long distance damaging houses and other property; and had started marching towards the secretariat. ... The incident was somehow averted and the detail is not known to me.

Here is a latest story from Jharkhand, collected from the local print media.

…The Head Master of Makdamdih Middle School of Jharkhand’s Saraikela-kharsawan district complained that elephants from local forest area known as Dalma broke away the doors and windows of the school, damaged the kitchen and ate way all the ration that was kept in a closed room. Let me explain here that every school has to keep a kitchen and a store room – kitchen for cooking Khichadi or the food for the school children under the ambitious “mid-day meal” programme of the government, and the store room for keeping the ration provided by the government. The store room is also meant for storing vegetables, masalas, edible oils, jaggery and beaten rice etc. all to be purchased by the money provided generously by the government.

On hearing the complaint, a team of the officers of the Forest Department – the legal guardian of all the wildlife, rushed to the school and assessed the loss for compensation by the government.

Since the elephants this time, as per the reports "ate away all the ration that was provided to the school under the mid-day meal programme" of the government, let us have a more detailed talk about the matter.

It is well known to all that the programme Mid-day meal being run in all the schools upto the middle level to attract the children of families living below the poverty line to get enrolled in government schools. The government provides ration and money to run the programme through Saraswati Vahinis organised by the heads of schools. The reports of miscellaneous types are being read in news papers by the common public - some positive and some negative.

The reason behind man and animal conflict in this state is reported to be the loss of the forest area. Many of the forests here have shrunk to small greeneries only. Major parts of forests have gone and it has become a difficult situation for wild animals especially for elephants who remain on move during most of the time.

Elephants unlike some other wild animals, have the habit of walking from one forest area to the other through paths decided and defined by themselves. Since major parts of forests have been converted into crop fields and open lands, the elephants have lost both their homes and the walking routes. The learned people in the forest department talk about elephant galleries but a common man does not know -what it is? when and how it can be built.? He can just guess that a big sum of money may surely be spent whenever a project like this may be formulated and launched by the government.Let us move to the main point.

One thing which is being reported here and there is that the programme of Mid-Day -Meal is attracting not only small children to school, it is attracting heads of schools, teachers and their associates, and the other staff also. This time, as the case mentioned above, the programme has attracted elephants as well. Food is the first priorty for life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weedy Bird Species May Win As Temperature Rises

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Analysis by Ecologists at the University of California, San Diego has revealed that warmer weather has favored "weedy" species, those that are adapted to a wide range of habitats and therefore easily extend their ranges. Larger birds, which are typically better disperses than smaller species, seem to have gained an advantage, they report in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B June 10.

"The changes, at least initially, are likely to favor generalist species, those in the best position to respond to changes," said Frank La Sorte, a post-doctoral fellow at UC San Diego and first author of the paper. "It's going to be difficult using existing spatial ecological patterns to predict the outcome of climate change."


Read full story

Citation:
University of California - San Diego. "'Weedy' Bird Species May Win As Temperatures Rise." ScienceDaily 19 June 2009. 24 July 2009
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Ideal Teacher

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Ever since I got my first posting in a school as a Science Teacher, I had been sad on several grounds. One reason of my sadness was nonpayment of my salaries without any genuine obstacle. Once I had overheard the Principal of the school talking to a senior teacher, in confidence -

"you see, he has just joined here. He is very young. If everything goes smoothly- take for example the payment of his salaries- if he recieves his salaries easily, or if he is given leaves simply on an application , he will soon become unruly, indisciplined and impolite. Why then will he come back to us?".

I understood the philosophy behind the Principal's behaviour towards me. Thus, I had to suffer for six long months. Finally, a thought had struck to my mind and I had inclined to solve the problem on my own by posting a request letter to the director of education. My over action left a persistant dislike for me from the side of the Principal and his cabinet.

The second ground of my sadness at my work place had been the traffic of students outside their classes at the end of each period, and I had to feel mental tiredness regularly while going upstairs facing the crowd of students coming down for water and toilet facilities. I could not solve this problem inspite of crying on students and complaining to my seniors who used to looked towards me as if they looked towards a man of very low knowledge and spirit.

The third reason of my sadness had been related to my fellow teachers and their activities. I used to see a number of classes running without teachers in the school, though the teachers concerning different periods in different classes remained present in the Principal's chamber talking or discussing on some important issues pertaining to some or the other national or international interest. Some teachers used to enter into their classrooms and prescribe some classworks that were not understood by students. However, the students dared not ask for clarifications. For example, there was a teacher of Mathematics who used to prescribe classworks to his students like this - " Draw Triangles", and after directing for the important classwork he came out of the class and stood in the verandah examining the traffic down on the road. A Hindi Teacher used to prescribe classworks to his students like this - " Write an Essay". These incidents pained me severely, usually when I went on bed and started trying to sleep.

The Principal retired one day and one of our seniors, say the seniormost teacher of the school was given the post of the Principal- in- charge. He planned for a number of reforms and implemented some of them. Two teachers who were never seen taking a class started going to classrooms, as I saw them. I became a little comfortable.

One reason kept me still sad needs some explanation here, so allow me to go in some detail about it.

There was not a single herb shrub or tree in the campus of the school where I served. Some grass dared to grow in side areas close to the boundary line. I talked to the Principal that some plants could be there along the western boundary as a part of the programme of greening the school- campus.

The Principal said, "I have always advised you not to become over active. It is not good for your career here. Some teachers will soon become jealous of you, and will start pulling your leg. However, if you are ready to face the consequences you may employ some of the children of the Environmental Club that you have recently organised, and plant some trees that may have least canopy on their adulthood. You see, the campus of this school is very small, and we don't have sufficient area to plant shady trees here."

" Okay Sir" - I said happily.

