news: How do you like your food, sir?

EDITORIAL: How do you like your food, sir?
by Sunita Narain

My local vegetable vendor sells ordinary lemons packed in plastic bags. It got me thinking if this is a sign of improving standards of food safety and hygiene. After all if we go to any supermarket in the rich and food-processed world, we will find food neatly packed so that there is no contamination through human hands. Then there is the army of food inspectors, who check everything from the processing plant to the supplies in restaurants. The principle is clear: the higher the concern for food safety, the higher the standards of quality and consequently, the higher the cost of enforcement. Slowly, but surely, small producers get pushed aside. This is how the business of food works.

But is this the right model of food safety for India? It is clear that we need safe food. It is also clear that we cannot afford to hide behind small producers to say that we should not have stringent standards for quality and safety. We cannot also argue that we are a poor developing country and our imperative is to produce large quantities of food and reach it to the large (and unacceptable) number of malnourished. We cannot say this because even if we are poor and hard-pressed to produce more and reach more food to people, we cannot ignore the fact that we are eating bad food, which is making us ill. This is one of the many double burdens we carry.

The other double burden concerns the nature of “unsafe” food. The most noxious of problems is adulteration—when people deliberately add bad stuff to food for profit. In India, milk mixed with urea or chemical colour added to chilli are just the tip of the adulteration iceberg. We know we need effective enforcement against it. But it is also a fact that these scandals are not confined to India. A few years ago, melamine-contaminated milk killed babies in China. Now horsemeat sold as beef is sending Europe into a tizzy. There are unscrupulous people in this business that concerns our body and well-being.

The second worry is regarding the safety of what is added to food when it is processed. This is not adulteration because in this case additives permitted under food standards are used. The question is whether we know enough about their side effects. Invariably and sadly, science finds out the problems too late. For instance, there has been a huge row over dangers of artificial sweeteners, first saccharine and then aspartame. In the world of industrially manufactured food, the problem also is that each product is backed by vested interests that claim it to be safe till proved otherwise.

Often we know very little about the additives allowed in our food. For instance, we eat vanilla thinking it is the real queen of spice, flavouring
ice creams and cakes. Little do we know that most of the vanilla in food is made synthetically, and that this chemical, believe it or not, has been harvested from effluent waste of paper mills or coal tar components used in petrochemical plants. It is cheap and it has been passed for human consumption by the food and drug administration of different countries.

The third challenge comes from the toxins in our food—chemicals used during the growing and processing of food which even in miniscule quantities add up to an unacceptable intake of poisons. Exposure to pesticides through our diet leads to chronic diseases. The best way is to manage the food basket—calculate how much and what we eat—to ensure that pesticide limits are set at safe levels. We have no option but to ingest a little poison to get nutrition, but how do we keep it within acceptable limits? This means setting safe pesticide standards for all kinds of food.

Then there are toxins which should not be present in food at all. For instance, a few years ago, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found antibiotics in the honey sold in Indian markets. It was there because industrial honey farmers fed bees antibiotics as a growth promoter and for disease control. Ingesting antibiotics makes us resistant to drugs. CSE needed, and got, standards for antibiotics in honey produced for the domestic market. There is no denying that small producers of honey, who do not have the capacity to handle the additional burden of paperwork and inspectors, can be hit badly. But this does not mean we should allow the use of antibiotics in our food. Or does this mean we change the business of food so that it is safe, yet protects livelihoods?

There is a fourth food challenge, which may just provide answers to this question. Food has to be not just safe, but also nutritious. Today, the world’s panic button has been pressed on the matter of food that is junk—high on empty calories and bad for health. There is more than enough evidence that bad food is directly linked to the explosion of non-communicable diseases in the world. There is enough to say that enough is enough.

The answer is to think of a different model for the food business. It cannot be the one-size-fits-all design of industrial production. It must be based on societal objectives of nutrition, livelihood and safety first and profit later. If we get this right, we will eat right.

To post your comments on this editorial online, please visit

Science and Technology: Chemical connection
Prolonged exposure to pesticides can lead to Type-2 diabetes
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conserve Water Reduce Your Waste

Conserve Water, Reduce your Waste

Water and water stress:

Water is one of the most important basis of life.

There must be a better way than this

There must be a better way than this

The Municipal water supply system of Darjeeling town consists of tapping 26 springs in Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary to the twin Senchal lakes and distributed through a network of tanks and pipelines. Issues and Problems: • Old System: Almost 95% of the water distribution system were laid in 1910-1915 for a population of about 15000 (fifteen thousand). Because the pipes are old, a lot of water is lost along the way through leaks. • Increased Population: Population today 120, 414, Darjeeling Municipality. 132,016Darjeeling Agglomeration (2011 Census This does not include floating populations like students, migrant workers and tourists.

