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Friday, October 30, 2009

Ephedrine content of Sida plant

Sida cardifolia was first reported to contain Ephedrine in 1930. It has been recommended by physicians in India as heart stimulant.

Earlier, it was known that Ephedra, an other plant of the Gymnosperm group contain a specific alkaloid Ephedrine. But current researches have revealed that Sida contained an equal amount of ephedrine as contained in Ephedra. Ephedra sp. is an herb with a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for asthma, bronchitis, allergies and cold and flu symptoms.According to a report – “During the 80s, ephedra became popular outside of traditional Chinese medicine for weight loss and to enhance sports performance. Its popularity continued to grow, and it was found in many nutritional supplements marketed for weight loss and performance enhancement until supplements containing ephedra were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006.The primary active ingredients in ephedra are believed to be the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are thought to increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels (which increases blood pressure), dilate bronchial tubes (which makes it easier to breathe) and have thermogenic properties (increases body heat and metabolic rate).”

A synthetic form of pseudoephedrine is found in over-the-counter decongestants and cold medicines, and synthetic ephedrine is used to treat asthma (but it has largely been replaced by newer medications). Synthetic ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have also been used to make the illicit street drug methamphetamine.

Though the whole plant of Sida has been reported to contain ephedrine, its seeds contain greater amount of the compound. Ephedrine tends to have an immediate effect on a number of body functions when consumed in any form. It causes an increase in the heart rate and blood pressure.

Ephedrine has also been reported to cause weight loss by burning fat. It increases metabolic rate of the body. Another alkaloid present in Sida extract is Vasicinone which is an effective bronchodialator.

A chemical analysis of the plant has revealed that leaves of Sida contained 74000 to 347000 ppm protein; 94,000 to 47,5000 ppm carbohydrate; 33,000 to 16,700 ppm ash. Roots of this plant have been reported to contain 450ppm alkaloids including ephedrine and saponine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sida: An important shrub of overgrazed lands

Sida is a shrub belonging to Malvaceae, a family of dicot flowering plants. Though a very important plant with great medicinal value, it grows and passes away without gaining due regard from men and animals. A field rat or a rabbit may rest under the shade of some of its shrubby species, or use it as a cover against enemies. Some insects though rarely, a lady bird may try to scrap and chew its leaves. Most of the cattle don’t try even to kiss this plant. Some of these appear as miniature trees.

Common names of Sida sp.

Sida has a number of species. Some very common of these are – Sida cordifolia, Sida glabra, Sida spinosa, Sida rhombifolia, Sida urens etc.

Sida cordifolia L. syn. Melochia cordata, Sida humilis, Sida veronicifolia, is known as Country Mellow, Funnel weed, and heart leaf sida in English. In Japan it is know as ke dong. Nepalese call it Balu.Its Sanskrit name is Bala. In Spanish it is called as llima. Tamil people in India call it Chitaemuttie. Its names in other languages are- Bhumi Petari in Marathi, Kurunthotti in Tamil, Benda,gayapaku and Tirunala in Telugu; bek kinathale gida, in Kannad; Bhoy bala in Gujrati; and Bhumi bala, Naga bala in Sanskrit.

Sida glabra Mill. Is called as smooth fern petal in English; Balai cinq-heures in French, and Escobilla, Escobilla dulce and Malva blanka in Spanish.

Sida spinosa L. is called as Valu in Nepalese and it is lesser known species.

Sida rhombifolia L. is native to the New World Tropics. It is also called as arrow-leaf sida, Cuban Jute, Paddy’s Lucerne, Queensland hemp, and Tea weed in English. In French it is called as Faux. InGerman it is called as Kubajute and in Nepalese it is called as Sanno cilyaa. In Spanish Sida rhombifolia is called as Exoba, Escobilla, Escobita ceniza, Huinar, Malva prieta and Popotalagua.

Sida urens L. is called as Tropical fanpetal in English, and Khetri in Hindi. It is called as Marubakingo in Japanese, and Balai-zortie in French. It is known as Kedong in Chinese, Bala in Tibetan and Arival in Tamil. Related to the Marsh mallow plant called Sida cordifolia in Latin, it is thorny shrub with heart shaped leaves.

Sida acuta

Sida glabra

Sida rhombifolia

All photographs by the author

Habit and Habitat

Sida plant with a number of species is a perennial or annual sub-shrub or shrub growing 0.75 to 1.5 m in height. Leaves are simple, stipulate, stipules threadlike to narrow lanceolate; the leaf base is entire or sometimes lobed with dentate margins. Stem is cylindrical, branched, hairy, fibrous and deep green. Roots of Sida are shallow tap roots, profusely branched and strong. The plant flowers through out the year. Flowers are solitary, or paired, axillary or sub terminal raceme or panicle. Calyx campanulate, or cup shaped, 5 lobed. Corolla is mostly yellow, rarely white or rose to purplish in colour. Sometimes a dark centre is seen. Corolla consists of five petals, free and basically connate. The filament tube is pubescent or glabrous with many anthers at the apex. Ovary is five to ten loculed, ovules one per locule, pendulous. Style is branched as many as carpels. Stigma is capitates. Fruit is schizocarp, disc shaped or globose; mericarp (4-)5-109-14), sculptured or smooth; partly membranous, puberulent. The fruit is a ribbed capsule which breaks up into 8 to 10 segments. Seeds are smooth, gray to black in colour.

Sida is a common weed which is distributed through out tropical and sub-tropical India, Ceylone and America. It is distributed to New World Tropics and sub-tropics. Some taxonomists regard some species of Sida to be native to American countries. It grows in waste places, overgrazed lands, in jungles, in planes and even up to an altitude of 1050m.

According to Wagner (1990) a species of Sida known as Sida fallax is indigenous to Hawai’i where it commonly occurs on all the main islands and also on midway Atoll and Nihoa. It is also widespread on islands across the pacific to China. In Hawai’i, Sida fallax grows on rocky sandy coasts, on raised limestone reefs, lava fields, and dry to moist forests, rarely all the way to the wet forest.

Ecological value
Sida has numerous species. Some are liked by herbivores but others are not, probably due to its ephedrine content. It usually grows in pastures competing with overgrazed grasses. Though an important medicinal plant it is uncared in India. In some European countries, it is grown as fodder for deer. Some species of Sida are cultivated as fiber plant.

Wagner, Warren L., Darrel R. Herbst, and S.H.Sohmer.1990. Manual of flowering plants of Hawai'i.2vols.,Bishop Museum special publication 83. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press and Bishop Museum Press.p.897-898.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Impacts of application of agro-chemicals on environment

The High Yielding Varieties of Crops remain vulnerable to a variety of pests and diseases due to their poor resistance. So a variety of pesticides are needed to be used to prevent and care the infestation or the outbreak of pests. However after some time, the pests develop resistance to pesticides due to which the intensity and frequency of pesticides have to be increased every time. This results to the investment of good sum of money, which can be afforded by rich farmers only. Thus green revolution has been favouring the growth and prosperity for rich farmers only.