In the interval, I approached three of my students namely, Sanjeet kumar Sahu( presently a Chartered Accountant), Prem Kumar and Sachin ( now both engineers), to discuss the matter with them. They were taking lunch but all the three stood up with their lunch boxes to hear me.

The next day happened to be the "World Environment Day" the 5th June.We four went to a private nursery of plants and purchased some plants of Eucalyptus, and Drooping Ashoka as per the suggestion of the nursery owner, brought them to the school and planted all of them along the boundary side and in the back yard. It was raining lightly, and the Principal and most of the teachers were busy in the examination for " Probationary Officers" for any bank.The government schools used to remain centres of some examinations of the like categories on Sudays or sometimes on working days also, that were managed by suspending all the classes. The other day, I called a meeting of the members of the Environment Club and assigned duties of taking care and irrigating those plants to students. Each of the plant was adopted by a group of two students and each group was responsible for taking care of its plant, till the group was to remain on the rolls of the school.

Days passed one by one. And in this way, six years passed. All the plants were now growing into trees. I had a routine duty of examing those trees soon after my arrival at school on the routine duty.But one day I was shocked to read in a news paper that I was transfered to a new school located at a distance of about seventy kilometers in the neighbouring district. I had to go.

I contacted one of my co- workers Mr. Dubey and requested him to manage the affairs of caring and watering those plants in my absence. I also requested to the temporary shop keepers or Thela Walas who used to sell different things to children out side the school gate during intervals, and who used to take water from school source, to irrigate those plants with whatever water remained in their pots while they needed to shift their shops elsewhere after four in the evening.

I joined my new school. All the children, as they always remain, were good and hungry - hungry of knowledge besides hungry of food. I remained there for six years. But the love of trees we had planted in the school, and my discontinued research work that I was doing there, pinched me all the time. Sometimes, I had to come to my old city for departmental works, and for contacting my research supervisor, and it was during those occassions that I got chances of visiting my plants( now trees).

I applied for my transfer to any of the school of the city where my parent school was located, so that I might continue and finish my research work in Phytopathology. My friends told me that my transfer was not possible due to some legal bindings that I need not explain here. I did not care for their statements, met the Education Secretay and requested him personally giving all the reasons I had already explained in my application. Opening my file the officer said, "In which school do you want to be posted?"
"Any school in the city area, Sir".

"Why only in the city area?" - He asked.

"Because I need University to continue my research work which is pending in the midway, Sir" - I answered.

"Very good and genuine reason for a teacher. Now go to the school near the University."

The officer wrote something on my application in the file and handed it over to the clerk who had just came and stood besides him with some paper. The second day, I got my trnsfer order to join in the same school from where I was transfered - my parent school.

The next day, I prepared a joining letter, kept it in a file with my transfer order and went directly to the principal of the school. This time, the Principal was a lady. People told me that she had transformed the school through her excellent administrative and managerial abilities, and now the school ranked first among the government schools in the state. She allowed me to join, framed a time- table for me and asked me to work accordingly. She used to inspect my classes when I taught my students, and took reports from students during the meetings of Class Monitors. Soon she became impressed with my performance, and it started being reflected from her behaviour.

Every day, after the school closed, I used to approached trees and observe them carefully. One day I incidently saw a humming bird entering into the space left between the branchlets and the trunk of one of the drooping Ashoka tree. When I went closer and saw upward peeping through the space between branchlets and the trunk, I could see its nest. A number of crows had built their nests on the peripheral branches of the Eucalyptus trees. Some Mynas had built their ugly nests on the branches of these trees with small pieces of clothes or ropes hanging downwards. An eagle had put a number of sticks on the top most fork of one Eucalyptus tree where it used to sit there for some times. I could not see whether there were eggs or not. A red tailed bird used to visit the trees singing loudly every evening around three P.M. All these scenes were matters of gret pleasure for me. The trees had given shelters to a number of birds in the midst of the city where no bird could dare to land earlier.

"Sir, it is five P.M. now. You see we come early in the morning everyday, and now we should go home"- said one of the peons one day. I used to forget the time every day when I went to trees. The peon had to lock the gate, and so it was my sacred duty to go out.

One day, the Principal while walking in the school campus called me through one of the peopns of the school and I went to her guessing about everything see could ask me. She was in a philosophical mood.

The Principal said to me, " Dr. Mishra, you see a teacher has great responsibilities towards his students, towards his school, towards his fellow teachers, towards the society he belongs, towards the nation on the whole ... and yes, towads the environment he lives in. Am I right?"

"Yes, madam"- I said.

"Someone has told me that you have done a number of works outside the school, such as planting trees, caring for animals, organising public meetings for spreading awareness about problems in the local environment and writing columns on environmental issues for children. I have read your articles and features in the news papers. How could you manage those outside activities?" - She asked. I was not prepared to answer such a question.

"Through a local NGO and during holidays, Madam" -I explained.

"But all outside the school ... why don't you start some programmes inside the school, I mean for school children?" - she said.

" Yes, I will do madam" - I affirmed.

"Earlier, we had a very dynamic teacher ... Mr. Dubey. Now, he has been transfered to a distant place in a rural area. Look those trees. Mr. Dubey had planted those trees soon after he had joined in this school. I joined here when these had already been grown into trees. He had once told me that he had to put great efforts in planting and rearing them. I would have recommended his name for the President Award, had he been here for some longer period. An ideal teacher in deed" - the Principal said.

"Y e s , M a d a m" - I said.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Student research team chronicles tribal astrology know how

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WHILE UNIVERSITIES might shrug it off as a flimsy venture , Marwari School here last year made a stride in the field of tribal astrology to compile a summary on information to throw some light on the astrological relation between plants and planets.

Tribals believe that use of roots and leaves of certain plant species on specific days, along with a thread of particular colour , can ward off diseases - even deadly ones.

This belief and practice drove the in-charge of the Science Academy of the School MP Mishra and his "student- scientists" to set on a mission to collect information on tribal plant astrology.

