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Blog 2..

I would like to inform the readers of my blogs that I had the opportunity to work in the Water Resources Management project as Executive Engineer (Hydrology), at the Institute of water studies, Taramani, Chennai – 600 113. This was a World Bank assisted project of the Tamilnadu Water Supply and Drainage Board and executed by the Ground Water Wing of the Tamilnadu Public Works Department. The engineers and staff of both PWD and TWAD Board participated in the project. As it is a project assisted by the World Bank, United Nations Organisation’s UNDTCD deputed its consultants for technical guidance and a dozen consultants from Europe and US participated in addition to one resident technical expert. The project was headed by a project director an IAS of the Tamilnadu Cadre. I had to play an important role in the administration as well as technical side to interact with the technical experts and to take them on tour throughout Tamilnadu for their site visits and interaction with the engineers, agricultural scientists of PWD, Agriculture Department, Tamilnadu Agricultural University. Naturally, I had the opportunity to get myself exposed to various water-consuming disciplines. In one of the review meetings of the project, the Chief Technical Advisor, Dr.Roy Elmore from US, has stated that ‘even though Mr. Mahalingam is not a trained hydrologist, he has done a yeoman service to the project’. I am writing this not to blow my own trumpet but to impress upon the readers, if any, my competence to comment on events taking place. In this blog I have included some of my letters published in various issues of Down to Earth, a Science and Environment fortnightly for the benefit of the readers, if any. I wish to have the readers’ comments. Down to Earth, March 15, 2001 Decentralising sewer system I have read with interest articles on cleaning of polluted rivers. I did not understand why one should pollute something and then try to clean it up. It is something akin to throwing dirt on a street and then trying to clean it by employing sweepers. People, today, no longer follow the basic principle of marking a territory where a community can live in harmony with nature without degrading the environment. The territory should provide the products required for living and is able to absorb the by-products of the community. If the size of the community grows beyond the sustainable limit of the territory, some inhabitants of the community migrate to a new territory. If they continue to live in the same territory then either they are forced to abandon the territory or they perish. But due to technological advances, the increasing size of the community has been accommodated within the territory but the by-products have been drained thoughtlessly into the water bodies without adequate treatment. Poor sewerage systems have further compounded the problem causing leaks that pollute aquifers in addition to (polluting) the water supply system. I do not understand why the government is spending millions on cleaning the rivers instead of treating the pollutants at source either on an individual or local level. The individual house owner or a group of house owners may be made responsible for proper maintenance of the system. For this, advanced treatment technologies should be used to clean effluents which may be used to recharge the groundwater aquifer. The water supply system should also be decentralized. Water should be drawn through bore wells or shallow wells which should be treated to potable grade. Those who can afford it can have their own mini water treatment facilities to meet their requirements. For others, water can be treated and supplied for small group of houses by having a number of plants installed throughout towns and cities. Unless the water supply and sanitation system is decentralized, it will not be possible to keep rivers clean. A similar approach has to b adopted for solid waste and industrial waste. Projects should be executed by nongovernmental organizations with the participation of the beneficiaries. It is suggested that educational research institutions IIT and government supported organisations should take up projects for developing mini sewage treatment plants to suit small households, housing colonies and small communities so that the treatments can be decentralized.. S.N.MAHALINGAM

Down to Earth, APRIL 30, 2001 Brain drain This is with reference to ‘Science is a political orphan’ (Down to Earth, VOL 9, NO.19, FEBRUARY 28, 2001). I agree with the sentiments expressed by Anil Agarwal. After independence, scientists and engineers have been forced to play second fiddle. That is why the cream of Indian Institute of Technology graduates chooses to go to other countries to pursue their profession as long as this attitude remains, our countries talents will continue to be useful only to other countries, where they are indeed respected. S.N.MAHALINGAM/. Down to Earth, May 15, 2001 Success at 10 metres This is with reference to the article ‘Gras roots: Spurring people into action (Down to Earth, VOL 9, NO.21, March 31), I wish to congratulate Loyram Deka for evolving the improved Bamboo Spur Technology for protecting the banks of the Brahmaputra. River training works are normally designed and executed within an established framework. This has been unsuccessful as is amply evident from the failure of the Embankment & Drainage department in protecting the banks. In my opinion, anchoring of the bamboo’s about 10 metres w deep is the key factor in the success of this technology over the conventional methods. This also creates flexibility leading to adoption of the technology in similar conditions. The E&D department could also taste success at 10 metres. S.N.MAHALINGAM Down to Earth November 15 2002 Towards Solution I agree with the views in `Rivers of discord’ (Down to Earth Vol 11, No. 9: September 30, 2002). Our bureaucrats and technocrats in government service know how to manage water resources in order to maximise profitability to farmers. However, either their suggestions are not accepted by the powers that be, or they are not bold enough to put forth their suggestions, and the river water dispute remains eternally unresolved. In this connection, I would like to bring to the kind notice of DTE readers my observations on the sharing of river waters. A river is an important component of the river valley eco-system. The prime function of the river is to act as a conduit for draining the toxicity built up in its watershed or catchment during floods and dry weather flow. As a rule, a portion of the floods and dry weather flow should reach the sea for the health of its catchments. We have to remember that a river is like the blood and urine of humans, which carry and drain the toxic elements of the human body, just as the river drains its toxicity into the sea. The health of the watershed is gauged by the quality of water that flows in the river, just like the health of an individual is assessed based on the quality of his blood and urine. This fact is almost completely overlooked and attempts are made to exploit the total flow of the water in a river. A river originating in state A’ flows through state `B’, and after it is exploited by both the states, drains to the sea. It is wise for the states to allow a certain portion of flood flow and dry weather flow to find their way to the sea. The balance quantity of water, both flood flow and dry weather flow, can be, by mutual agreement, shared by the two states. If the state A does not want to share the dry weather flow in the river, then, ethically or morally, it has to pay compensation to the lower down state B for absorbing the flood

flow. Then state B can claim compensation, whether there is actual damage or not. State B can plan for crop patterns based on the agro-climatic conditions, as well as the water resources available in the catchment to maximise profitability. The dry weather flow will contain very high fraction of toxic components for which also the lower down state can claim compensation. S.N.Mahalingam Chennai, Tamil Nadu Down to Earth November 15 2002 This is with reference to the letter ‘Prevention is better’ (Down to Earth Vol 11, No. 19: February 28, 2003). All sorts of construction activities are harmful for the environment. Clearing any site for construction disturbs the micro-environment and micro-ecology of the area. Even the materials used for construction is mined at various places, where again the ecology of that particular area is at risk. And after Causing such damage to the environment to erect as structure, it is nothing but criminal to order their demolition for contravening some arbitrary rules. The dust and debris generated during demolition of the structure again affects the environment locally. Hence, it is advisable to impose a fine on those contravening the town planning rules rather than inflicting further damage to the environment by demolishing the built structure. S.N.MAHALINGAM