Category Archives: Environment

India’s solar energy development – 2

CHS’ founder, Winin Pereira, whilst acknowledging the advantages of solar power, focussed on issues relating to the toxic materials used in solar panels.

Pereira saw the need for safe disposal methods for the earlier panels and research into materials replacing those currently used in solar panels being replaced. ‘Energy and Lifestyles’ (co-author Subhash Sule,1988) listed some of the highly toxic materials in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide – and pointed out that some very strong acids are used to etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment, commenting “These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully”.

In 2004, a Californian government report issued during the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger (who continues to campaign on environmental issues), also stressed potential  risks during the manufacturing process:  

The greatest environmental risk with silicon cells is associated with the use of gases (arsine and phosphine) during the manufacturing process.

At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire.

 Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future. 

The most likely routes for environmental release of trace elements are from accidental spills during the manufacturing process. At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire. Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future.

A variety of off-site treatment methods are utilized to manage the chemicals produced by photovoltaic facilities. The types of treatment facilities used include publicly-owned treatment works, metals recovery systems, solvents/organics recovery systems, and energy recovery systems.

The goal of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is environmental sustainability and clean production for industry. Its members ‘envision a toxic-free future in which each new generation of technical advances includes parallel and proportionate advances in social and environmental justice’.

Five years after the 2004 report, STVC produced a White Paper with a section on hazardous materials used in solar PV cell production: “Potential End-of-Life Hazards for Solar PV Products”. It recommended:

  • reduction and eventually elimination the use of toxic materials and development of environmentally sustainable practices.
  • ensuring that solar PV manufacturers are responsible for the lifecycle impacts of their products through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • proper testing of new and emerging materials and processes based on a precautionary approach
  • expansion of recycling technology and design products for easy recycling
  • and protection of the health and safety of industry workers and the community throughout the global PV industry, including supply chains and recycling.

There is agreement that solar panels become toxic waste at the end of their working lives if they are not properly recycled.

Environmental Progress notes that only in the EU are solar panel makers required to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives and even there, solar panels are currently exempt from the 2010 WEEE regulations requiring manufacturers to take back all equipment at the end of its life. With regard to the recycling of silicon-based modules and non-silicon based panels it has two goals:

  • To encourage the industry to develop products that are easier to recycle and use fewer raw materials
  • and to lead producers to factor in the cost of the collection and end-of-life treatment of their products into the cost paid by the consumers.

The European photovoltaic industry has set up its privately funded take-back and recycling schemes PV CYCLE which has been operating across Europe since 2007. There is a Compliance Inspectorate which allows manufacturers and component importers to register as WEEE-compliant, providing waste holders and customers with relevant information on their legal status. The EU is convinced that the manufacturers’ voluntary take-back scheme is effective.

But is this yet another case in which the risks of self-regulation by industry should not be countenanced?





India’s solar energy development – 1

The Financial Times reports that the winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a 500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal.

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank, has said he plans to invest $20bn in the Indian solar power industry. (The other investors are Taiwan’s Foxconn and Indian company Bharti.)

In 2015, the government of Narendra Modi set ambitious targets for building new renewable power. By 2022, explained the finance minister Arun Jaitley, India would build 175 gigawatts of new renewable power, of which 100 gigawatts would come from solar.

The solar plans alone are equivalent to 25 large nuclear plants

Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, the founder and chairman of Acme, one of a handful of companies competing for solar projects against many established Indian and multinational conglomerates suggests there are good reasons the price of solar power in India is so low.

In addition to its strong and reliable sunlight, the price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in the past few years as a manufacturing boom has created over-supply.  Moreover, India’s notoriously high cost of capital has been reduced by strong government involvement in the solar power sector. At parks like Bhadla, the government acquires the land — removing one of the biggest hurdles in a country where land rights are difficult to negotiate — as well as guaranteeing grid connections and providing payment guarantees should state utilities default.