Encouraged by the principal of the school Shikha Prasad , Mishra flagged off his adventure in May last year with his researchers- Amit Kumar , Binod Kumar Bedia, Karmveer Jha , Bashistha Narayan Kashyap and Rajiv Ranjan Choudhury.

Mishra visited the villages adjoining Ranchi during his three ,onth long odyssey and met 'vaids' , 'hakims' and tribal elders.

They helped him collect information from Mundas , Pahans and Mankis (presitly classes) on his hunt for knowledge-hunt.

They also elaborated on the procedure the use of plant species to dilute the disease causing malefic influences of planets .

This prescription was also dealt with in 'Sri Skanda Purana' , said Mishra.

" Tribals believe that the adverse effect of a planet posted in "Trik- asthavas" may be neutralized by wearing the roots of the plants concerned on the arm or round the neck with a thread a prescribed colour on a particular day," he explained.

He said that the life of the plants, as a belief goes discussed in the Hindu myhtology, is also regulated by zodiac influences of 12 'rashis' (star signs) and 27 'nakshatras' (stars) that astrology pin much importance.

Mishra came to know that the tribals prefer to wear 'bel' (aegle marmelos) with pink thread on Sunday to starve themselves off eye diseases , high fever and dangers of fire accidents that are caused by the malefic influence of Sun.

Similarly, they opt for 'Khirani' (mimus hexandra) to wear with white thread on Monday to shield themselves against asthma, dropsy and aquatic dangers resulted form the adverse lunar position.

Mishra did not want ot get sucked into the ongoing debate over whether astrology is a science or not. His objective was to know about the tribal plant astrology.

The Report they have prepared would pose as a testimonial to the endeavour of his Science Academy, but could provide some information to those who would wish to make research in this field.
He argued that the use of plant parts might react with the skin or sweat to generate the desired result , but his needs a thorough research to know their healing properties.

" All the plants are medicinal herbs. Therefore, efforts must be made to preserve them , though one may not go into the details of their astrological aspect, " Mishra said.


Source: Hindustan Times
September 24



Spreading environment awareness is his passion

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SCIENCE TEACHER of Marwari School Ranchi, DR MP Mishra is off the beaten track. His feathers were ruffled , when a pachyderm was mercilessly gunned down in Simdega. His heart rankles , when rows of women treck long distances with fuel wood." Stacks of fuel wood atop them--meant for sale-- symbolises death warrant for the sylvan surroundings. The greenery would soon disappear! " I always encountered these women aboard the trains on my journey," said Dr. Mishra.

Encounters with women remained ingrained in his mind like a stubborn scar that refused to be disappear even under the pressure of time. It went on nagging him. He hit upon an idea -- let's begin at the grass roots, the school children. He formed the 'Students ' Science Academy' in his school around 1988 with 50 students to generate public awareness on environement.

The students under his leadreship on holidays toured different areas. tehy studied flora and fauna and tested water bodies to assess pollution with simple devise of their own. " We never asked for money from anybody. We used to spend from our own pockets on our mission," said Dr. Mishra

Meanwhile, he was transferred to Girls High School Lohardaga. He formed the Students' Science Academy' here also. the students of the school scaled new heights and earned state level accolades at the erstwhile capital of United Jharkhand -Patna and national level praises at Hyderabad in 2001 for their project ' Environmental Problems through Religious Practices'. Then recognitions poured in. He became the lohardaga District science co-ordinator of National Council of Science and Technology under Science and technology department of the Union Government. he was transfererd again to Ranchi-based Marwari School .

His fascination for environment made him editor of environmental journal 'ECOSOC' which had to wound up due to financial constraints. But his fancy for writing never dwindled. His three books in English--Our Environment, Our Environment: Pollution Control and Future Strategies, Our Environment and Green Revolution-- published by New Delhi based S.Chand and Company have been lapped up by intellectuals and students. The first of the Lot has even clicked in Germany.

Dr. Mishra , now the State co-ordinator of National Council of Science and Technology, has also written Science books in Hindi for CBSE course for class IX and X students. " I am now translating the books into English," said Dr. Mishra. He is also the president of city based 'People for Animals' . Despite having made long strides in his endeavour for the betterment of environment and wildlife, his work has ironically remained outside the periphery of government attention.


Source: HINDUSTAN TIMES
DATED: November 1, 2002



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Environment conservation: Now or never

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Environmental issues are gaining momentum throughout the world today. Apart from the efforts of NGOs, governments too have started educating the public about different aspects of the conservation of the environment.

Some of the major issues being talked about are different types of pollution, Garbage management, illegal felling of trees and the poaching of animals. So many laws relating to the protection of the environment are in force and the need of the establishment of an environment commission is being felt seriously.

The environment is the nursery of life and life forms are innumerable. All the life forms in existence are dependent on each other in such a manner that damage to one is sure to cause harm to the entire living system.Each form of life occupies a unique position in the environment. and the extinction of any one type will stop the flow of energy and food materials in the biosphere because of the lack of suitable alternate species. In this way the whole living system may stand at the risk of extinction. Therefore every type of plants and animals needs to be conserved. This is what we call conservation of biodiversity.

Nature takes its own course.Changes in the conditions of the environment have serious impacts on its biotic and abiotic constituents. On the other hand, any alteration in the natural quality of its constituents may alter the condition of the environment leading to change in proper energy flow in the food chain. Since man in order to maintain its rank in the race of modernization, to satisfy his dreams of development and material greed, is using natural resources in most unnatural fashion, alteration in the natural quality of resources, lack or loss of some or
many of them and even extinction are bound to occur. Now this is the stage which will disturb the entire natural process leading to the destruction of life on this planet.Mustn't the biodiversity be maintained ? The loss of any form will finally lead to the loss of every life form. Thus cry for the conservation of the biodiversity is genuine.

