Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vanishing Futures

The Hindu, July 26, 2009

Vanishing futures


It is a small consolation that the Jarawas have not been wiped out like the great Andamanese.

“Those who forget history,” it is said, “are condemned to repeat it.” What happens, however, when you forget history, but condemn someone else for it? Where does responsibility lie then and, importantly, what happens to those who are so condemned? The chilling answer can be found if we look at the history and the present of the indigenous communities of the Andaman Islands. One word: “extinction”.

Retracing roots

The fate of the Great Andamanese is a classic case in point. In the mid-19th century when the British established the penal settlement in the Andamans, it was estimated that there were at least 5,000 members of the Great Andamanese community that was divided into 10 distinct language and territorial groups. In just a century and a half, the population has come down to a little more than 50; all herded onto the small Strait Island a short distance away from Port Blair.

The damage was mainly done in British times. In his 1899 classic A History of our Relations with the Andamanese, M.V. Portman, the British officer in charge of the Andamanese, describes in a bleak, unnerving record the impact of the 1877 epidemic of measles, the worst to hit the Great Andamanese.

…All the people on Rutland (Island) and Port Campbel are dead, and very few remain in the South Andaman and the Archipelago. The children do not survive in the very few births which do occur, and the present generation may be considered as the last of the aborigines of the Great Andaman…

The story of the Onge of Little Andaman Island is very similar. From nearly 700 in the 1901 census, their number has fallen to about 100 today. While a large part of their 730 sq. km. island home is still called the ‘Onge Tribal Reserve’ the protection is only on paper. The biggest violator, tragically, has been the Indian state that ruthlessly (and illegally) logged the forest home of the Onge for nearly three decades till the Supreme Court put a stop to it in 2002.

From late 1960s onwards, thousands of people from mainland India were sent to Little Andaman Island under a Government of India programme to ‘colonise’ it. From being complete masters of their traditional forests of Little Andaman, the Onges have become outsiders in just four decades. Only the Onge lived on this island in 1965. Today, for every Onge on Little Andaman, there are at least 200 people from outside and the equation is changing even as we read this.

In one of the most bizarre incidents in the islands, eight members of the community died and 16 more were hospitalised after consuming a mysterious liquid that was washed ashore in a jerry can near their Dugong Creek settlement in December 2008. The administration says that the Onge consumed the liquid believing it to be alcohol, but doubts persist. Six months have passed but nothing is known of the liquid or the post mortem reports. Maybe the Onge made a mistake, but the authorities too have shown no urgency in getting to the bottom of the matter. The colonising enterprise has been successful and the annihilated, as we all know, tell no tales. They have no history even.

The story of the Jarawas is complex but follows the same trajectory. Thousands of settlers have been moved into the forests of the Jarawas, huge areas of their traditional forest home turned into agricultural and horticultural fields and the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) constructed through the heart of Jarawa forests. Over decades, the road became the main channel to remove precious timber from these forests and also the main vector in bringing a whole range of vices to the Jarawa: alcohol, tobacco, gutka, reportedly, even sexual exploitation.

The road has even facilitated a new kind of tourism: “Jarawa tourism” where visitors drive down the ATR hoping to ‘see’ the Jarawa, as if they were some kind of living exhibits in an open air museum. Traffic continues to ply on the road in spite of clear Supreme Court orders in 2002 to close it down. Two epidemics of measles have already hit the Jarawa in the last decade. It can only be a small consolation that they were not wiped out like the Great Andamanese a little more than a century ago.

Disappearing race

I recently heard a fascinating presentation on the language of the Great Andamanese by Dr. Anvita Abbi, Professor of Linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It showed new ways of how the world can be perceived, of a different understanding of the universe, of an experience of life and creation, which is as fascinating as it is strikingly original. The calamity struck when the presenter informed that only four of the original Great Andamanese languages are still spoken and, tragically, only six people live who can still speak the language of their ancestors That day I also learnt something else that was new — the first thing that dies when a language dies are the songs of a people!

When the non-profit organisation Terralingua mapped the distribution of languages against a map of the world’s biodiversity, it found that the places with the highest concentration of plants and animals, such as the Amazon Basin and the island of New Guinea, were also where people spoke the most languages. There is a deeper link between culture, language and biodiversity than we seem to know. Nothing will remain if these people and their cultures are exterminated.

Extinction is not only for the plants, the animals, the birds and the bees. It is also what humans to do other humans and in what they do to themselves as well. Every extinction, be it in the world of the wild or of something human is the loss of a part of our very own.