Six years earlier, India and China had been blamed for “sabotaging” a meaningful deal at the UN climate talks, but Mr Jaitley’s announcement confirmed India was now at the centre of global efforts to develop cheaper renewables and tackle climate change.






Preserve 3500 Aarey trees: select a site suggested by NEERI/IIT advisers

CHS’ founder, the late Winin Pereira, emphasised the importance of trees as sources of food, medicine, wood and fibre – also their role in mitigating air pollution and absorbing and slowing flood waters. He had amassed a large database recording information about India’s trees.

In a well-read article, The Browning of Harit Mumbai, he wrote “The home of my childhood in Bandra was surrounded by a garden about five to six metres wide on three sides and more on the fourth. About ten coconut trees provided us with fresh neera every morning and ripe and tender fruit. Their leaves, husks and shells were used as fuel. There was a jambul, a fig, a jackfruit, a pomegranate, a ramphal, a tamarind, a badam, a breadfruit, a lime, a bor, a kavath, several neem, sitaphal, drumstick, papaya and chiku, four rose-apple, three mango, two guava, and one pear tree – but no partridge”.

There is great public concern about the decision to cut down 3500 trees in the Aarey Colony to make way for car sheds for the new Metro, though experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Powai (Mumbai) have suggested Kanjurmarg, Backbay and Kalina as a better option.

There is still time to sign this petition.

120,843 have signed and the organisers want to reach 150,000. They have clearly warned all of the consequences Mumbai will face in terms of flooding and loss of open space & wildlife, if the Metro depot is built in Aarey.

The latest news on Facebook (17.12.17) is of 22-year-old Yash Marwah’s poem on the real meaning of ‘Vikaas’ – of progress and development – that all readers and PM Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis should hear.

At the end of November it was reported that children and teachers from a Malad west based convent school marched to oppose the civic authority’s decision to destroy Aarey greenery and other natural areas in order to build Metro car sheds.  The journalist commented that it is a government aided school and marching – in effect – against the government is quite a daring move to try to save ‘Aarey Green patch’.

See the video here: Be patient – this is a slow-loading site.

Set aside time for this comprehensive presentation of the subject and its implications by tree-champion Zoru Bhathena. Scroll down to October 15th

As Winin Pereira wrote decades ago:

“We should prevent the cutting down of trees and plant more of them. Every leaf that grows serves to fix some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Seeds of herbs, shrubs and trees need to be collected by the million and they should be planted wherever there are a few square centimetres of barren land”. [See Natural versus Formal Forestry”, MPSM, December 1987, NO472]





The forgotten foods: 1,582 food species displayed at an Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village (Rayagada district, Orissa)


Devinder Sharma draws attention to a report that fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago – raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, as a study in the journal PNAS has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures. Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. “Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar – what we call the ‘globalised diet’,” co-author Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said.” The diet is composed of big, major crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean,” BBC News reported in Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Devinder writes:

Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the ‘globalised diet’.

We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.

That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature.

Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.

When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.

DS: “couldn’t resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014”.

A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.

“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.”

But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?

“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.”

Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.

She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better known Mahua trees (above) have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.

Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. 

When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”

I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragi millet (right) with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragi gruel. Says Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be certainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.

I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes were made from finger millet (left), foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds.

Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.

Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits.

It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.

This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Tehelka, Mar 7, 2014. Issue 11 Vol 11
The Culture of Eating Right


One of the comments:

Shubhangi Sinha

Absolutely an eye opener!  I am an agriculture graduate and working in Crop Protection industry all the work concerns only 10-12 major crops across India. Rice/Wheat/Maize being the most important ones .. Even fruits and vegetables that are cultivated predominantly are limited. We need to explore our rich food culture and adopt them, also since majority of population is suffering from Lifestyle diseases. Good write up!