A number of factors are responsible for keeping the biodiversity at risk point. Deforestation, illegal cutting of trees, poaching , chemical pollution including pesticide poisoning , discharge of toxic effluents by industrial units into our water sources, and moreover ceremonial sacrifices of animals, killing birds and animals for meat on special occasions like on New Years Day and bird trade are principle reasons behind Ecological Imbalance and dangers against biodiversity. let us examine these factors.

Forests maintain water-cycle and recharge the underground water table. They are directly responsible for increasing the agricultural production on which a number of bird and insect species besides rural and urban human population depend for their existence. A number of cases of the violation of Forest Conservation and Protection of Environment Act have been reported from Bihar alone, cases of illegal felling of seasoned trees and illegal timber trade in East Champaran reveal that nothing in the direction of forest conservation is possible until the public itself come forward with a will to protect it. We have a glittering example of Gavadewadi village of Pune District that have been awarded " Indira Priyadarshini Friends of Trees Award 1995" for planting 110,000 trees in 34 hectares of land by its resident farmers. No Power is greater than the power of the people. Dishonest practices and illegal acts prevail only at places where people loose their conscience and civic sense.

Forests are homes of innumerable species of wild animals. the erection of embankments, dams, canals and mines has degraded a vast tract of forests in Bihar. Improper forest management, careless utilization of project funds and immoral killing of wild animals are causing more risks in the biodiversity zones of Bihar. The ministry of environment

is working towards. forest regeneration by involving private industries and co-operatives. It is important to note that forests can be easily rejuvenated through the participation of the people. The industrial takeover of forests ill deprive millions of tribal gujjars and other people who survive on forests. So efforts should only be made to make judicious use of our resources for the benefit of the community. Practices of deforestation are making a number of species of wild animals homeless. Such animal species migrate due to the destruction of their habitats and face the danger of extinction during their unsuccessful attempt for survival.

Bird killing and bird trade are also high practice in Bihar. A number of bird sellers are seen most often in the markets of Ranchi and Patna Town. Some of them claim that they purchase birds from Calcutta and other cities (outside Bihar) while others openly admit that they catch those bird species from forests. A number of 'BAGERI' sellers are seen here and there during winter season in Ranchi. Bageri is a small bird very similar to field sparrow.
Bageri catchers get up early in the morning and , go to fields and catch those birds. through various techniques. They sit at various market places and sell their meat after killing them mercilessly. Some of them move form door to door selling these birds on high prices. All this practices of hunting, poaching and trading accounts to serious
crisis against biodiversity in this state.

Pesticides to protect our crops are being used on large scales. These deadly chemicals are absorbed by plants. Thus they reach into the food chain. On the other hand , birds eating those poisoned insects loose their fertility and become unable to reproduce. In this way pesticides become responsible for the loss of bird species. Chemical Fertilizers used in agriculture often join mainstreams to reach to our water sources to kill fish and amphibians by
causing eutrophication. Reports published in newspapers reveal that iron ore mines in Bihar are releasing toxic waters of Koyona and Karo rivers. The level of these toxic pollutants has increased upto such and extent that it has
created drinking water crisis in the area as a result of which wild animals are migrating away from their natural habitat. A new challenge before our scientists is the challenge of ground water pollution. Important studies of the groundwater of Dhanbad area that were conducted by the central government have shown that the industrial activities in the area have led to severe groundwater pollution and in most of the places this water is not fit for drinking. Fourteen such industrial units in Bihar alone have been identified which are responsible for the pollution of
groundwater basin.

Conservation of our natural resources, flora, fauna and land is very necessary for the conservation of biodiversity.The
conservation should not be understood as the process of keeping intact our flora, fauna and other resources. In more
practical sense , it relates to the judicious use of living and non-living resources of our environment. Sudden fluctuations in environmental conditions too serve as principle causes of species extinction. These factors may be epidemics, competition, climatic change or habitat destructions, increased pollution etc. are principle causes of the serious damage to biodiversity. Some traditional beliefs like bringing out lizard oil by mercilessly boiling or killing them , economic considerations , illegal trade , introduction of exotic species which are responsible for the transmission of diseases and parasites and pressures of exotic predators etc. Such human activities disturb the ecological balance of the area, cause serious economic loss and reduce protein intake thereby encouraging the process of species loss.

A number of non-government organizations are on their way to conserve nature and biodiversity for sustainable living on this planet. WWF's efforts in this regard have been pioneering ones. The wildlife preservation society if India and trade record analysis of flora and fauna in commerce (Traffic) are two Indian NGOs that are taking seriously the heinous crime of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife products.

The Prithvi-Foundation , a Ranchi based NGO has done an experiment of building artificial nests to conserve bird species. Large scale afforestation programmes and distribution of saplings during rainy season since last four years are certainly big steps of this NGO to encourage biodiversity thereby keeping natural balance. Now what is more important is the sense of protection and conservation on public level as nothing in this regard is possible without public awareness and public participation.

Source: THE INDIAN NATION, Dec 29, 1996

Saturday, July 18, 2009

CHIRU: The endangered Tibetian Antelope

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WILD birds and animals form important links of the long chain of our natural environment. If any one kind of animal (or plant) disappears due to human activities, the chain will be broken. It will lead to an imbalance in the environment. And any type of imbalance is sure to cause great challenges to the existence of other organisms of the environment.

Hunting and killing of various types of birds and other animals for sports, meat, skin, fur, feathers, ivory etc. have put the lives of our remaining animals in great danger. Many of our important birds (like DODO) and animals have disappeared due to hunting, killing and trade in their body parts. Such is the tragic story of CHIRU, the endangered Tibetan antelope. This animal is found in some of the harshest regions of Tibet and China. It is a creature of very shy nature, and usually it is very hard to capture this animal. However, nothing is more powerful than the death. People engaged in the illegal trade of soft hair of chiru capture the animal and kill it mercilessly. The fine and soft hair of chiru are used in making shawls that are famous for their warmth and softness. This is the reason behind the illegal international trade of the "Shawls of Shame" made of the hair of chiru by merciless killing of the poor and innocent animal.

