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Archive for Kolkata

Silk cultivation taken up in Sunderbans

KOLKATA, 3 NOV: The state department of Sericulture and Central Silk Board has taken up a project to cultivate Eri Silk in the Sunderbans.
The poverty alleviation project funded by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), has been formulated to provide training and required infrastructure for silk cultivation to the farmers in the Sunderbans who lost their agricultural land after cyclone Aila last year.
Ingress of saline water has left their land unfit for agricultur. The project aims at providing them an alternate livelihood and at the same time boost silk production in the state.
Mrs TS Raji Gain, general manager of Natural Resource Management Centre, Nabard, said the reason why Sunderbans was preferred for the project is that the Eri silkworms feed on Castor plant that can grow on saline land, which is abundantly available in the Sunderbans. And, it can also be a rehabilitation project for the farmers who have lost their land in Cyclone Aila.
The annual outlay for the project is Rs 35 lakh and Nabard is extending the financial support. Altogether 35 beneficiaries for the first year have already been identified in the Sunderbans.
The project would start from Chandanpiri village in Namkhana, South 24-Parganas, and will be replicated later in other parts of the Sunderbans.
Two NGOs would be implementing the project at the ground level. While AIM, an NGO, would co-ordainate training programmes among the farmers, monitor the expenditure and extend the project, Chandanpiri Sri Ramakrishna Ashram would take up plantation, rearing and grassroots training of the farmers. The project has just started and at present plantation of Castor plants is going on in Chandanpiri.
The Central Silk Board would extend support services like resource development programme for those who will monitor the project.
They will organise trainings for the farmers and also take them on a study tour to Cooch Behar where Eri Silk is widely cultivated.
A cocoon market would be developed close to the city though the area has not yet been identified. Silk could also be brought directly from the village co-operatives. A private export company has already approached the Silk Board for buying all the silk produced in the first phase of the project.

Soma Basu

Toying with high toxic metal with ease

KOLKATA, 1 SEPT: At a time when the state pollution control board has taken up a drive to phase out lead, a toxic-metal, innumerable lead-battery units in the city not only continue to cough out lead aerosol and dust, but also ignore the safety of labourers working in these units.
There are about 100 small or medium lead battery units operating on the stretch of APC Road from Manicktala Crossing to Khanna Crossing. While some of the units in this area, better known as Peyara Bagan, have trade licences, some operate without it. The narrow lanes could be seen having a smoke-filled one-room workshop where men are seen melting lead. Neither do they have gloves nor masks to protect them from lead dust and aerosol, acid fumes and the molten metal (see sns photos).
Mr Prasanta Barui, a worker in one of the factories in the area, said: “My brother and I have developed stomach problems. But these are occupational hazards. We do not have a choice but to work here.”
Mr Barui and his brother do not have a single document to prove that they work for the battery unit. Most of the men are hired from the city outskirts and they are not kept at the same unit for more than four to five years. “We cannot claim compensation in case we meet with an accident as the owner can any day say that we are not his employees,” said Mr Ram Karmakar, another worker in the unit.
“Most of the people are forced to quit jobs within five years as they contract diseases,” said Mr Sanat Paul, who suffers from lead neuropathy, a disorder caused by lead poisoning. Mr Paul was an employee of a battery unit almost 12 years ago. His job was to knead red lead and acid and spread the mixture out on a plate that are used to make the structural units of large lead batteries. This is a hazardous process as per Factories Act, 1948.
According to a scientist with the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), lead is the most widely studied toxic metal and the WHO has declared that there is no safe limit for lead in human body. While its adverse effect on the central nervous system and kidneys is known as clinical disorder, under-developed IQ level is the sub-clinical effect mostly seen in children. “The government had made it mandatory that anywhere where lead is used or processed, a 30-metre high chimney should be put up with a suction mechanism. However, primitive industries seldom follow the guidelines. The way they get the scrap lead is also illegal,” he said. Mr Sandipan Mukherjee, member secretary of WBPCB, said that the board would soon look into the matter.