Over 90 percent of the sprayed pesticides reach a destination other than their target species, including undesired species of plants and animals, air, water, bottom sediments, and food. In many ecosystems it has been found that pesticides kill both the pests and natural predators. This condition creates secondary outbreak of pests which usually remains most damaging.

Pesticides, after they join the food chain and travel to the top consumer cause serious biomagnification. They get deposited in the fatty tissues of animals and human beings where their potency goes on increasing. Severe cases of renal failure, brain damage, blindness and impotency have been reported due to biomagnification of pesticides. Even the smallest quantity of these chemicals can cause long term and widespread impacts as they are in the food chain connected to a vast variety of birds and amphibians.

Here are some examples of how some pesticides are harmful to the biotic components of the environment –

Pesticides, when sprayed, or dusted on crop plants or garden plants, they cause adverse impacts on honey bees, other pollinators, parasites and predators. Continuous use of pesticides leads to development of pesticide-resistance in different pests. This adversely affects the non-target organism that is the organisms that the pesticide is not meant for.

Endosulphan, Linden, Malathion, Chloropyriphos, and many others are highly poisonous to aquatic organisms like amphibians and fish, and also to some terrestrial animals like birds, bees and wildlife. These pesticides cause acute toxicity to liver and kidney, heart, blood, lungs and skin.

Aldrin, Di aldrin, Endrine etc. are a group of highly toxic chemical pesticides that join the food chain and cause serious ailments in the bodies of consumers. Some of the minor troubles caused by traces of these pesticides are –loss of memory, mental retardation, loss of weight, and impotency.

The Chlorinated Hydrocarbons are other group of pesticides that are deposited in the fatty (Adipose) tissues of animals where they are magnified gradually, and cause serious conditions in the later course.

Impacts of Application of Phytohormones
Plant hormones sprayed on plant parts or mixed in soil, are easily absorbed by producers. Then they move through entire biosphere by way of food chains and create chemical imbalance in the bodies of consumers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Geo-Engineering: New Technology for averting Climate Change

To counteract the impact of global warming, scientists and engineers have proposed large scale interventions – called as geo-engineering. Some of these interventions are-

A. Launching reflectors into space; and releasing sulphur into the upper atmosphere; and

B. Releasing sulphur into the upper atmosphere.

It is thought that these techniques would increase reflectivity of the earth. Scientists have scrutinized these two schemes through cost and system modeling analyses and have suggested that these interventions would be expensive. On the other hand these would require international cooperation and if implemented, these could inflict significant dangers to the whole region.

Exploiting CO2 sequestration potential in nutrient rich but iron deficient parts of the ocean is another technology proposed by engineers. These parts of oceans do not support growth of planktons due to their iron scarcity. If large amounts of iron are supplied to these areas of oceans, it can stimulate plankton-blooms that will in turn bind carbon molecules and eventually sequester them on the deep sea floor. However, a group of scientists is of the opinion that this practice can intervene in nutrient cycling that feed ocean organisms. The convention on the prevention of marine pollution, reported in November-2007 that planned operations for large scale fertilizations operations using micronutrients (e.g. Iron) to sequester carbon dioxide were unjustified.

Air Capture Device of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, hypothetical (UNEP 2008)

A group of scientists and engineers from the Earth Institute of Columbia University has suggested the use of artificial CO2 collector, which emulates the sequestration capability of photosynthesizing trees. This suggestion is based on fish tank filters and this ‘air capture’ method can directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere above coastal areas. The success in ongoing experiments and financial support can determine viability of the scheme.

Reference : Lackner 2003, Lackner and Sachs 2005, IMO 2007, Morton 2007; quoted in the UNEP Year Book2008.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ferns absorb toxic pollutants from air

Ferns can eliminate toxic substances from air

Fonds of Fern showing Sori- the spore bearing organs

What is a fern and where is it found?

There are varieties of plants small and big, flowering and non- flowering. Among the non- flowering plants, ferns acquire their unique position. These are ancient and seedless plants with specific leaf like structures called as fonds. The small leaflets that make up the fond are called as pinnae. These plants are older than land animals and far older than dinosaurs. These have been reported to be living on earth for two hundred million years before the flowering plants evolved. These plants are found almost every where in the world but in moist shady places. These grow well in old soil rich in organic substances. Taxonomically, all ferns have been placed in a single group of vascular plants known as Pteridophyta.Fern can be seen growing on the inside walls of wells, walls of old buildings, forest floors, banks of streams, and some times on dead barks of old trees as well. There are many different types of ferns like –tree ferns, sweet ferns, water ferns, brittle ferns, interrupted ferns, etc.

There are several thousand of fern species, but most of these fern species are abundant in the tropical rain forests. These are considered to be the most primitive plants to have developed a true vascular system. A vascular system in a plant is the system of organs or tissues which is responsible for the conduction of food and water.

Factors essential for the survival of ferns

A number of factors are essential for the survival of an adult fern and these factors are - moisture in the soil; moisture in the air; suitable nutrients in the soil; sufficient light for photosynthesis; suitable temperatures; protection from wind; protection from too much sunlight; protection from freezing; and dependability and continuity of the previous requirements.

Reproduction in ferns

Unlike the other vascular plants, the flowering plants and conifers where the adult plant grows from seed, ferns reproduce from spores found on their fonds.These life cycle of ferns has two stages- the gametophyte and the sporophyte.

On to the underneath surfaces of pinnae, a number of small clumps, spots or patches are found. These are called as sori (singular sorus). The arrangement of sori on fonds differs in ferns from species to species. A fond having sori is called as a fertile fond. Not all the fonds are fertile. However, fertile fonds develop after a certain period of maturity.

The sori of some ferns remain protected under a membranous structure that often remains globular in shape. These globular structures are called as incidia.In the ferns that don’t have incidia; the sori are open to the world. The sori may also be called as sporangia as they contain spores. Spores are very small structures. If we put a spore sori bearing fond of a fern on paper and keep it pressed overnight, we can find that the spores have been released on the paper in the form of a coloured powder. These show up a fine pattern that trace the form of the fonds.These spores can be black, brown, reddish, yellow or even green. Each one of these spores is capable of growing into a new plant, the gametophyte.

A spore germinates to give birth to a tiny heart shaped structure called as prothallus.which is also called as the gametophyte. This gametophyte is not a full fern. Rather, it is a plant containing half the genetic material of the adult fern. It bears male and female reproductive organs that produce male and female reproductive cells that in turn fuse together to form a compound cell called as a zygote. The zygote develops into a sporophyte plant that is the fern. And the fern may have reproductive fonds that may bear sori to produce spores. Thus the reproductive cycle of ferns goes on.