One Kg of the hair of chiru (also called as Shahtoosh) can fetch up to Rs. 60, ooo. It has been reported that Queen Elizabeth wore one Shahtoosh Shawl to Prince Edward's wedding and Ms. Julia Roberts, the actress, wore a Shahtoosh Shawl during the premier of the film "Runnaway Bride'.

A ban on the trade of Shahtoosh has been imposed since 1991. Still some rich people in India and abroad are said to be in possession of Shahtoosh Shawls. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Indian Wildlife Protection Act has placed CHIRU in the RED-LIST. The trade of killing chiru and selling Shahtoosh went of hidden up to 1980 and no one could trace a link between chiru and Shahtoosh shawl. By that time the number of chiru had fallen from over too million to about 75000.Though Chiru is not an Indian animal, it is criminal to encourage trade in its hair in India, along with other countries. Under Section 38 of the Wildlife Act, Shahtoosh obtained from the Tibetan Antelope known as Chiru is the property of the state. Chiru is now a protected animal under the Central Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. India is a signatory to CITES under which any kind of import or trade in animal articles made or derived from Shahtoosh is prohibited.

Cordyceps sinensis or the Himalayan Viagra : The wonderful medicinal fungus

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Cordyceps sinensis is the botanical name of the wonderful medicinal fungus that grows on Himalyas. After infecting a caterpillar, it passes through a stage of good mycelial growth leading to the development of fruiting bodies. The fungus is harvested on large scales for its medicinal uses. It is in a great demand in the international trade.

The cordyceps sinensis, a fungus nicknamed as Himalyan Viagra is vanishing fast due to international trade practices. The heavy exploitation of the fungus by traders along with Tibetan Nomads much before the time of its reproductive stage is pushing the fungus towards extinction.

The specific fungus which is also known as the "Caterpillar fungus" is traditionally added to soups or tea to improve vigor and vitality since long. They believe that the soup of the fungus improves stamina, endurance, lung capacity, kidney functions, and sexual performance. The medicinal importance of the fungus, especially that it improves sexual performance was already documented in 14th century. However, its importance as a sex- boosting medicine could not find popularity up to some times back. As the fungus was cheap and abundant, it was fed to yaks and horses for enhancing their working capacity.

The fungus Cordyceps sinensis became especially popular after the World Championship in Athletics during 1993, when Chinese lady athletics broke records in nine tracks and field events, and their couch disclosed that it was due to the consumption of an elixir made of Cordyceps sinensis. Most of the trade of this fungus is centered at the Quinghai Province of China. The season of fungus hunting runs for about 40 days from the onset of the early spring.

It has been found that the fungus grows on a caterpillar as a fungal parasite. It infects the caterpillar as it moves along the leaves of grass growing on the hill, kills it by its poisonous secretion and grows its hyphae to form a dense and compact mycelium. As the mycelium gets maturation, it develops fruiting bodies that too require some time for their maturation. It is due to the commercial stress on the fungus that it is exploited much before the time of the development and dispersal of spores inside fruiting bodies. This is the main reason behind the reducing population of the fungus along Himalyan slopes. The maximum development of the fungus has been recorded at an elevation of 4,267 m, especially around Heitushan.


Under today's conditions it is very hard for even nomads to collect few pieces of the Caterpillar Fungus to earn their living who used to earn money sufficient enough to live happily for the whole year merely on the collection of a single season. The demand of the fungus is currently very high in countries like China, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. The value of the fungal herb by the year 2007 has been US $ 3000 per kg for the lowest quality and over US $ 15,000 per kg for the best quality. Besides increasing sexual performance, the consumption of the fungal extract is reported to improve energy levels, to improve Cholesterol and Lipid Metabolism, to correct cardiovascular and circulatory disorders, to improve liver health, to correct lung disorders, and even to help fight cancer.( Pictures- The Fruiting Body of Cordyceps sinensis, and the Fruiting Body).


Passiflora incarnata : The rare medicinal plant

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Passiflora incarnata is a vine which grows up to a length of about ten meters. It belongs to the family Passifloracea. It has long been cultivated by Americans for its edible fruits. Spanish conquerors first learned of passionflower from the Aztecs of Mexico who used it as a sedative to treat insomnia and nervousness for centuries. The plant was taken back to Europe where it became widely cultivated and introduced into European medicine. Growing up to a length of ten meters, passionflower bears three-lobed leaves, purple flowers and an egg shaped fruit.

The Passiflora incarnata which is popularly known as Passion flower, has a special relationship with the heart and imparts to it an inner peaceful and harmonious tone. The heart is a sensory organ that communicates with the body and brain neurologically, hormonally, and electromagnetically. It is auto-rhythmic and under psycho emotional stress may lose rhythmic order and its ability to sense and communicate with the body. Passion flower restores rhythm, balance, harmony and communication to the heart. In general, it is the nature of passion flower to impart inner peace and balance.

CONSTITUENTS

Latest researches on P. incarnata reveal that fresh juice of leaves, stems, and flowers of P. incarnata contains a number of chemical constituents. These include alkaloids, alpha-alanine, apigenin, D-fructose, D-glucose, flavonoids, gum, gynocardin, harmaline, harmalol, harmine, harmol, homoorientin, isoorientin, isovitexin, kaempferol, lutenin-2, luteolin, maltol (pyrone methylcarbonic acid), N-nonacosane, orientin, passiflorine, phenylalanine, proline, quercetin, raffinose, rutin, saccharose, saponaretin, saponarine, scopoletin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, tyrosine, umbelliferone, valine, vitexin.It also contains chysin which blocks the conversion of testosterone to estrogen and thereby conerves testosterone.