Increasing waterway cargo: lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing road accidents

As Anil Sasi (Indian Express) notes: “Inland waterways are a far more efficient mode of transportation than either road or rail, considering that just a single mid-sized barge has the dry-cargo capacity equivalent to 50 trucks or over 10 railcars. As a consequence, transportation of cargo over inland waterways offers the advantage of both lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing the rate of road accidents, where India has the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the world”. 

Since India’s inland waterways are lagging behind other modes of transport, the central government has evolved a policy for the integrated development of inland waterways. The National Waterways Bill was passed on 15th March 2016. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received far less investment than roads and railways.

  • Cost of transportation by waterways is 30-50 paisa per tonne per km (PTPK), compared to Rs 1 PTPK for rail, and Rs 1.5 PTPK for road
  • Time taken by road from, say, Varanasi to Kolkata is 2 days, a typical road trailer carries six cars. In comparison, a river vessel can carry 300 if it’s a double decker. So, a large vessel can replace 50 trailers on road.

111 rivers across the country have been designated as national waterways, to be developed to enable more movement of goods and passengers. Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari regretted that the waterways had taken a backseat in India, with only 3.5% of trade being done through this mode, compared with 47% in China, 40% in Europe, 44% in Japan and Korea and 35% in Bangladesh.

Though the state-owned Inland Waterways Authority of India has been working on dredging, surveys, channel marking, river conservancy works, construction of terminals and procurement of hardware like dredgers, demonstration barges, and survey launches since 1986, neither the number of cargo vessels nor the amount of cargo moved has shown any improvement except in one case.

One problem, alongside lack of port, wharf and lock maintenance, is that most of the waterways included in the list of new waterways are freshwater rivers, many drying up completely during post monsoon period and it is agreed that the diversion of water for navigation should not be undertaken at the cost of other priorities such as drinking and irrigation, primarily carried out by India’s thirty canals.

The World Bank has noted that goods in India travel by congested road and rail networks, which slows cargo movement, adds to uncertainties, and generally increases the costs of trade logistics which account for as much as 18% of the country’s GDP. Although carrying bulk goods on waterways is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting them by road or rail, India has yet to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation.

Section 3 of its 322 page 2016 report: Consolidated Environmental Impact Assessment Report of National Waterways includes an assessment of inland waterway transport’s impact on climate change, concluding that this is the most efficient and environmental friendly mode of transportation, involving least CO2 generation when compared with rail & road. An estimate of the CO2 emissions from different modes of transportation for the same quantity of cargo for a similar distance is that CO2would be reduced and a net saving of 4.54 million tonnes realised over a period of 30 years (till 2045).

In April it announced a $375 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to help the Inland Waterways Authority of India put in place the  infrastructure and navigation services needed to develop National Waterway 1 as an efficient ‘logistics artery’ for northern India.

The loan will enable the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.

In addition, the project has introduced an innovative ‘assured depth’ contract framework to incentivise minimal dredging by agencies responsible for keeping the fairway open for navigation. These strategies have helped reduce the need for dredging in the navigation channel to only about 1.5 per cent of the river’s annual silt load. Even this limited dredging will only be done using modern, less intrusive technologies such as the water injection dredging method (see Van Oord’s video:, no subtitles). It has the additional advantage of ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.

National Waterway 1 will form part of a larger multi-modal transport network, linking with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, as well as the area’s network of highways, allowing the region’s manufacturers and agricultural producers to use different modes of transport to reach markets in India and abroad. A successful outcome would encourage a gradual expansion of waterway freight transport in India, reducing transport costs, road accidents and urban air pollution.





Rainwater harvesting in Mumbai

A few days ago, Rashneh Pardiwala emailed: “Glad to inform you that CERE has successfully completed one of the largest rainwater harvesting systems in Mumbai city for Mumbai Police at their Armed Headquarters at Naigaon. The Commissioner of Police inaugurated the project on 3 Oct 2017”.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Dattatray Padsalgikar inaugurating the rainwater harvesting system last week

Anurag Kamble reported in the Midday newspaper that the police precinct houses 2,335 families of the constabulary, a municipal school and a police hospital. It also serves as a base for three battalions and many special units. There are three large training grounds and national level sportspersons practising at the hockey maidan. Despite this, for the past 15 years, the locality has been receiving less than 15 minutes of municipal water supply each day.