Soma Basu

Eastern states moot regional tarrif

KOLKATA, 30 AUG: Pitching a strong demand for ‘climate compensation’, Mr SP Gon Chowdhury, managing director of West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation (WBGEDC), today said that the feed in tariff fixed by the Centre should be revised.
For this, a letter and a technical paper, prepared with the help of experts and students of Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu), to Dr Farooq Abdullah, Union minister for new and renewable energy, in less than 10 days, said Mr Gon Chowdhury who was speaking on the sidelines of a seminar on renewable energy organised by the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industries in a city hotel today. He also spoke to Dr Abdullah, who was present at the seminar, about this.
Mr Gon Chowdhury said that even though West Bengal is a pioneer in Solar Energy generation, because of its climactic condition, it receives lesser solar radiation. And tariff and Power Purchase Agreement duration as fixed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission is likely to deprive the state of all the investments as Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana leads in terms of power generation.
He said that since their power generation would be more, the western states would be able to give discount to power distribution agencies attracting projects. All the directors of the Green Energy Development Corporations in Eastern states recently met and discussed the problem. “We need to have regional tariff system and so we are preparing a technical document which would state the reasons scientifically. We would handover the document to Dr Abdullah very soon,” he said.
“West Bengal can play a major role in meeting the Nation Solar Mission target. The tidal power project in Sunderbans alone has a potential of 1200 MW,” said Dr Abdullah. Micro-hydels projects on streams and canals would be a success in the state, he said adding that such projects are currently being tried in Punjab. Each micro-hydel project has a potential to generate as much as 25 MW power.
Solar generators would replace Diesel generator in over 100 telecom towers as a demonstration programme. The Army alone uses diesel worth Rs 1,200 crore every year. It has to be reduced and that can only be done by solar and wind energy, he said.

Soma Basu

Minister pitches for sponge iron units

KOLKATA, 26 AUG.: The state needs industries and sponge iron units cannot be done away with, said Mr Sailen Sarkar, environment minister, today. He, however, added that as such units would inevitably cause pollution, they should be made to take remedial measures.
Mr Sarkar was speaking at a meeting on ‘Nirmal Nadi Abhijan’ organised by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board at Paribesh Bhawan today.
He also said that many complaints are received against the sponge iron units and some of them are even slapped with fine. “But if all the units are shut down, people would demonstrate and ask that where would all the workers go?” He also praised the Union minister for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, for not granting Vedanta environment clearance for its bauxite-mining project in Orissa. He was reacting to the point raised by the WBPCB chairman, Mr PN Roy, that at some places, sponge iron units have polluted ponds that are the only source of drinking water for the nearby villages. “The WBPCB has inspected some of the areas around the sponge iron units. A woman showed us rice that was black in colour. Also, animals have been dying in the village after drinking contaminated water and leaves with residues,” said Mr PN Roy. Mr Roy had also said that the WBPCB has to withstand several coercions from the state and well as the Union government while carrying out its activities.
Mr Sarkar said that even the Centre has allotted more funds for the Yamuna Action Plan than the Ganga Action Plan.
He lauded the newly elected members of municipalities for taking active participation in the Nirmal Nadi Abhijan and said the Kolkata Port Trust should share the responsibility of keeping Ganga clean.
When a representative from an NGO asked about sewage outlets that dump untreated water in the river, Mr Sarkar said: “We have been asking the municipalities to treat their waste water but they say they don’t have money.” It should be noted that there are 324 sewer outlets between Kalyani and Diamond Harbour.
Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist of WBPCB, said that the World Bank would be funding the project aimed at monitoring the rivers online. He said that the state urban development department also had a meeting with the WBPCB to launch an awareness campaign for clean rivers.