MEDICINAL PROPERTIES

It has been reported variously that promotes sleep because it allows a deeper state of spiritual confidence within the person. This is especially true with people who understand more about themselves from their dreams. It allows a greater ability to process dreams and eases nightmares. It has been approved by the European Commission that the extract of Passiflora incarnata can be used internally in low doses for nervous restlessness, mild disorders of sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin. The British Herbal Compendium indicates its use for sleep disorders, restlessness, nervous stress, and anxiety. Other uses include neuralgia and nervous tachycardia. The German Standard License for passionflower tea indicates its use for nervous restlessness, mild disorders of sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin. It is frequently used in combination with valerian and other sedative plants. Currently the plant extract is used for the treatment of Psychoemotional and Physiological conditions. Most of these are mentioned below.

1. It supports the harmony of heart, its inner peace and communication

2. It releases nervous tension, and mental irritability.

3. It repairs nervous exhaustion, and removes anxiety.

4. It treats insomnia related to neurasthenia, and nervous Tachycardia.

5. It removes gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin, and releases tension and headaches.

Sesbania sp. : The Great Nitrogen Fixer

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The leguminous plants such as clover, beans, alfalfa, lupines, and peanuts need plenty of nitrogen but they don't have a technology to stop and capture the nitrogen of air. Neither can they capture plenty of nitrates from the surrounding. But they are clever enough to take help from the Rhizobia (singular- Rhizobium) and a few other bacteria that are technologically more advanced in this work. For this, the leguminous plants have to make special nodules in their roots as homes for their habilitation. These bacteria convert the nitrogen of air into inorganic compounds of nitrogen (for example: Ammonium) and offer the same to the plant of whom they are guests. Now, plants can utilize this compound to assimilate amino acids which is essential for the formation of proteins. This much portion of the nitrogen cycle is called as Biological Nitrogen Fixation. Not all the leguminous plants have bacterial associations for fixing nitrogen. Styphnolobium is one example.


Many non-leguminous plants also fix nitrogen. Such plants are called as actinorhizal plants. These comprise many shrubs and woody trees. Some plants of birch family like Alder (Alnus); Mountain Mahogany; Cliff- rose; Dryas etc are examples of such plants. The bacteria or other microorganisms that fix nitrogen are called as Diazotrophs.

The Biological Nitrogen Fixation was first discovered by a Dutch Microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck.The stems of some plants like Sesbania Plant too, have nodules on them. Do you think that all the nitrogen fixed by nodules on a particular plant is used by the same plant alone? No, the remaining nitrogen is spent in improving the fertility of soil.

Cherrapunjee : Is it still the wettest place ?

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CHERAPUNJEE is a town of north-eastern state of Meghalaya of India. It is located at a distance of 56 Kms from Shillong and it is reputed to be the wettest place in the world because of the unique meteorological phenomena of the Indian Summer Monsoon. The South-west Monsoon and the North- east winds used to cause heavy monsoon rains over the mountains of Cherrapunjee. But now the environmental conditions of the area have not remained the same as they used to be. Now the scientists observe that the weather pattern of Cherapunjee is being badly hit by the changing global climate.

According to meteorologists, the climate of the town is changing fast. It is getting a lot hotter and now the monsoon is arriving later in Cherrapunjee. In 1974, it rained 24,555 mm in Cherapunjee which is the highest recorded rainfall in any one place in any one year. The annual rainfall for 2007 was back to normal. During 2006, 98% of the area's rainfall was between the months of March and October. In 2008 rains did not arrive fairly until June. The reason for that could only be the global change in climate.

Now in Cherapunjee, crops are being destroyed and intensive soil erosion has set in. Water flows faster from Meghalaya into Bangladesh delta due to depletion of forest. Now a part of Meghalaya is at risk of desertification due to the combination of increasing urbanization and industrialization at one hand and deforestation and shortage of groundwater on the other.

PARTHENIUM : The Congress Grass

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Parthenium is a weed which is botanically known as Parthenium hysterophorous. It is native to Tropical America. It was accidently introduced in India in the year 1956. Parthenium is an annual herb which is locally known as Congress Grass or the Gajjar grass.

Plants of Parthenium have deep tap root system and multibranched erect shoot system. Stems become woody on maturity. Leaves are deeply lobed, pale green in colour, and hairy. Flowers of Parthenium are creamy white in colour. They produce small and black coloured seeds with white scales that are hardly visible.

Parthenium has been declared as noxious in India, America, Australia, and in many other countries. Seeds germinate in spring to summer and the plants die around autumn. Parthenium plants can however grow during any time of the year, and anywhere on the land including places around water points if conditions are suitable for their growth and development. Flowering of plants continues till their death. This plant is a prolific producer of seeds and can produce up to one lac seeds per plant. In India Parthenium Plants can be seen any where and every where.

Problems Associated with Parthenium

Parthenium is a vigorous species which colonizes in bare land, roadsides, crop fields, and in places around water bodies. It reduces production of crops and pastures, and it is very difficult to control the weed. The plant is a major health hazard to animals and human beings and even to other plants as well. Pollens of these plants cause asthma to the exposed person and causes dermatitis on contact. It reduces the yield of milk and weight of grazers; and causes severe diseases in rabbits. Seeds and plant-litter leach out toxins that inhibit the germination of seeds of plants of other species. Some of the serious diseases caused due to Parthenium are contact dermatitis, Eczema, Eczematous dermatitis, allergic reactions, fewer in cows, hypersensitivity in rabbits( like restlessness, natural falling of hair from the dorsal region of the neck and back, small boils etc.), ulcerations in buffaloes, horses, donkeys, sheep, and goats.