Role of ferns in cleaning the environment

Many plant species have been reported to filter out the harmful chemicals and increase the level of oxygen in the atmosphere. Ferns also do this help to us. Since ferns require minimum care and upkeep, and can grow in a wide range of climates they can be grown in pots in small houses and apartments too. Where there some plants of ferns are grown the quality of air there remains good and pure.

NASA has been the first organization that conducted substantial research into the role of plants in cleaning and maintaining the quality of air around us. It was during the Sky-lab project of NASA that its scientists conducted research on ferns to use them as cost effective, low upkeep solutions to keep future stations in space suitable to human habitation.

There are a number of plants that draw in different harmful chemicals from the surrounding air and fix them in the soil. On entering into the soil these harmful chemicals loose their properties of harming the environment. Rather, these chemicals gradually become harmless. Though we already know that plants such as ferns and all the others draw in oxygen during the process of photosynthesis and release out carbon dioxide, it is during last few years that we have come to know that plants do even greater favor to us beyond the oxygen enrichment. There are three most common pollutants that are absorbed and fixed by ferns and these pollutants are – Benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde.

In the modern age chemicals are regulating our lives in greater ways. Thus our houses have become a fairly toxic endeavor. The increasing use of plastics ranging from sealants to carpeting our houses have become full of off-glossed toxins that keep us sick round the clock though we don’t feel it due to a condition of habit forming. These symptoms of sickness are called as the part of the sick-building syndrome. If we keep ferns and other plants in our houses and close surroundings, these plants will certainly absorb the pollutants present in the surrounding air and deposit them in the soil of the pot where those toxic substances get neutralized automatically. It is reported that formaldehyde, which is a toxin for living system remains present nearly in all the modern buildings. According to an estimation of Environment Protection Agency U.S.A. a volume of 800 cubic foot room contains about 1,800 micrograms of formaldehyde. It can cause bad effects on our nervous system, skin, and respiratory system. All these facts are enough for us to go for keeping ferns as indoor plants and plants in our surroundings.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Intrinsic values of biodiversity

The Intrinsic Values relates to the fact that humans too are parts of Nature. The concept of intrinsic value of biodiversity accepts that biodiversity is the foundation of civilization. The author of the Silent Spring- Rachel Carson asks - “Can any civilization wage relentless war on life without destroying itself and without loosing the right to be called civilized?” The integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community are values that can be saved and protected as it is evident from following lines-

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and the beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”- Aldo Leopold; sand Country Almanac.

Rachel Carson: The author the Silent Spring

The evolutionary values and the Noah’s principle accept that- since humans are and were parts of nature, they benefited from the evolutionary processes. This thought can raise a question, whether humans should endanger their own milieu and the process from which they stem. The Noah’s principle is named from the biblical Noah and the principle argues that the usefulness of a species is not considered when discussing its conservation, but rather its very presence in the long history of evolution is sufficient to warrant its preservation. Since most of the loss of biodiversity has been caused by human beings through the loss of habitat, overexploitation and other activities, the Environmental ethics says that- humans must have to protect the biodiversity of nature.

The Environmental Ethics demands extension of rights to species and landforms. According to the ethical point of view, the biodiversity and land forms have their rights to exist with us because of the simple reason that its long standing existence in Nature is deemed to carry with it the ‘ unimpeachable right’ to continued existence.

The Harward Biologist E. O. Wilson is of the opinion that love of nature has been deep rooted into us by the process of Natural Selection. The religious feelings about biodiversity can be seen as a natural extension of a tendency to focus on life and life like processes. Wilson coined the word “Basophilic” for this tendency. This tendency is seen in the form of human desire to remain surrounded by biodiversity and to manage natural things and also the artificial Greenland.

The Anthropocentric values centre around economic benefits, services of ecosystems; regulations of climate by biodiversity, generation of moisture and oxygen by plants and animals; formation of soil and improvement of fertility; de-toxification of wastes by organisms; and Aesthetic and recreational benefits.

Humans can take up steps to conserve biodiversity as their sacred duty. For this they can formulate projects for preserving or improving, at least, the status of a particular species. The author , once when he was chief advisor of an Environmental Organisation, devised a plan to woo back the bird species that had already left a particular area.The project incorporated massive study of bird behavior, their nesting pattern, and all the other details. Private campuses were chosen and artificial nests were built on the basis of comprehensive research. The wooden nest were hung by volunteers on different heights of trees and nesting materials were placed close to the nests. After a long time it was found that different bird species visited the nests placed at different heights, Gradually some bird species selected some nests but interiorly decorated them with their own nesting materials, Very few birds picked up some nesting materials already placed near the nests. General arrangement s for keeping the area peaceful was made and astonishingly, it was found that some birds laid eggs on those artificial nests. This way the bird nesting project was declared to be successful. Later bird baths and bird singing posts were also constructed in the nearby areas. So, this was an example. Values can be added in the conservation of biodiversity by formulating small plans and projects towards this direction. If you too have some plans ,try to implement the same and inform.

Dr. M.P. Mishra inspecting the artificial nest constructed by him and evaluates his plan for the conservation of birds in the area.

Key words : environmental ethics,Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Dr. M. P. Mishra,natural selection, values

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Indigenous Cows : Dying the "Plastic -deaths"- if left unbutchered

Plastics spread here and there present ugly scenes and attract cattle who eat them along with food items

The modern development stands at the cost of both the physical and biological environment. From the physical environment, it derives food, minerals, and fossil fuels and other sources of energy and in turn puts lots of non-degradable and degradable materials, say toxic and non-toxic waste on it. From the biological world it derives food, energy and a number of other things and in turn puts stresses of climate change, habitat destruction, and extinction of species of plants and animals and what not. The modern development has already engulfed vast tracts of forests making wild animals homeless; and yes vast areas of wet lands and of seas too- creating great dangers to aquatic flora and fauna. The need of more and more production may it be the production of grains, meat, or milk, has driven away many of our indigenous species of plants and animals.

Indigenous cows are either butchered or left to die the Plastic- death

Indigenous cows are either butchered or left to die the plastic death(Non- indigenous ones are allotted luxury Halls or modern Khatals, call them dairy farms)Yes, plastic has come to save the money in the modern world. Saving and being called as modern appear to be contrary. One who saves is not modern but I am a little confused here as it seems. People use plastics because of its durability? But are plastics really durable? Probably not … Leaders of political parties wish their banners and poster, and…, and handouts etc. to be made of plastics. They can not be washed out during rains. This is the reason why some political leaders wrap the whole city by plastic banners and posters and spread a layer of plastics on roads too, before they run a rally and address gathering of people in some good, vast and clean ground of the city. They can remain on place even after the election, or even after the death of the leader as deaths are certain but the longevities of plastics like other non- biodegradable waste (I don’t think that biodegradable plastics are commonly used, that too for banners and posters) is certain.