For related stories

Andaman's Tribal Reserves

On renaming of islands in the Andaman and Nicobar

Friday, July 24, 2009

Protected Area Update - August 2009 (Vol XV, No 4)

Dear Friends,
Here is the list of contents and editorial of the new issue of the
Protected Area Update - Vol XV, No. 4, August 2009 (No. 80). If you would like to receive
the entire PA Update over the email please write to me.

Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editor, Protected Area Update
C/o Kalpavriksh
News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia
Vol. XV No. 4
August 2009 (No.80)

A new minister at the helm


CEE to develop nature interpretation centre at Mahatma Gandhi Marine
National Park

Checklist of the birds of Pulicat
Two biosphere reserves proposed for Andhra Pradesh

Gibbons in Gibbon WLS not crossing over the railway line
Hand reared Asiatic black bears released in Manas NP
Hydroelectric projects in the North East may pose threat to KNP:
Rhino count in Kaziranga now 2048

Kaziranga Tiger Foundation not formed yet; reserve deprived of central

Wildlife enforcement workshop held in Raipur

State Wildlife Board allows for diversion of land in four PAs
More wells around Gir covered after government hikes subsidy
Gujarat cites Panna TR case to keep lions to itself
93 lion deaths in Gujarat in last three years

Panel says no to scrapping of sanctuaries

Only elephants to ferry tourists in PAs
Project Elephant Directorate in Madikeri

Proposal to close road through Bandipur NP, Wayanad WLS withdrawn

Tiger population in Wayanad WLS estimated at 20-25

Road widening through Pench TR opposed
Change in Field Directors at Kanha, Panna and Bandavgarh TRs
No more tigers in Panna TR - It's official now; four cats to be

CAT asks state to appoint Head of Forest Force within eight weeks
CEE to develop nature interpretation centre at Nandur Madhmeshwar WLS
Villagers relocated from Botezari arrested for 'violating' and entering
Tadoba Andhari TR
11.44 acres reclaimed by Sanjay Gandhi NP
NGO alleges that Sanjay Gandhi NP authorities claiming land illegally
in Malad area
Soil testing in Tulsi Lake area in Sanjay Gandhi NP without FD permission
Dogs form 50% of leopard diet in Sanjay Gandhi NP

Nandankanan now a member of world zoo body
Rs. Three crore project to deal with human elephant conflict at
Chandaka WLS
Rs. 5 crore Elephant Management Plan for state
E-bulletin on the Forest Rights Act in Orissa
Greenpeace report on turtle-fisheries issues in Orissa

70 black bucks die in Tal Chappar WLS due to 'weather shock'

Forest fires across the state in March

PANDA Newsletter from ENVIS Sikkim

Field Guide to the plants of the Northern Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
Nature Interpretation Centre in the Sathyamangalam WLS

Rs. 8.5 crore security plan for Corbett TR

Nepal police fire at elephant herd

Community based tourism project in North Bengal

SC to CAMPA: Provide Rs. 1000 crore per year to states in next five years
Interactive database on threatened lakes
Proposal for a National Green Tribunal
Tripartite MoUs to be signed between Centre, State and Project Tiger
Simlipal TR, Pachmari and Nokrek NP added to UNESCO's Global Biosphere
Reserve Network
Forest Administration to be 'modernised' to deal with naxal threat
NTCA directives on tourism in tiger reserves
Whitley Award for Dr. MD Madhusudan
Prem Bhatia Award for Environmental Journalism to Gargi Parsai
Tiger relocation protocol approved
Environment in the Indian Parliament: An Analysis 2007

Consultation on Landscape Approach to Biodiversity Conservation and
Management in the Eastern Himalayas