Scientific investigations have found that pollens of Parthenium contain Sesquiterpene lactones, Caffeic acids, vanillic acids, Anisic acids, Chlorogenic acids, Para hydroxyl benzoic acids (all Phenolic acids) that are severely lethal to human beings and cattle. Parthenin is the basic toxic substance extracted out and studied by our scientists. The Chemical Formula of Parthenin is C15H18O4.


Parthenium is hard to control due to its highly invasive and competitive nature. How ever hand hoeing, growing a smother crop, applying herbicides like 2-4 D etc. has been found helpful in controlling this weed. People across the world are uniting together to control the spread of Parthenium. However a group of scientists is researching the biochemistry of the weed in order to investigate any possible positive side of the plant.

KHONOMA: The Green Village of India

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It has been the initiative of responsible persons of the Khonoma area that hunting was finally banned by the local communities in biodiversity rich areas. Over the last decades Angami tribals inhabiting Khonoma area, stood fast to make giant strides in establishing and strengthening the systems of natural resource management; in resolving the conflicts emerging out during the process, handling the administration of the village and its appropriate development. All these steps were taken by up by Angamis tribals due to a resolute will of protecting plants and animals of the area and ensuring ecological balance. .The courage and will power to Angamis for protecting their environment and giving it to the trendsetter form that we see today, had never been copied or imported from anywhere in the world , rather, all the courage and will power for doing such an astonishingly great job emerged out of the traditional ethos of the village.

The Background Scenario

In 1995, the Village Council of Khonoma with Tsilie as its one of the members, was convinced with the idea of the Forest Officer of local origin Mr. T. Angami, about notifying nearly 2000 hectares (sq km) of the land of the Khonoma area as Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS).Since hunting was too much a part of the culture of the tribal people inhabiting the Khonoma area, the idea had to face a number of oppositions from many of local persons. But extensive discussions were continued among Tsilie, Mr. Angami and villagers, for three long years. Due to these discussions most of the Khonoma villagers were convinced and the foundation stones of KNCTS were laid in December 1998.With the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the sanctuary, hunting in the area was completely banned by the community. A Naga Pavilion has been erected at Khonoma to mark the importance of the village.

The Khonoma village set up a KNCTS- Trusts and framed the sets of rules and regulations. Mr. Tsilie, one of the founder members of the Village Council, was selected its First Managing Director. A warden was also appointed for periodic checking of the sanctuary affairs including the activities of volunteers. In fact, KNCTS is a part of the same important Dzuku valley which has been referred by the great Indian author; novelist and poet Mr. Vikram Seth in his famous poem, "The elephant and the Tragopan." This valley shelters healthy populations of pheasants including the endangered state- bird of Nagaland the Blythii Tragopan. The valley has been identified by the Bombay Natural History Society as one of the Most Important Bird Areas of India. The sanctuary is the shelter of vast varieties of animals such as Himalayan Black Bear, many Species of Orchids and other plants including Dzuku lily which is endemic to the area. The important Fauna include serow, leopard; sambhar etc.

It is now proposed that Khonoma Sanctuary should be extended to the neighboring buffer zone of forests covering an area of over 3000 hectares, on ground over 10,000 hectares(100sq.km).The tribal people of Khonoma are discussing the matter with Manipur Tribes. It is now hoped that the entire Dzuku and Jampfer area may be declared as Community Protected Area which may then be extended upto many hundred sq. km.

The Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture is supporting the Khonoma green village project(KGVP).As one part of this project the Ministry is promoting Ecotourism in the Khonoma area. In order to avoid any damage to the local environment that may be expected through Ecotourism, the Centre for the Environmental Education has been given the responsibility of conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Studies of the area. The Guidelines, codes of conduct and Environmental Indicators were already worked out
before the start of the flow of tourists.

The Community Conserved Areas

The Modern System of Shifting Cultivation as practiced in Khonoma Village of Nagaland is a trendsetter example. In fact, the plantation of Alder trees, the pollarding of these trees, use of these trees in making nitrogenous fertilizer etc. is not done by a single person or by a single family. Neither the work of managing such a vast and trendsetter Sanctuary is a work of few people. These works demand too much of care, wisdom, attention, management- skill and man- power. Thus all the work done for greening the Khonoma, managing the wildlife sanctuary, improving the system of agriculture etc. have been and still these are the community works. Thus, Khonoma and neighboring areas are called as Community Conserved Areas (CCAs).

Areas, those are voluntarily conserved by indigenous, mobile and local communities through customary laws or by other effective means are called as Community Conserved Areas (CCAs).
These communities have substantial dependence on the local natural resources that are contained in the ecosystems of such areas for their survival, livelihood and cultural sustenance. The efforts of conservation taken up by communities include continuation of Traditional Conservation and practices of sustainable utilization of resources.According to Mr. Ashish Kothari, the Environmentalist, Researcher and Writer from India

"Khonoma may well be the only village in India that has a Global Citizenry with an active self identity; every year, 1st September is celebrated as the village's 'birth day' with Khonomaians from far and wide coming to the village to celebrate or carrying out celebrations where ever they are."

Hornbill Festival: Public Effort to Generate Awareness on Conservation

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In Nagaland, one festival follows the other festival, round the year. The rich heritage of the Naga People is reflected from each and every festival they celebrate; including the Hornbill Festival? What is it and why is it so named? Well, hornbill is a globally respected bird which occupies very important place in the folklore of most of the tribes of Nagaland. And hornbill- festival is a set of functions organized by all the tribes of Nagaland on 1st to 5th of December every year. Yes, the state has about 16 major tribes named as Angamis, the Aos, the Chakesangs, the Konyaks, the Kukis, the Kacharies, the Sumis, the Changs, the Lothas and the Pochurys ETC. All these festivals have their own different festivals. But since Hornbill is equally respected by all of these tribes; the hornbill festival is respected by all. This shows that the great bird hornbill is the symbol of the inherent unity among the vast diversity of the tribal people of Nagaland. On the other hand, it has been the efforts of the Government of Nagaland that all the tribes of the area unite together to celebrate at least one common festival: the Hornbill Festival. The festival is celebrated in the first week of December in the capital city Kohima.