Those who burn “Putlas”( effigies) of some leaders at some particular “shmashan” (the place where dead bodies are burnt), don’t cause as much pollution as these plastic users do. By the way, let me tell you about this new shmashan- Every city in India or in any other democratic country as India (?) has a particular place where Putlas are burnt, just like the place where human dead bodies are burnt. It is the Albert Ekka Chowk in Ranchi, for example. Albert Ekka has been the great- great soldier and the whole Jharkhand, the new state of India, is indebted of his great deeds. A smart statue of the Great Soldier has been installed on the Chowk, and hence the place in called after his name. But what a tragedy! … The great Soldier, the God of Jharkhand, is now made to see the Putlas of leaders (of some high profile officers too, sometimes) being burnt before his eyes. And yes, the media men- the press photographers, now- TV- channel photographers also, rush to take a click or video graph the scene. Equally curious remain the people who burn the Putla. No sooner than a person ignites the dead body or Putla, the video camera starts, and other cameras too start their work. So this was about Putla –shmashan. Try to see, there must be one in your city also.One thing appears to be very strange in this case.A leader or an officer may belong to any religion but his effigy that is to be burnt belongs to only one religion- and that is the Hindu religion.I say so, because only Hindus burn dead bodies.

Going by these lines you may conclude that -some leaders are killed by the people many times before their real deaths, but they come up victorious in the next election and are garlanded by the similar people. Further they organize rallies and their people spread plastics.Not alone some leaders and their men are responsible for spreading plastics that cause deaths of cows- mostly of indigenous varieties; common people too contribute a lot in spreading plastics. Political parties come on the second place. Posters and banners of paper meant for spreading awareness about plastic pollution are kept in plastic bags and are carried to their destination in them. Plastics accompany men whereever they go, but don’t return. They wait for a cow to come and eat them and to die a plastic death. Plastic bags that remain unfortunate to reach to the stomach of a cow remain flying away here and there till they become heavy and remain calm at the same place like some wise persons of the modern world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A wonderful habitat

Fern plants (Adiantum sp.) growing high up on the side of the marble wall of Subodh Grantha Mala Office, Pustak Path, Ranchi, Jharkhand(India), raise many questions before ecologists. Comments invited to explain the ecology of these plants.(Photograph by author)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adhatoda vasica: a wonderful medicinal plant

Adhatoda vasica is an evergreen, sub-herbaceous bush which is found in most parts of the world. Taxonomically, it belongs to the family Acanthaceae. It inhabits waste and undisturbed land, preferably in shady places under old and tall trees. It may also be seen in open plains, along the foothills, and up to above 1300 m above sea level.Its botanical name is Adhatoda vasica or Justicia Adhatoda. Adatodai, Arusa, Adulsa, Bakas, Malabar Nut Tree are some of its common traditional names. Adhatoda vasica is known to Ayurveda from about 2000 years and the extract of its leaves is used for the treatment of Asthma. Besides this it has a number of healing properties due to important alkaloides and oils found in it. Here are some pictures of the plant.

Picture -1

Picture -2

Picture -3

Monday, October 19, 2009

How do plants and trees get infected?

The outer surfaces of trees like our skin remain exposed to the external environment which contains everything living as well as non-living. These areas remain exposed all the climatic factors and energies and human activities. The sad thing is that a tree can not ask us anything in its defense. Nor can it do anything to take revenge. It means a tree is like a fool who can not understand his benefit or loss, and even if it understands, it can do nothing. Humans identified this weakness of trees in the beginning of civilization. Hence his first fearless attack was oriented towards trees. He is still going on attacking plants and trees as plants and trees cannot take revenge. This is one angle of my thought. But let me proceed in this angle only.

Besides humans, other living beings like termites, ants, fungi etc. too understand the weakness of plants and trees. Fungi and bacteria being microscopic in their forms in the initial stages, invade our skin and plant- skin also, as neither we nor plants can see them developing even in the superficial parts of our/their bodies. But as the development proceeds our nervous system reports and we start scratching and searching for some poison to kill the invader. Plants cannot do this. Though many plants have specific chemicals in their skin that oppose the invasion of foreign things, but invaders remain equipped with more effective weapons and get success in establishing in the infection. Here, one thing is important to be considered. And that is the perfect defense of our skin and also of the skin of a plant or tree. The basic difference between our skin and the skin of plants and trees are that our skin remains elastic where as their skin is not. And probably, this is the reason why plant skin gets ruptured when it experiences the secondary growth. In very general and not too scientific terms the broken skin of trees and plants act as very good habitats for both the parasitic and saprophytic microorganisms.Sometimes the tree skin is ruptures by rubbing of deer or other animals in the forest. Such rubbed areas remain exposed to parasitic infections. This is the reason why some good forest men fence most of the trunks of young plants. Many different types of plants, animals, plant associations etc. have also been reported to colonize a sick tree trunk.Mosses, lichens, algae, and even ferns have also been reported to colonize tree trunks, but only after they have been infected repeatedly in succession

Parasitic microorganisms invade living tissues only, whereas saprophytic microorganisms colonize on dead tissues. After a long time is passed after the rupture of a plant skin it dies and swells. The saprophytic fungi colonize there and start decomposing the dead material of the skin- now called as cork. They excrete certain substances; call them enzymes that dissolve the cellulose and lignin of the cork and release gases into the atmosphere. Thus a day comes when the inner skin is exposed. The inner skin is now invaded by some parasitic microorganisms. Thus succession goes on and on, and the tree or the plant becomes sick. If we don’t care and don’t attend it with useful substances- say fungicides, antibiotics etc. whatever you may call, the plant or the tree is sure to proceed gradually towards death. This story is retold by tree-trunks in the following picture.

1 - Fungi on the dead bark

2 - Microorganisms developing their colonies on the bark of a tree trunk

3 -Bracket fungi on tree-trunk

(credit- Global Forest Watch, Canada)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feminist Environment

The monopoly of the state on natural resources was established during the British rule. It was during that period that the state established monopoly control over forests, reserved large tracts for timber extraction, restricted the customary rights of local populations to natural resources, and encouraged commercially profitable species of crops at the cost of species used by the local populations. Earlier, all the villagers, irrespective of gender had some rights of collection of many basic items including firewood, fodder, medicinal herbs, building materials, and fruits of wild plants and trees, and vegetables as well. Almost 90 percent of the firewood and about 70 percent of the fodder used to be collected by the poor, especially by ladies, from the village commons (VCs) until very recently. The subsistence provisioning was supplied by the forests up to that period.

The area of VCs declined dramatically in many different parts of India with illegal encroachments and distribution of land to individuals by the government under various land reform and antipoverty programmes. It has been reported repeatedly that up to 80per cent of the distributed land during these programmes went to the people already having sufficient land (The Hindu Survey of Environment, 2005).