Soma Basu

When the cure is worse than the disease

PANAJI, 21 AUG: The measures taken to curb the ill-effects of the oil spill off the Mumbai coast are suspected to have caused more damage to the environment than the spill itself.
The coast guard sprayed toxic chemical dispersants, continuously for seven days after the spill. Dispersants are generally used as the last resort only if a spill takes place far away from the coastline and the sea is too rough for surface management. According to Dr Srikant Fondekar, environment pollution expert and retired scientist with the National Institute of Oceanography, “Despite the spill happening quite close to the shore, dispersants were used. These surfactants need to be tested before use but in this case, even the type of dispersants used is still unknown to us.”
Ideally, equipment like oil booms and skimmers should be used to manage cases like this. But according to a Coast Guard officer, random dispersants, that were at their disposal were sprayed straight-away into the sea, regardless of their toxic content. The oil spill happened after a collision occurred between MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia on 7 August. The incident has already damaged 40 per cent of the mangroves in the state of Maharashtra.
Coast Guard Commandant SS Dasila, said: “The area of the spill was not under the jurisdiction of the coast guard. But, since Bombay Port Trust and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust did not have the necessary infrastructure, we stepped in to help them.” He said that, for seven days, Chetak helicopters conducted about 20 sorties and sprayed dispersants into the sea. He also said that booms were used to contain the spill.
However, Mr Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, said: “The ships collided in the harbour inside the navigation channel, but the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), who are in charge of the area, did not do anything to address the issue for the first 24 hours.” The authorities reasoned that the delay in the process of spill management was caused by the sea being choppy on the day of the incident. But the following day, when the sea was quite calm, booms were still not used, he pointed out.
The process of oil treatment began almost 14 days after the ships collided. The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) had offered their services to the government which would involve a strategy, using oil eating microbes, called Oilzapper Technology, just a few days after the spill. But, according to Dr Banwari Lal, director of environmental and industrial biotechnological division, TERI, almost 10 days were lost in deciding, getting clearances and inspections for the proposed method.
The MPCB has identified nine sites in Mumbai where oil from the spill has accumulated. TERI, has already started cleaning operations on Awas beach in Alibaugh at the pilot site. An estimated 2,000 MT of the dirty, sand-oil mix that has infested parts of the coastline, would require only 10 tonnes of the bacteria powder to get cleaned up. 90 per cent of the affected area will be recovered in two and a half months, said Dr Banwari Lal.
Ironically, such indecision regarding adoption of methods, was seen even at a National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan and Preparedness meet, presided over by the Director General of Indian Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, had been held in Dehradun on 18 June.

Soma Basu

Lost in transportation

KOLKATA, 19 AUG: While six out of 25 deer died when they were being relocated to Dobanki camp in the Sunderbans from Parmadan Deer Park in North 24-Parganas, three more were killed following a fight among themselves at the Parmadan Park today.
The deer were being taken from Parmadan to Dobanki to get them acclimatised with forest conditions, before releasing them in the Sunderbans. Mr AK Raha, principal chief conservator of forests, said: “Deer are being relocated from parks, sanctuaries and zoos for the last 10-15 years and about 20 per cent casualty during the process is acceptable.” He said that in case of spotted deer the casualty is more because of over-excitement in the herd. Out of 25 full-grown spotted deer, 12 were bucks and 13 were does.
Mr Raha said that it was quite hot yesterday and the wheels of one of the trucks carrying them had got stuck in mud in the Sunderbans which delayed their release in Dobanki for four to five hours. The deer may have died because of stress and strain. The rest are healthy and will have a health check up at the Dobanki camp. One of the reasons to release deer in the Sunderbans is to maintain the tiger prey base there.
Mr Biswajit Roychowdhury, a member of the state wildlife advisory board, said that the deer
are not used to the estuarine environment in the Sunderbans
and he doubted whether full-grown deer can acclimatise with the conditions and be able to breed soon.
The director of Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve, Mr Pradeep Vyas, said that spotted deer are among the species that are found naturally in the Sunderbans and will not take very long to adapt to the environment. “The forest department had been feeding the deer artificially at the Parmadan Park. If needed, we will do the same in Dobanki. They will be kept in the camp till they have adapted completely to the environment,” said Mr Vyas. The Parmadan Park has enough space for a population of 150 deer but according to the 2010 census, currently there are 450. If sanctuaries become overcrowded, there might be incidents of epidemics, infections and in-fighting and the casualties could be much more, he said.

Soma Basu

‘State overlooked in green energy plans’

KOLKATA, 9 JULY: The state is always neglected when it comes to green energy programmes and power tariffs set by the Centre, said Mr SP Gon Chowdhury, managing director of West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation Limited (WBGEDC), today, at a workshop for clean energy entrepreneurs, financers and other stakeholders organised by Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN), initiated by the Climate Technology Initiative (CTI) and funded by USAID.
The Centre does everything keeping the interest of western states in mind and the national target to generate clean energy has been set considering the output of Rajasthan and Haryana, he added.
“There is a huge disparity in draft tariff. Climactic zones should be characterised and then tariff should be decided. A uniform national policy on this cannot work,” he said.
He requested financiers and entrepreneurs to invest in different forms of clean energy and stated that they should not always vie for solar power, as there is a national mission on it. He added that very little has been done in comparison to other sectors, such as biomass and wind energy and that the state should be involved in other programmes as well.
He also spoke about the project initiated by the state department of animal resources development, under which a place for biomass energy unit has been identified near Dumdum.

Soma Basu

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