The resource and space we compete or collaborate within

The resource and space we compete or collaborate within

Time spent on water by people of Darjeeling has never been properly accounted

Time spent on water by people of Darjeeling has never been properly accounted

• Increased Demand: o Total demand for water in Darjeeling town is 1,860,000 gallons/day o Water available being 527,500 gallons/day o Water deficit of 1,332,500 gallons/day. The water crisis is a result of the drastic fall in the volume of water at natural springs of catchment area due to monoculture plantations, massive felling of trees, dramatic increase in population and loss in transmission. (Darjeeling Municipality, Waterworks Department 2012). The pipeline distribution does not include a large population of Darjeeling who depend on natural springs, streams and rainwater harvesting. These are under threat of contamination, effects of climate change, population rise and capture of resources.

Water stress is a potential source of conflict

Water stress is a potential source of conflict


This is how our jhoras, waterways  flow

This is how our jhoras, waterways flow

“Roll down the hill “waste management system of Darjeeling is contaminating the landscape.

• Darjeeling produces 30 metric tonnes of waste per day which increases to 45 metric tonnes in the peak tourist season.

• ONE truck carries 2 to 2 ½ metric tonnes: That means, EVERY MONTH, 500 trucks of waste are dumped into waterways, Jhoras, without any segregation.   Traditional “rolling down”,” burning” or “burying” of waste does not take into account the increase in quantity and type of waste.

Do we really need bottled water? This is its fallout.

Do we really need bottled water? This is its fallout.

• There is a large increase in waste with increased consumption of packaged material and increased population.

• There is an increasing amount of non-biodegradable waste like plastics, complex packaging combination like tetra-packs and even toxic waste like batteries being generated at homes.

Our waste flowing down the hill and its toxic fumes coming at us

Our waste flowing down the hill and its toxic fumes coming at us

• Toxic chemicals are being released into the atmosphere through burning and leached into the soil and waterways through dumping.

• There has been a build-up of non-degradable waste due to dumping on the land, soil and waterways. This build up also contributes to landslides.

Community management and livelihoods:

Samajs, Community based organisations have evolved around springs

Samajs, Community based organisations have evolved around springs

There are more than 32 natural springs in the Darjeeling Municipal area. (Liekel Boer, ATREE 2011). These springs are vital to the town, especially in areas that are not serviced with municipal water supply.  Many of these springs are managed by the Community or Samaj but in the recent years some springs have been “captured” or are restricted or owned by individuals. Community managed systems that have evolved vary.

Management is  most effective  when it is community based

Management is most effective when it is community based

They can involve monetary subscriptions, distribution systems that vary on the time of year and distribution based on use for drinking and washing. Systems that are further away from the Municipality supply are increasingly complex and intricate.

Darjeeling has a thriving water business with trucks, hand carts, privately owned springs and retailers selling water either at points or through a web of pipes.

Trucks:  The fleet of 105 trucks plies 3 to 4 trips a day with 5500 to 6500 litres of water in each trip in the months of April to June. Each truck load of water is sold at an average of Rs. 1000 per truck. During the rest of the year 60 to 65 trucks ply everyday. The water is collected from springs or rivers in the outskirts of Darjeeling at Rs. 70 per truck by the truckers. The water is sometimes sold to retailers in town too.

Water delivered on carts is an important sypply system and a source of livelihood

Water delivered on carts is an important sypply system and a source of livelihood

Carts: Water sellers collect water from spring and transport in hand held carts selling water. Each cart holds 16 or 18 *20 litre containers sold at 25 to 30 paise per litre.

Pipes: Supply of water directly to homes in pipes from springs cost between Rs.700 to Rs. 1500 per month.

Women and children bear the bulk of the burden of water stress

Women and children bear the bulk of the burden of water stress

Be the Change:

Water is sacred and precious - Conserve

Water is sacred and precious – Conserve

There is an urgent need to recognise the diversity of water resources in Darjeeling: Senchel Lakes, Springs, Streams and Rain-water. These precious resources are being threatened by increasing demand, over-exploitation, climate change, deforestation and population growth.  All of these resources need to be conserved. The lack of proper waste management system is resulting in these precious resources getting contaminated.

The writing on the wall is clear

The writing on the wall is clear

Water, a precious basis of life has become a threat to people living downstream and us. Raw sewage (untreated waste water) and all types of solid waste flow down our water ways which are potential health hazards with water borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, jaundice, diarrhoea and the recently reported leptospirosis. The water also contains hazardous and toxic wastes which have long term ill effect on human health.

