Stop the damage
Sir — The Uttarakhand tragedy is yet another reminder for mankind to take climate change seriously. But it is also a reminder that it is high time we reconsider the indiscriminate erection of dams across rivers. The argument for dams — that they provide drinking water and water for agriculture — has been scientifically discredited. For independent geologists and hydrologists, dams represent a nightmare, a triumph of engineering over common sense and the natural sciences.
Increasingly, it is evident that proponents of dams ignore crucial decision-making data now available on patterns of rainfall, geology and climate change. Dams store millions of tonnes of fresh water in large reservoirs, submerging prime forests, villages, farms and livelihoods. Solving the drinking water crisis does not require giant storage structures; these dams take decades to come up and only a fraction of their output is for the household sector. Instead the water is used to grow crops like sugar cane which are the bane of the agricultural economy as well as harmful to the environment.
What is worse, according to the India Water Portal, over 100 dams in India are over a century old, and more than 500 large dams are 50-100 years old, many of which have major defects and need urgent repair. There has never been a greater urgency to review India’s policy on dams and to act on decentralized alternatives that involve water recycling and reuse. The immediate task is to critically review every dam in the country, decommission those that are at end-of-life, stop building new ones and establish sound safety protocols. If this is not done, the time bomb will tick on.
Sir — In these rather grim times, reading about the trials and tribulations of people trying to adapt to technology has become the only source of entertainment. If a Republican Congressman in the United States of America floated upside down during a Zoom meeting, a lawyer appeared before a judge as a distressed kitten owing to a filter which he could not turn off. Instead of taking umbrage at slippages — some organizations have punished employees for such mishaps — these should be taken in one’s stride. They add much levity to life at a time when little good news is forthcoming.
Sir — It is worrying that in a competition between man and machine in China, data scientists managed to produce 196 per cent more strawberries by weight on average compared to traditional farmers. Farmers are already beleaguered owing to a variety of factors such as climate change and associated conditions like water shortage, droughts and so on. To make matters worse, governments are either insensitive to the plight of farmers or wilfully ignore their problems and sacrifice their livelihoods at the altar of large corporates — this is evident in India. If machines now enter the farmers’ domain, then the small and medium farm-holders will be obliterated.
But that is not the only worry. With mechanization and the elimination of the human element, the delicate ecological chains that bind agriculture will be destroyed. Nature has already taken a back seat in agricultural production owing to changing consumption patterns. The intrusion of machines will only make a bad situation worse. Moreover, as has happened with mechanization in any field, this is likely to feed into the trend of trying to grow perfect fruits and vegetables, which in turn will increase food wastage.
Sir — Spring is in the air way ahead of time this year. One can already see the palash trees flowering and hear the koels cooing. This has been one of the hottest winters on record in a long time. Yet, people hardly notice these changes. An awareness about such anomalies can go a long way towards educating people about the changing weather.