Thus the poor had to loose collectively while gaining individually. Here it can be concluded that the processes of statisation and privatization concentrated natural resources only in the hands of a few people, and contributed to their depletion by undermining traditional institutional arrangements of community resources, their use and management which was popular in many regions of the country.

The above mentioned processes affected the poor severely, but not equally to every one among poor also. Landless and the land-poor families located in environmentally high risk areas such as those inhabiting hills and semi-arid plains were affected most severely. If we observe more closely, we see that the negative effects of these processes were and are being, borne by women and the female children- very disproportionately. This is seen in the forms of – unequal gender division of labour, gender inequalities in the intra- household distribution of available resources, gender inequalities in access to productive resources, women’s unequal access to knowledge systems, and women’s unequal access to decision making processes.

The depletion of natural resources has been striking over these pre-existing inequalities. In poor households, it is women and female children who have domestic responsibilities of collecting firewood, fodder, and other resources. In the event of decline of forests and VCs, the time and energy of females only have to be extended. But, how can the time and energy be expanded?

The time taken for the collection of firewood, fodder, and even water has increased manifold. Since these responsibilities are taken up by women and girl children and men do none of these activities at all, it is the life of women and girl children which is bound to become miserable. On the other hand the depletion of forests and VCs has reduced the income of rural ladies who used to earn from the collected or gathered items. Secondly, these have affected the cattle dependent livelihood also. The extra time and energy needed for collection of resources from distant areas have cut the time for crop production. The large scale migration of men and girl children (in their school ages), the women who remain left at homes have to take up all the responsibilities of agriculture, collection of resources, rearing of cattle, and all the others.

The large scale migration of men and girl children (in their school ages), the women who remain left at homes have to take up all the responsibilities of agriculture, collection of resources, rearing of cattle, and all the others.

The reasons explained above create immense pressure on women and even school going girls, especially the tribal girls of Jharkhand, and North- eastern regions of India. One can see a number of school going tribal girls transplanting paddy seedlings in crop fields in Jharkhand. Such ladies at home have to support the families even at the costs of their health, and schooling. Here we observe that tribal girls of poor rural families have no way to go to schools. They have to work in fields, at construction sites in the form of laborers, in houses as maids, or at brick-kilns located in some other state under greedy and criminal minded agents.

The face of Environmental- feminism
(Photo credit- The Hindu Survey of Environment 2005)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ganges River Dolphins : urgent need of quick steps for protection

Ganges River Dolphin: The most threatened aquatic species in the world
credit- The Bihar Times

With the news of declaration by Ganga River Basin Authority that Ganga river dolphin is given the status of National Aquatic Animal, conservationists are happy and demand quick action in view of Ganga river dolphins’ current ecological status as the world’s most threatened aquatic animal.

The Ganges river dolphin which is scientifically known as Platanista gangetica has been reported to exist in Ganga-Brahmaputra river system from 1500 to 2000 in number. It is due to heavy siltation followed by heavy deforestation along the banks of these rivers and their tributaries, and due to heavy municipal and industrial pollutions that the number of Ganga dolphins has reduced up to half within the last twenty years. Shrinking of habitat due to drying up of tributaries of these rivers causing interrupted water supply have contributed a lot to the threats against dolphins.

The status of Ganges river dolphins is already under survey and study by some national and international organizations. A National River Dolphin Action Plan has already been in existence in India and the only Ganges river dolphin sanctuary in India is located in Vikramshila in Bihar, no considerable effort has ever been taken to maintain their number. The declaration of Ganges river dolphin as National Aquatic Animal is just not enough. The conservation of this species requires protection at known habitations and searching out new locations where Ganges river dolphin is found. The effective protection of species requires planners and conservationists to work together while keeping contacts of local communities inhabiting the river banks so as to make the programme more effective.

The American Cetacean Society reports under The Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education Centre(VBREC) - After the declaration of the China's Yangtze River dolphin, Baiji Lipotes vexillifer as functionally extinct (Turvey et al., 2007), the focus shifted now towards strengthening efforts for conserving highly endangered (IUCN, 1996) Ganges river dolphins distributed in the Ganges - Bramhaputra - Meghna, and Karnaphuli - Sangu river systems of South Asia from the base of the Himalayan foothills to the Bay of Bengal. Ganges river dolphins have declined in abundance and in the extent of their range in recent past.In the winter of 2008-2009 ACS Puget Sound helped promote talks by Dr. Sunil K. Choudhary, who was visiting Seattle, and set up a special fund to help support the VBREC's conservation and awareness campaign efforts on behalf of the Ganges river dolphin Platanista gangetica gangetica .In fall 2009 the Ganges river dolphin was declared the aquatic animal of India and its recovery will be used to assess the health of the Ganges river.

Scene of river Ganga at Patna the capital city of Bihar in India

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deforestation for the expansion of agriculture





Thursday, October 15, 2009

Use of Renewable Energy, saving fossil fuel

The Indian Government launched a campaign for the conservation of energy on 14th December 2004.The Bureau of Energy Efficiency conducted a number of programmes for the conservation of energy during the year 2005.The country celebrates National Energy Conservation Day on 14th December every year. The National Energy Labeling Programme was started by the Indian Government on 18th May 2006.The country celebrates “Rajiv Gandhi Akshay Urja Diwas” on 20th August every year. The principal vision behind these numerous programmes conducted through out the country from time to time relates to the fact that our traditional sources of energy are depleting fast and the excessive use of fossil fuels through inefficient technologies has been certified to contribute to the global environmental problems like the increasing green house effect leading to the global warming and the climate change besides causing acid rains, corroding walls of monuments, causing diseases in humans and cattle, and numerous others. On the other hand the world especially the developing world is passing through an acute energy crisis. Thus it is important now to encourage the use of non- conventional sources of energy and search latest and efficient technologies for harnessing energy through these sources while saving our fossil sources as far as practicable.

A vast gap exists between the demand and supply of energy today across the whole world. The rate of consumption of fossil fuels is going on increasing day by day in spite of the fact that we have very limited stock of these resources. This is the reason why the prices of these fuels are rising day by day, and it is reflected brightly on the economy of the country. In brief one can conclude that the country in particular is passing through a phase of an acute energy crisis. Of the total primary energy requirements, 60 percent comes from the commercial sources. 69 percent or more of the electricity generation depends on coal only. About 25 percent of the energy requirement is met by the hydel power. The contribution of diesel and natural gas in this area is just 4 percent. Only 2 percent of the gross energy requirement is met by the nuclear energy. The contribution of non- conventional sources like solar light, wind, tide, hydro, and geo-thermal etc. is poor 1 percent. It is here that we need to worry a lot.