A series of performances and demonstrations are organized by the tribal people during the period of the Hornbill Festival. As per reports, "this one week long festival unites all of the Nagaland, in one giant colour splashed hodgepodge of dances, performances, crafts, parades, games, sports, fairs and religious ceremonies. The festival exposes the culture and tradition of tribal people and reinforces Nagaland's identity as a unique state in India's federal union", which in spite of all has the inherent love towards its wildlife. On this occasion Naga tribes sing folk songs, perform traditional dances and play indigenous games and sports.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bhumi Amla, amlaki or Phyllanthus niruri :The Medicinal Herb

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A number of herbs grow during rains as their seeds remain preserved by the earth. Most of these herbs have very short lives. It does not mean that they pass away without completing their life cycles. Yes, a number of plants are destroyed by human activities of habitat destruction, mechanical injuries, water logging etc. Many plants are eaten up by cattle or they die off under severely diseased conditions. But, if left unaffected by adverse climatic and biotic conditions, these plants usually do not die unless their life cycles are completed properly. It is a mystery for me, and it is perhaps psychologically addressed as the survival instinct. Thus, a number of plants are seen growing in the wild during the onset of the rainy season and these plants often die off before winter, or many may survive for the whole year, or so. Here, I wish to talk about Phyllanthus niruri or the Bhumi amla or amalaki - a plant of very short life, and that has emerged out as a challenge for scientists across the globe to extract out important medicines or chemicals to treat some of the deadly diseases.

Phyllanthus niruri is an annual herb which grows in the wild after first showers of monsoon in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, etc. states of India. However, it has also been reported to grow commonly in coastal areas. In Indian states it usually grows during second week of June and starts bearing fruits up to mid July or August. It remains in the wild up to the end of the rainy season.However, under safe conditions it can grow and survive upto mid- winter.

In some areas it may be found in profusely branched condition along with crops of gram, wheat, pea, etc. In the wild it is found growing along roadsides, in street corners, and dumps of building materials. Taxonomically, the annual herb Phyllanthus niruri belongs to the family Phyllanthaceae of the order Malpighiales under class Magnoliopsida of the Division Magnoliophyta.It is a field weed which is found proliferating through out tropical and sub-tropical regions od Asia, America, and China.The genus Phyllanthus (L) Murr. comprises from 600 to 700 species with minor distinguishing features among them.Phyllanthus niruri L., P. amarus, and P. urinaria are three most employed species. As for P. niruri, the epithet "niruri" was assigned to this plant by Swedish naturalist Charles von Linee. Hence the name is written as P. niruri L.It is reported that this plant is known and used since more than 2,000 years. It may grow from 20 to 90 cm or more in height.


Phyllanthus niruri growing in the wild

In spite of its great medicinal property the plant Phyllanthus niruri L. could not attain the status of a cultivated plant so far.It has still remained a field weed and it is collected directly from fields only. The traditional herbalists sell these plants in dried conditions in fairs and market places. Since the properties of the plant are retained even when it is dried completely, it can be shipped anywhere in the world.This plant has a long history in the herbal health care system in every tropical country where it is found growing.This plant has been a subject of Phytochemical research since the mid- 1960, and has been considered to be a complex plant in view of its chemical content.The plant is well known to a number of traditional health care systems in different countries across the word like Brazil,Bahamas, Caribbean, Haiti, Amazon, United States, India and China. In the United States the plant is known as "stone breaker" or "chanca pedra". Some of the other closely related species of the genus Phyllanthus that are well employed in medicine are P. urinaria, P.debilis, and P. fraternus. However lots of confusion exists about identification of species of this genus.



A rachis of P. niruri bearing leaflets and underside flowers and fruits

The Plant Phyllanthus niruri has different names in different names in different language – Assamese: Holpholi, Bengali:Noe, Hindi: Chalmeri, Bhumyalaki, Konka: Bhuin- avalae, Malayalam-Kijhandli, Marathi – Ray avail, Oria – Narakoli, Sanakrit – Bhoo datri, and Tamil –Aru.
In the Ayurvedic System of medicine the whole plant of Phyllanthus niruri can be used for medicinal purposes. It has been accepted as acrid, cooling, alexipharmic. Ayurveda recommends its use for bronchitis, leprosy, anaemia, urinary discharge, asthma etc. Local people of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand use it for the treatment of skin diseases, indigestion, cough, ulcers etc. Maharshi Charak has considered this herb to be most effective in the treatment of asthma, increasing appetite, improving digestion, stimulating liver, and producing laxative effects.
In the Unani System of medicine this herb is good for sores and chronic dysentery. Its seeds are used in the treatment of ulcers, wounds, scabies and ringworms. The root of this plant is considered to be an excellent remedy for liver diseases.

The scientists across the world have been attracted towards the anti- viral properties of Phyllanthus niruri. The extract of the plant has been found to cure even acute inflammation of liver. As such it is justified that the extract of this plant can cure Hepatitis caused by viruses of Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B. The extract of this plant has been found to be clinically effective in the Viral Hepatitis B along current parameters. It is due to the anti-viral properties that experiments on P. niruri are going on across the world today, and scientists hope that the plant may also be helpful in the treatment of AIDS. The extract of the plant has been proved to be non-toxic by researchers from the different parts of the world. Current researches on the chemical analysis of the extract of this plant show that its leaves contain Lignansniranthin, Nirtetralin, and phyltetralin chemical compounds. The seeds of this plant contain Ricinoleic acid, Linoleic acid, and Linolenic acid (54%). Fisetin-4-0-glucoside, a new Flavon glycoside has been isolated from the aerial parts of this plant.