International Conference on Wildlife Conservation, Health and Disease



Ever since the new government was sworn in, there has been a flurry of activity on the environment front. The new Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh has certainly been very active, as he has gone around the country meeting officials, people’s representatives and NGOs alike.
The developments and his pronouncements too have been wide ranging – covering a diversity of issues that include the proposed Coastal Zone Management regime (allowing for its lapse), ensuring that provisions of the Forest Rights Act are met prior to seeking diversion of forest lands under the Forest Conservation Act; a change in the structure and operation of the CAMPA fund; engagement with a range of actors on provisions of the Biological Diversity Act (BDA) and more resources and steps for wildlife conservation in general and the tiger in particular.
There are still initial days, but clearly, those working on matters of livelihood security, issues of the environment and wildlife protection see a glimmer of hope in all that has been happening. It has been clear that over the years there has been a relentless assault at the hands of a development paradigm that only understands the language of industrialization, urbanization and growth in the GDP. This, therefore, will also then be the location of the biggest challenge for the new minister and the new government.
The undeniable reality is that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the concerns it is supposed to advance have been at the bottom of the priorities of successive governments for a long time. If anything, the MoEF has been considered an unnecessary irritant in the path of development and economic growth - a line of thinking that is not going away very soon. Dealing with particular legislations or policy frameworks, while necessary, is not what is going to stem the rot. There has to be an attempt at dealing with, or at least questioning the fundamental issues related to ‘development’. In the current political and economic climate it will not be the easiest thing to do, but then if there is one space and Ministry that can even start the process it is without doubt, the MoEF.
The developments are, certainly, going to be watched with deep interest as they unfold.
Protected Area Update
Vol. XV, No. 4, August 2009 (No. 80)
Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Illustrations: Madhuvanti Anantharajan
Produced by: Kalpavriksh
Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the
editorial address:
KALPAVRIKSH, Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune
411004, Maharashtra, India. Tel/Fax: 020 - 25654239.
Publication of the PA Update Vol. XV, No. 4 has been supported by the
Duleep Mathai Nature Conservation Trust, the Foundation for Ecological
Security and Greenpeace India.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

HOW Pune keeps clean

14 km from Pune, its footprint
Rajil Menon


Villagers suffer the city’s garbage. Relatives don’t visit them, diseases do

Hanumant Bhandari is getting used to his speckled face. The 10-year-old student of a school on the outskirts of Pune was intrigued by the white spots on his face and thighs when they first appeared a year ago. The spots disappear whenever he takes medicine, but reappear in no time. Over half of the 350 children in the residential school have white patches over their bodies.

It is not a hereditary disease, but a mark of Pune’s garbage dumped on a hillock close to the Kailash Wasi Namdev Mahadev Harpale School.

Over 800 tonnes of waste is dumped there every day. “This has been going on for 18 years,” said Somnath Bhimrao Shinde, principal of the school meant for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe children. “Toxins in the garbage leach into the groundwater. Students drink water from a well. We have no option. ” Only a few houses in the area receive municipal water supply. Students also suffer from water-borne diseases like dysentery, jaundice and typhoid.

Kailash Wasi is in Phurshungi village, about 14 km from Pune city. Most students are either orphans or poor. Their parents work in faraway Mumbai, Nashik and Kolhapur. Some come from as far as Nepal.

The waste catches fire every other day, releasing noxious methane. Since the dump site is on top of a hillock the wind disperses the smoke in all directions. “This is ruining the respiratory system of children,” said Shinde.

The filth and smoke also mean additional cost to the charitable school. “On an average the school is spending Rs 2,000 per month per student towards medical bills. We are always short of money but we cannot see our children suffer,” said the principal.

Wasting away

Pune city generates about 1,300 tonnes of solid waste every day, according to M S Devnikar, additional commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation. Of this, over 800 tonnes is dumped at the landfill occupying 49 hectares (ha) in Phurshungi and 17 ha in Uruli Dewachi village. About 70,000 people live in the two villages. The effects of open, unscientific dumping began to show only in the past few years. There is no family in the villages without a sick person.

“Our village is always enveloped in smoke coming out of the waste. Some days it is so thick that one cannot see beyond three metres,” said Raghunath Nagargoge of Phurshungi. “The smoke often wafts into the classrooms and students break into a bout of coughing. They complain of a burning sensation in the eyes and frequently go out to wash their eyes. This disrupts classes,” said Sudhir Patil, 31, English teacher at the school. The walls and floors of classrooms are always covered with flies. Despite these odds, Shinde proudly claimed, 96 per cent of the Class X students cleared the exams last year.

Children are not the only victims. Twenty-two-year-old Dhananjay Bhivji Kate, who works as an administrative assistant at the school, said he always has fever, cough or headache. “When I was in Sangli, 200 km away, I never fell sick. But here the stench and the smoke refuse to leave you. My family wants me to come back,” he added.

People complain they can’t even have food in peace. “Flies are all over the village. While eating we have to use one hand to ward them off. Sometimes we swallow flies,” said Abhimanyu Darbey, 20, who lives with his mother and younger brother in Phurshungi.