Addressing to a class of academicians on 26th June 2006 at Tata Energy Research Institute New Delhi, the ex-President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam asked the energy sector to raise the existing power generation capacity from 130,000 MW to 400,000 MW up to 2030. According to him the country could become self sufficient in energy generation by 2030 by building capacities in the areas of Hydel power, nuclear energy, and non-conventional energy like solar energy, biomass energy etc.
Today India has about 30,100,000 biogas plants; 4, 90,000 solar cookers; 3,400 solar pumps; and 637 wind energy pumps. The generation of solar energy is being enhanced through the application of solar photovoltaic cells. Currently, the country is generating about 57 MW of electricity by the application of about 7, 00,000 solar cells. It is still very less. The total generation of electricity in India through wind power is just 900MW as against the total capacity of 20,000 MW.The country is generating about 23,800 MW of hydel energy. The data suggest that India can produce 22,500 million cubic meter of methane in the form of biogas, but the country is far from achieving this target. A plant of 900 MW installed capacity for harnessing tidal energy has been installed in Kutch during previous years. The power generating windmill turbines were installed in an area 160 km west of the western Indian city of Ahmadabad on September 8, 2009.Thus it is clear now that the country can become self sufficient in energy generation if research and innovations are continued with a strong will power.

The wind energy farm in Kutch. India

Wind Power Generation near Ahmadabad (about 160 km from the main city)

Solar Power Generation in India
( credit world press)

We will have to take up some strong steps towards becoming self sufficient in energy generation by raising it through non-conventional sources. Some of the strong steps may be raising the generation capacity, raising the efficiency in utilization, raising the efficiency in transmission, Energy Planning, Integrated Energy Planning Programmes, and Energy Management etc. The Energy Conservation Act was passed in India in 2001, and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency was organized under this Act. The bureau prepares guidelines in different sectors of generation and utilization of energy in the country. But, only the government efforts alone can not crack the nut. The generation of energy through non- conventional sources requires public initiation, public participation, and public support, and besides all- the public awareness. It is through the development of non-conventional sources of energy that we can save our fossil fuels along with saving our environment especially the atmosphere from the serious pollution threatening now at the global level.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Parthenium on a new platform

Parthenium is a genus belonging to the family of plants known as Asteraceae.P.hysterophorus and P. guayule are common among several of its species. It is native to tropical America. However P.hysterophorus is commonly found in many parts of India as an aggressive weed which invades all types of land. Physical contact with Parthenium causes a number of allergic effects in humans including dermatitis and respiratory malfunctions.

Direct contact to the plant may cause dermatitis in cattle too. It is due to the fact that it contains a toxin known as Parthenin.Parthenium hysterophorus is an annual weed which grows up to 1m in height. Its stem remains green with longitudinal grooves. Leaves are alternate, sessile, irregularly dissected and pubiscent. The florets of Parthenium are white in colour. They are terminal or axillary, and peduncled. The plant bears flowers and fruits all through the year.

Parthenium hysterophorus : a closer view

Parthenium is also called as Congress Grass. It has acquired the status of invasive weed in many parts of the world including Australia and parts of Africa. Its outbreak has been observed in the epidemic proportion which causes adverse impact on crops, livestock and human health. It has also been found to be resistant to a number of herbicides like glyphosate.

A Jungle of Parthenium

In spite of its invasive nature and adverse impacts on crops, humans and cattle, Parthenium has been reported to contain some important medicinal properties also. The Jicarilla Apache people of North America have been reported to use it as medicinal herb for some ailments. The

Parthenium leaf extract is reported to be used in the synthesis of Silver nanoparticles by the Scientists at Nanophosphor Application Centre of Allahabad University, U.P., India. It can provide a new platform to this noxious weed in the field of nanotechnology based industries.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Survey of poverty and livelihood launched in Delhi slums

Preparation of a comprehensive database of slum areas is necessary for the government willing to formulate a plan of work and to undertake a programme for development of its habitants.
In view of the above, the Delhi Urban Development Authority launched a detailed and comprehensive survey of slums programme on September 29, 2009 as per the direction of the Union Ministry of Nourishing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. The survey is planned to incorporate profiling of slums, poverty and livelihood in slum clusters that are spread over nine districts of Delhi.

Slum- clusters like this are spread over nine districts of Delhi- the Capital City of India

As the government is inclined to ensure basic services to the urban poor and integrate housing and slum programmes under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

The schedules of enquiry made under the extensive and comprehensive survey work include general information of slum areas, profile of urban local body, detailed household and livelihood survey including socio-economic descriptions etc.
Surveyors have to fill up a detailed inventory questionnaire which has been developed by the Union Government. These questionnaires are to be processed with information technology techniques.
The Government of Delhi has planned to develop designs and data base of slums, poverty and livelihood profiles on the basis of data received through these surveys. The basic aim behind preparing the detailed and comprehensive data base of slums is to ensure that benefits on the basic services intended for the urban poor reached them in the 63 identified cities. It is through this comprehensive data base that law and order situations can be kept well in control and administration can take its course at the time of urgent need.

It is important to note that development of slums in and around modern cities has been creating big problems of law and order, and of environment and sanitation including spread of diseases due to the lack of social amenities etc. On the other hand sometimes it becomes too difficult to trace out criminals hidden in the slums after committing crimes in major parts of cities.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Emperor Penguins may go extinct by 2100

The declining food availability due to the effects of climate change and industrial fisheries killing the populations of crustaceans and fish, destruction of habitat, and human disturbance at breeding colonies, bad impact of tourism are driving the emperor penguins towards extinction. The International Conservation Union has placed the Emperor Penguins in the list of the least concerned species. The authorities in the U.S. are thinking to bring the emperor penguins under the U.S.Act of Endangered species. The abnormally prolonged period of warmth resulting into reduced sea ice coverage had been reported to cause female adult mortality resulting into a 50 percent decline of their population during 1970s in Terre Adélie region.Increse in the sea-ice extent causes significant decrease in rate of hatching of eggs of penguins, and this is also an important cause behind the female mortality of this species. Thus it can be concluded that emperor penguins are rather more vulnerable to the changing conditions of climate. A study done at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution during January 2009 explains that Emperor Penguins could be pushed to the point of extinction by 2100 due to climate change and melting of Antarctic ice.

The taxonomic position and morphological characteristics

Penguins belong to Aves, the class of Birds under the Phylum Chordata of animal kingdom. Combining its names of genus and species as per the binomial system of the zoological nomenclature its full zoological name is Aptenodytes forsteri (Gray, 1844).The emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all the living penguin species of the world. It is endemic to Antarctica. The male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching 122 cm (48 in) in height and weighing anywhere from 22 to 45 kg (48 to 99 lb). The dorsal side and head are black and sharply delineated from the white belly, pale-yellow breast and bright-yellow ear patches. Like all penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. The emperor penguin is a great hunter. While hunting, it can remain under icy water even up to 18 to 20 minutes diving up to a depth of 535 to 550 m. To facilitate this exercise the emperor penguin has several adaptations like – a complex type of hemoglobin in its blood which allows it to function even at extremely low oxygen level, solid bones, and the ability to reduce the rate of metabolism and the ability to shut down all the organs that don’t have to function during a particular period. According to a report published in the Science Daily, dated January 27, 2009 – “The Emperor penguin is the largest of all the penguins. They are also one of the most biologically interesting. Concentrated in the Weddell Sea and Dronning Maud Land, Enderby, Princess Elizabeth Lands, and the Ross Sea, Emperors remain in Antarctica permanently, breeding on the sea ice in some of the coldest conditions on Earth. They do not build nests or defend a fixed territory, using their warm bodies instead to incubate and raise their young. This unique breeding behavior--Emperors are the only Antarctic bird that breeds in winter--may have developed to allow chicks to grow to independence at a time when food is most plentiful and predators are few.”

