Left with no clear agreement

Left with no clear agreement

I think the government should have first made a New-Clear Agreement with their “partners" before it signed the nuclear agreement with the US. I think, considering the power situation, if we don’t go ahead with the nuclear deal, we will be “Left" far behind. I think China need not worry about India overtaking it because it has such good friends here—we’ll be searching for torches, while its factories supply the world and us. I think the BJP and the Left “leaders" need to have their electricity connections snapped immediately, since they, and we, apparently don’t need electricity. I think, for all the bluster it is giving us about the BJP being hypocrites, the Congress would have done exactly the same if the roles were reversed. I think I’m mighty glad I’m not a politician.

—Bharatram Gaba

The story on Bengal’s arsenic mass poisoning, “Govt begins hunt for arsenic-resistant rice", Mint, 24 October, is to be welcomed considering the neglect so far by the media in highlighting such adversities. WHO calls it the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history". A 1983 report by Dr K.C. Saha of the School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata, highlighted it first. The world was slow to react. Subsequently, in a landmark paper, Dr A.K. Chakraborty reported that his samples revealed 2,000ppb of arsenic, 40 times higher than the 50ppb drinking water standard in the region and 200 times higher than the now agreed safe level of 10ppb. This should have set the alarm bells ringing. It did not. A WHO paper in 2000 termed it a disaster beyond the scale of Bhopal or Chernobyl. In 2003, concern was voiced by another scientist, Dipankar Chakraborti, whose words were dismissed as hype. Rice grown in Bangladesh has been found with 1,830ppb arsenic as against a normal level of 200ppb.

Andrew Meharg brought this out in his 2005 work, Venomous Earth: “The global response to the arsenic crisis in the Bengal Delta has been marked by staggering inertia. The lack of action by the Bangladesh and Indian governments is part of the problem...arsenic has now been found further and further up the course of the Ganges… The city of Hanoi has high levels of arsenic. Recently, Iran and Pakistan have been added to the list. ...more than 100 million people or 1.5% of the planet’s population are living in areas with dangerous levels of arsenic…"

While your news reports indicate that our research institutions are aware of the situation, considering the apathy shown in the past by the state and Central governments, it is doubtful if the government published in its annual reports the extent of the affliction, or the efforts made. If it did, the media has avoided highlighting these and it was mainly through books from writers such as Meharg that we know of the extent of the tragedy.

He observes: “The natural calamity of poisoned tubule water is one thing, but that we continue to spread arsenic around the environment deliberately knowing all that the last two centuries have taught, is a gross form of folly." There is no longer time to apportion blame between the state and Central governments.

One hopes that the Union health minister will look into this area and that the Planning Commission’s approach paper to the 11th Plan will pay considerable attention to the issue.

—S. Subramanyan

Re Ramesh Ramanathan’s “What’s wrong with babus", Mint, 5 November. That concern for the country is not a fiefdom is something both bureaucrats and politicians need to understand. Civil society must get involved. Only then will we see a shift in power. We need to investigate the service rules and demand transparency of conduct from bureaucrats by making it part of the code of conduct.

—Meenakshi Madhvani


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