“Every summer, delegations of cops’ families come to us begging for a solution. Also, whenever training camps were held, which happens at regular intervals, we had to arrange for water tankers, as we never had enough drinking water,” said Additional Commissioner (Armed Police) Aswati Dorje. “And, during the monsoon, the ground would get completely waterlogged. We wanted to fix all these problems permanently”.

Then the Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) came to their rescue, suggesting a solution  

“For the past three years, we were working with the Mumbai police to plant 500 native trees in Naigaon, under the Urban Afforestation Project. During one of those visits, we learnt about the acute water shortage and flooding problem in the area. We asked the administration if we could do rainwater harvesting here, and after a survey, gave them a presentation. We received the go-ahead immediately,” said Dr Rashneh Pardiwala, founder and director of CERE. “We got approval in March and literally worked day and night for three-and-a-half months to get the system up and running”.

Dr Rashneh Pardiwala, founder director of CERE, shows where the rainwater harvesting project was installed in Naigaon. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Phase 2: to create a natural reed bed system to treat waste water:

A long-term solution to water scarcity is to recycle grey water from the kitchen. This project component involves treating a part of the grey water from the police residential colonies through an effective and natural Reed Bed System and using the clean treated water to maintain the open grounds. Therefore, this intervention will help

(a) conserve potable water for watering open grounds,

(b) recharge the ground water table, and

(c) reduce wastage of water.

CERE is currently looking for funding for this phase of the project.

Highly recommended: a video about the detail of the project which may be accessed here:




Araku coffee

The Financial Times reported this week that subsistence coffee farmers in the Araku region of Andhra Pradesh set up The Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually-Aided Co-operative Society in 2006 to process the coffee grown through the Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based philanthropic organisation, which gave technical support with cultivation and marketed the farmers’ produce overseas.

Their coffee is grown bio-dynamically, requiring no costly fertilisers or agrochemicals; farmers enrich the soil through mulching, using leaves, fallen fruits and other freely available organic matter. They use inexpensive, herbal soil additives to enhance soil fertility and fight pests. It is produced using techniques similar to those in wine making and the variants which draw their flavours from the soil in which they are grown enjoy a guaranteed price as ‘speciality’ coffee.

Tribal people in the Araku region – Bagathas, Valmikis, Kondus and Poorjas – traditionally relied largely on collecting forest produce. The government has created a special developmental and funding plan for locals. The Times of India explains that in such ‘agency areas’, tribal people can use as much government land as much as they can till.

Amy Kazmin (FT) writes: “Ten years ago, the residents of Kabada Boddaput — in southeastern India’s remote Araku valley — were impoverished subsistence farmers, living in mud huts and eating the millet, yams, pumpkin and greens they grew on their one- to five-acre plots. Cash was scarce and emergencies meant borrowing from friends and family — debts that might take years to repay. ‘It was a very terrible situation,’ recalls Sanyasi Gullela, a farmer. ‘There were not enough clothes and no money for cattle.’ “ Daily life has improved, with the increase in income used to improve homes, buy more clothes and nutritious food.

The Times of India reports that four prominent businessman have taken up the cause of  marketing Araku coffee and this is now being profitably sold as a “speciality” coffee to ‘select’ roasters and traders from Japan, Korea, and Europe. These ‘high-end’ buyers — who taste and rate each lot before purchasing — are willing to pay up to Rs700 per kg for the best of the beans.

It is economic heresy to wish that most of the coffee could be enjoyed in the huge number of coffee houses in India – including 400 outlets of The Indian Coffee House,chain run by worker co-operative societies – and only the surplus exported.