Special features- Adaptations and reproductive cycle

The survival of Emperor Penguins in an extremely cold climate like that of Antarctic is ensured by its unique adaptations. The Emperor Penguin has short wings that help it to dive even up to 900 feet to catch the fish. It can swim at the speed of 10 to 15 km per hour which helps it to escape from its enemy which is usually the leopard seal as its main enemy. These birds have thick layers of feathers, a layer of fat under the skin and large amounts of body oil which helps in keeping dry while in the water.

The specific feature of emperor penguins, unlike other birds is its breeding season which is winter. These birds are the only to live in the coldest climate on the earth. These can survive even when the temperature drops as low as -140 degrees Fahrenheit on the ice of Antarctica. The adult emperor penguin treks from 50 to 120 km over the ice to reach to breeding colonies that sometimes comprise thousands of individuals, during the Antarctic winter period ranging from March to December. The female lays a single egg, to which it transfers to the male and moves away on a long journey on the ice. There she feeds and recovers her lost health for the whole season and comes back to the male to whom she recognizes by his specific call. The egg is incubated by the male while the female remains on her long journey for hunting or foraging.

The incubation is done on the male's feet under a thick fold of skin that hangs from the belly of the male. The males manage to survive by standing huddled in groups for up to 9 weeks. During the time of incubation of the egg the male has to remain of fast due to which it looses more than half of its weight. However, soon after the female returns, the male goes to the open sea to feed and recover his lost health. After the male returns back within a few weeks, both the parents cooperate in warming the chick and feeding food from their stomachs. After remaining under parental care for about seven weeks, the chick joins its group and all of them huddle together for the warmth and protection. Chicks can still identify their parents by their sound and specific calls. They are still fed by their parents. It takes about six to seven months for a chick to become mature or grown up and usually it happens to be the summer in the Antarctic. This is the time when all the penguins go to the open sea. The life span of emperor penguin is reported to be up to 20 years. However some researchers are of the opinion that it can survive even up to a period of 50 years in the wild.

Picture: Emperor Penguins - males in the front line incubating chicks
on their feet under folds of their skins
credit - Science Daily.Jan. 27, 2009

The Center for Biodiversity one of the premier organisations of the world working in the field of conservation of biodiversity and environment quotes its activities published in The Associated Press, October 7, 2009 -

Two advocacy groups announced plans today to sue the Obama administration unless it reverses a Bush-era decision denying penguins a place on the endangered species list.The Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network say Antarctica's emperor penguin -- protagonist of the documentary "March of the Penguins" -- and two species of rockhopper penguin face extinction from the dual threats of climate change and industrial fishing.The Interior Department in December contested that notion, saying impacts from global warming on penguins were too uncertain to merit an Endangered Species Act listing.The groups said today that they would sue in 60 days unless the Fish and Wildlife Service -- the Interior agency that deals with endangered species -- reverses that decision and reopens a review of the penguins' status."If the Obama administration is serious about restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making, it will stand behind the sound science showing that global warming is threatening the emperor penguin and protect this species before it's too late," said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.Fish and Wildlife declined to comment on the announcement.Listing penguins would require Interior to set strict regulations for the U.S. longline fishing fleet in the Antarctic, whose gear can entangle and drown penguins, Wolf said.The groups also hope the listing would bolster the link between species protections and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Penguins' sea ice habitat is melting because of global warming, which also threatens some of the fish and krill populations the seabirds depend on, Wolf said.In this and other attempts to garner federal protection for species threatened by global warming, environmental groups have argued that protecting those species requires the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.When listing the polar bear, the Bush administration published a special rule prohibiting endangered species reviews from taking greenhouse gas emissions into account. The rule was later upheld by the Obama administration, but environmental groups are hoping to reverse it through litigation.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Centre declares dolphin as National Aquatic Animal

Like tigers as the national animal and the peacock as the national bird, it has been decided that the rare dolphin found in the Ganga area would be the national aquatic animal as it represents the health of the Ganga – said Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of state for the Ministry of Environment and Forests in a meeting held in New Delhi on 5th October, 2009.

The central Government has declared the dolphin as national aquatic animal in view of saving the good old and the rare dolphin found in the river Ganga from extinction. It is reported that the Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar proposed the matter during the meeting and the matter was approved by members of the authority.

The Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh while briefing the media said – Since the river dolphin is at the apex of the Aquatic Food Chain, its presence in adequate numbers symbolizes greater biodiversity in the river system. Bringing back the dolphins would be the success of the Clean Ganga Mission which has been approved by the authority. The Minister added that the good old dolphin of Ganga is endemic to the river -reports The Hindu in its issue of October 7, 2009.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Misuse of religion

Religion should be the way of life for everyone. It is a discipline which is essential for shaping humanity on this planet. It may have any name - christianity, hinduism, Islam and all the other religions of the world. I have deep sense of respect towards all religions. But I hate the immoral practices that some people do in the name of God or in the name of their religions.Since my childhood I have been observing that many pieces of government land or the common lands are being grabbed by different people in the name of some or the other Gods.During my childhood these things surprised rather confused me about religious practices. In my current age I do have many reactions to this type of practice but did not dare to speak anything. In Jharkhand too, I happened to observe that the people of certain religious group have started the practice of grabbing the government or community land in the name of religion. Vast areas of land have been grabbed so far in different areas of the state in the name of God. Everyone including the administration becomes weak before the religion, may it be any one of the religions in India. Riots and disastrous conditions have been seen by the history that have been occurring since long. But, this is a serious matter which needs concrete steps to be taken up by the empowered authorities.The editorial that appeared in today's issue of The Hindu touched me. So, I am presenting the same for your reading and comments.

The 2001 Census of India threw up the astonishing statistic that there were 2.4 million places of worship in the country (exceeding the number of schools, at 2.1 million). What it did not divulge of course was that a large number of them were unauthorised, built by encroaching on public land. On the face of it, the Supreme Court’s interim order banning the construction of any temple, church, gurudwara, or mosque on any roadside or other public space may seem like a mere reiteration of the law. But it must be seen in a larger context. It comes in the wake of a controversy over a sensitive issue that has resulted in a recent consensus between the Centre and the States that there would be no fresh construction of places of worship in public spaces. A directive by the Gujarat High Court in 2006 that all illegal structures, including places of worship, should be demolished resulted in violence following the demolition of a dargah in Vadodara. The approach of the Supreme Court, which stayed this directive following an appeal by the Centre, seems to strike a balance between opposing illegal religious structures and being responsive to the law and order problems that could result from their demolition.

