The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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All revolutions have unintended consequences. The makers of the Green Revolution in India did not ever foresee that the methods used to create self-sufficiency in food could become a major pollutant. The report alleging pesticide content in 12 popular brands of soft drinks is frightening, but that fear should not obscure the wider issues that are emerging out of the controversy. It is important to remember this, since these issues might get left behind in the Coke- and Pepsi- bashing that has gripped India’s political classes after the report became public. One crucial feature of what has come to be called the Green Revolution was an intervention in the fertility of the soil through fertilizers and a protection of the crop through a widespread use of pesticide. These methods led to higher yields, and India stopped living “from ship to mouth”. This was a formidable achievement whose enduring legacy has been the surplus stock of foodgrain that the warehouses of the Food Corporation of India hold. A different kind of legacy, and perhaps even more permanent, is now coming to light. The extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides has introduced unhealthy agents into the soil, the water and maybe even the air that is breathed. The pesticide found in the soft drinks is possibly a reflection of this rather than of some underhand conspiracies by the companies concerned. It might well be discovered, if proper tests are carried out, that much of the agricultural products that are consumed by Indians are similarly contaminated.

Europe and the United States of America were perilously near the same predicament, but they were saved because of a greater awareness about the ecology and the environment. One result of this awareness has been the move towards organic food which is becoming increasingly popular in the West. India, since independence, has never had a strong lobby speaking up for ecology and the environment. Both the industrial and the agricultural revolution thus paid scant regard to the environment and to history. This consciousness is now growing, even though it is yet to reach governmental circles. Consciousness-raising regarding ecology and the environment is still very much the preserve of social activists and non-governmental organizations. The storm in the soft drink bottles is a sign of this growing awareness. Nature is always open to exploitation by man. But an indiscriminate use of this privilege is self-defeating. Human beings are all dead in the long run, but they might accelerate the destruction if they have only the short term in mind.

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