US info block spells doom

Just when we were getting somewhere with Right to Information in India, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is actually thinking of curtailing information the public can access.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2006 01:44 IST

Just when we were getting somewhere with Right to Information in India, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is actually thinking of curtailing information the public can access.

An outcome of the Bhopal gas tragedy was that in the US, they realised that it was critical to put out information about industrial operations to the public.

This was to be put out in a prescribed fashion by the industry itself. The result was the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) — something India still has not got. But now the US too might reduce the potency of the TRI.

Plans are being made to create changes in reporting which will affect its efficacy. Instead of giving information every year, data will have to be given only every two years. Companies will not have to share many kinds of information, such as on chemicals that are harmful in small doses.

Already, before this change, there was criticism that the TRIs don’t tell the full story of muck and poison because they are based on voluntary disclosure of data collected by the industry and there is no monitoring. There was a proposal to strengthen the TRI regime, but now even what exists could be lost. By now, the fate of the TRI must be pretty much decided, as the deadline for filing objections is over.

It is sad that such a decision had to be taken at all, given the daily news we get about how children are being systematically poisoned, their futures robbed because chemical contamination of the environment is becoming more widespread and harder to reverse.

Ironically, the USEPA itself recently launched an initiative to prevent lead poisoning among children and already has several other similar ongoing initiatives. But diluting the TRI will undo any good the other programmes may bring with them. It’s the zero sum game.

Birds beckon

Birds are one thing to cheer about. In Delhi, try seeing the last remaining wetland of any consequence: the formerly-glorious Okhla barrage.

Even as it is devastated by the newly built infrastructure around it, it still offers amazing birdlife. Flamingoes, for example, as well as hundreds of waders and other water birds take a short winter break right now. In Haryana, where the wetlands are being reclaimed rapidly, birders are finding more patches to hang out it. Lasting or not, it’s the season to enjoy.

(If you feel for planet Earth, write toearthwatch1@yahoo.co.in)

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 01:44 IST