At Mantarwadi basti, next to the waste site, Jayshree Mahapure complained her six-month-old grandson is always suffering from either dysentery, vomiting or fever. Everyone in her family has a breathing problem or throat infection.


(Top) Ten-year-old Saurabh Jagannath Badhale of Phurshungi has an ear infection for the past one year; (above) a villager shows white patches on his neck

“Our relatives have stopped visiting us due to the stench and smoke,” she lamented.

Vinod Bire, Mahapure’s neighbour, lives near the temple at Mantarwadi.

He was recently diagnosed with dengue and his wife has typhoid. They have three sons and their 12-year-old daughter has white spots on face and legs. Bire fears he may not be able to find her a groom when she reaches marriageable age.

Bire’s fear is not unfounded. Phurshungi and Uruli Dewachi carry a stigma; people refuse to marry their daughters in these villages. Over 25 marriage proposals have fallen through in the past two years, according to media reports. Admitted Sanjay Sadashiv Harpale, deputy sarpanch of Phurshungi: “The air and water are so contaminated that no one wants to send his daughter to this hell. Villagers do not talk about it openly because this brings bad name to the family, but breaking of matrimonial alliances is a reality in Phurshungi.”

Land turns barren
Villagers say during the four months of monsoon their village turns into a pool of toxic water; it enters their houses. The water from the garbage dump also flows into the Kaala Odha rivulet, and from there into the Mula and Mutha rivers of Pune. “Earlier, the nullah flowing from the hilltop used to bring clean water, which we used for irrigation. Now the contaminated water has destroyed our fields and seeped into our groundwater. Well water is sometimes black and sometimes red,” said Dilip Mehta, a farmer in Phurshungi.

Vitthal Bhiku Badhale, a 52-year-old farmer at Mantarwadi, laments the money he invested in water pumps and electricity connection has gone waste. He and other villagers used to grow millet, wheat, sorghum and vegetables. “Our land is barren. We now survive on menial work,” said Badhale.

Over 1,000 villagers work as porters at a railway godown and a goods shed, barely half a kilometre from the dump yard. Balaji Salunkhe, an 18-year-old from Phurshungi, loads and unloads goods there. “Drinking water in this area stinks. Some areas do get the municipal supply, but most pipes leak and the pressure is low, so we are forced to drink dirty water,” said Salunkhe.

Doctors confirm unscientific dumping at Phurshungi and Uruli Dewachi has led to an epidemic. Ten-year-old Saurabh Jagannath Badhale of Phurshungi has an ear infection for the past one year. When his parents took him to a doctor, he blamed it on polluted air.

Balasaheb Harpale runs a 20-bed polyclinic at Bherkrai Nagar, half a kilometre from Kailash Wasi school. “Most of my patients are from Phurshungi and Uruli Dewachi. They complain of respiratory tract infections, cough and itching. Jaundice, dengue and malaria are also common. Some cases are of hair fall and ear infection,” said Harpale. The villagers have to be admitted even when there is a slight infection because their immune system is weak due to constant exposure to smoke. Many patients may develop lung cancer, warned Harpale.

People stood up
Residents of Phurshungi and Uruli Dewachi realize they can’t take it anymore; they want justice. In early May villagers launched an agitation and blocked roads for a week. They did not let corporation trucks pass through their villages to dump waste. This led to Pune city literally getting buried in waste—over 7,000 tonnes of waste in Pune remained uncollected for a week.

The garbage catches fire frequently

This was enough to shake the city and district administration into action. Meetings were called. And this time villagers ensured they took place at the dump site—after all, corporation officials should get a taste of their own medicine. After much deliberation, on May 15, the villagers and the corporation reached an agreement. “We have given seven months to the corporation to stop dumping at our villages and cap the landfill,” Sanjay Sadashiv Harpale told Down To Earth. In these months, the corporation has to look for an alternative dump site and upgrade its waste-processing plants.

Said Devnikar: “Soon we will scientifically cap the landfill at Phurshungi and Uruli Dewachi.” The corporation plans to increase the combined capacity of its two waste-processing plants by 800 tonnes per day. The current capacity of the plants set up by Hanjer Biotech Energies and Selco International is 350 tonnes per day. “This will ensure no waste goes to the landfill at the villages,” said Devnikar.

While the Selco plant is being set up, the corporation has given another company land at the landfill, where it sorts out waste in the open and makes fertilizer from it. “We have also requested the collector to allot us alternative sites for more waste-processing units,” said Devnikar. The villagers are watching.