Banning fresh construction of unauthorised places of worship is the easy part. The real challenge is to deal with existing illegal places of worship, of which there are an estimated more than 60,000 in Delhi alone. With respect to religious structures obstructing roads and public places, the court has adopted a cautious view — asking State governments and Union Territories to review them on a “case by case” basis and take appropriate steps expeditiously. These places of worship have been constructed through land grabbing in the name of God, usually by anti-social elements out to make a quick buck by exploiting the religious sentiments of the people. The mushrooming of these structures, encouraged by collusive politicians, has taken place under the nose of governmental authorities. They have often chosen to turn a blind eye to the encroachments, which in many places cause traffic snarls and occupy pavement space. The motive behind the defiance of law in such cases is no different from the rampant illegal construction of residential and office spaces; and the enabling factor, weak-kneed law enforcement, is more or less the same. In the case of illegal places of worship, the court is being asked to do what successive governments have failed to do over the years. One hopes that judicial resolve will jolt governments into intervening, without fear or favour, to prevent further construction of illegal religious structures and to find a way of tackling the problem of those that exist.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The mystery behind man and animal conflict

A local daily news paper in Hindi has printed two important news stories today. These stories have pushed me into somewhat serious and troublesome thought process. One of these runs under the headline – Oath taken to protect wild animals (vanya prani samrakshan ke liye sankalp), and the other runs under the headline – D.F.O. called to help in getting rid of elephants (hathion se nijat pane ke liye D.F.O. se lagayi guhar).The news paper is right as it has to report what it observes. So let me tell you these stories in brief first before entering into any comment or discussion.

The first story of the news paper tells about a morning rally organized on 5th October under the local forest department of Jharkhand state of India. The rally was flagged by Chief Forest Conservator cum Chief Wildlife Warden.It was attended by about five hundred people including 250 children (school children as it seems and they are easy to be caught by any government like their teachers who are easily caught from time to time for many types of duties).Many officers from different departments also graced the occasion. A number of programmes to be conducted during the Wildlife Week were also announced by the officers of the forest department. This is a good story which reflects how responsible our officers towards the wildlife and environment are. Let us know something about the other story.

In the second story, the representatives of the “Hathi Bhagao Sangharsh Samiti” (Council to struggle for chasing away the elephants - as I understand) of Torpa, an area of Jharkhand (India) have submitted a memorandum to the District Forest Officer to protect them from elephants on 6th of October 2009. The members have given ultimatum that they would sit before the office of the Rural Deputy Commissioner on fast up to their deaths if their demands were not met up to October20, 2009.

Now, let us see what officers can do? They have been facing these types of incidents continuously and no sooner they solve one problem, the other emerges out. They have to protect wildlife as well as to villagers. After going through a large number of cases of such type, one can conclude that wild animals are alone who are to be defeated in the battle between men and wild animals.

Earlier, stories of a hyena biting different people in a particular area of Ranchi District were continuously read by the local people in the same Hindi daily news paper. The report that was published prior to the report of the hyena’s death somewhere in the same area was that the authorities had been successful in receiving “shoot at sight” order. The final report did not reveal that the hyena was shot dead. The final report told just that the animal was found dead. Had the Hyena been a man, his relatives might have filed a case blaming someone about killing or more correctly about murdering one of their relatives.

Now, what will happen in the case of wild animals reportedly troubling the villagers of Torpa? As regards the non-government organization, its name itself means that it has been formed to chase the elephants away. Chase away? Where and up to what distance? … And to which forest …? Is there really a forest area where the “trouble causing” elephants can stand and move safely, after being chased away by this NGO having aim of chasing away the elephants? Certainly, the number of elephants is far less than the number of people ready to chase them away. Certainly, the power of people is much more than the power of elephants. Had the Wildlife (Protection) Act not been passed by the Indian Government, the villagers say humans might had killed all the elephants, and might had sold all the timber after cutting all the trees of the forest of the area in stead of submitting the memorandum and by it putting immense pressure on our officers. On the other hand, they can still do the same just if they can see even an eye signal from the officer concerned, though the later is bound to implement the law. Some one may say – you write so, as you are not affected. But, it may not be a correct remark. In my turn, I may say that I might not have constructed my house in the area of elephants and had never tried to grab the forest land.

Someone makes a hut along a road side and asks for compensation when government people ask him to shift it to some land he legally owns. He is in a well position to submit a memorandum and to threat for going on an indefinite hunger strike in case he is not authorized to construct a pucca house there on the place of the hut. Everything is possible in democracy. On the next day, leaders of some political party in opposition may come to support him and make an issue. The man may accumulate hundreds and thousands of people to cry slogans. These are the ways democracies function now a day in some parts of the world. But, these things appear to be immoral. Likewise the memorandum submission and act of threatening the administration, though it may be right as per the human rights principles, seems improper and a little immoral too.

During the time this Hindi daily was reporting the events of people being bitten by the Hyena, and more and more of the victims of Hyena biting were reaching to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Science, Ranchi and anti-rabies vaccines were being collected on war footing – a local person informed me that villagers go into the forest (which has no longer remained dense, and there is no core zone or denser area in the middle) to collect forest produce or to cut trees and twigs, the hyena who lived there attacked on them. Though the story is very painful, precautions could have been taken to escape the tragedy. The villagers living in the nearby areas report that once there was a dense forest where there is the village now. The people cleared the forest, extended their agriculture- land by grabbing the forest land and settled there. Though our tribal people have been living in the forests since time immemorial, they tend to protect forests, and know how to live in such areas. They have always been nature lovers and protected the nature as they think they can not survive without it. So, who were these people and what led to these accidents are matters of worry but ... strange.

Since the government in India … is “by the people, for the people and of the people”, it can not check people against doing what ever they want to. If something happens even slightly negative on the part of the people while concerned authorities try to go with the law of the country, the government- forming people can go up to any distance to please their people- an officer can be blamed or suspended, some enquiry can be set up against him or he may be forced to issue orders to kill the animal. What is important here is the event management. Who ever is weak, he is sure to loose. The people will keep on forming Hathi Bhagao Struggle Councils – though the name itself appears to be against the Wildlife (Protection) Law, and one may wonder how an organization with the name like this can get its legal status, and shoot at sight –orders may continue to be signed till all the Wild Animals assemble to form their party and win in the election to chase away the land grabbers, forest destroyers and gunners. But sorry, because it seems to be impossible. Men alone, will have to do everything - to check the habitat destruction, to protect the people from the sides of wild animals, and to protect and regenerate the forests, and yes to stop the land grabbing.