You are responsible to make this a thing of the past

You are responsible to make this a thing of the past

It is time for us to take responsibility of our water resources and:

• Conserve water resources

• Do not waste water – Use water sparingly

• Reduce, reuse and recycle your waste

• Pass on the message to others as a conscious citizen

• Educate your Peers

Not just International Plastic Bag Free Day but EVERYDAY

Not just International Plastic Bag Free Day but EVERYDAY

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Permaculture Design Course

Permaculture Design Courses


 3 to 18 May 2014


1 to 16 November 2014

Complete Ecological Design Curriculum

Accredited Certification

Homestays in a Certified Organic and Fairtrade Labeled Small Farmers collective ‘Mineral Spring’

International Trainer: Rico Zook

Certified Permaculture Instructor and Practitioner

Local guest instructors from DLR Prerna

for further info contact:

Darjeeling Ladenla Road Prerna

c/o Hayden Hall Complex,
42 Ladenla Road,

Darjeeling 734 101,

West Bengal, India.

Phone Number 91 354 2255894



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The air we breathe

Air we breathe in Darjeeling - Chute continues to burn

Air we breathe in Darjeeling – Chute continues to burn

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

World Water Day 22nd March

The Death of Water

The Water that runs down our grave

What does this say of US? Victoria Falls is 100 years old but will we live to see such landmarks as a community? as this is the water that flows under the bridge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zero Waste Himalaya – 8th August

What does this say of US?

What does this say of us? is a question i have been asking the past 15 years or so. Does it mean that we have become so apathetic and cynical? Or, have we reached our rock bottom of humour. Humour me? We in Darjeeling can laugh at anything and we take pride in it. How many times have i come back from funerals with a stitch from laughing too much. What does this say of us?

GUNAMI??? paint the town yellow

For me when i look at this photograph taken by Ashesh, it says, ‘the time is now’. The time is now for us to reflect on our lives, attitudes and behaviour with regard to waste. It is time for us to change for if we do not do it today there will be no tomorrow. Yet most of the time we just laugh it off and have jokes about the impending Gunami thats going to hit the town and paint us yellow.

It is time we recognise that the quantity and quality of waste has changed and no longer can we just roll it down the hill, burn or bury. It is also time we change our mindset from my clean house only, blame the neighbour, municipality to ‘I am responsible’.

For too long have we lived on top of the hill and believed in the cleanliness of our beautiful Darjeeling town. It is time we wake up to the fact that we have constantly rolled our waste down the hill and never taken responsibility of it once it crosses our sight. We hear of stories during the British Raj when the siren meant that people living downstream had to run as our waste would be opened into the river. Talk to old people in Pool Bazaar and Bijanbari if you do not believe me. Now we do not blow the siren, as our waste flows down the same water ways 24×7.

This is how we roll our waste

Garbage being rolled down the dumping chute

We in Darjeeling roll our waste down the hill without any segregation and without any treatment. Officially the Darjeeling Municipality dumps the waste above the Hindu Burial Ground(Murdahatti), but all of us know that we roll our waste in our closest jhora or just down the hill. Recently a private company based in Siliguri has started collecting some of the biodegradable waste but besides this recent development rest of the waste is just rolled down the hill. In some sense this was fine when Darjeeling was being established but today the quantity and type of waste has changed dramatically and one cannot just roll down the waste. Consumerism and the packaging industry has grown leaps and bounds resulting in complex waste which is not just non-biodegradable but toxic. Packaging material using layers of plastic, paper, metal and paint is increasing day by day with no management solution as of now. This means we are making our living environment a pile of waste, a waste which will never go away. Not just happy piling up, this waste is contaminating our soil, water and air. All supposedly pure in the Darjeeling Hills. Most of it just washes downhill and contaminates everything downhill. But true to the cyclic aspect of nature, from downhill comes our food, veggies, fruits contaminated by our waste. Loads of times these waste choke our drains and in the monsoon pulls us downhill with landslides. All one has to do is to take a trip down to Bijanbari or Rungdung and look up at our town and see the number of landslides.

Smoke rising from the chute

Today, we do not have to wait for our contaminants to come back to us through food or water; every winter, the chute burns throughout the day and covers most part of the town. No wonder we have asthma, skin allergies on the rise. The combination of biodegradable waste and pressure built with the pile of waste, combustible methane is produced at the chute. Along with plastics raising temperatures during the dry sunny days of winter, the chute bursts into flames with a bang with all the smoke rising into town. Unsegregated waste with plastic burning like releases these smoke we see in the photograph with extremely toxic and carcinogenic(cancer producing) gases like dioxins and furans. They also contribute to climate change. Yet, we shake our head with disgust when we see the waste pile burning in plains and do not realise that our own is also burning at the base of the hill. That’s because waste is low in our priority and is actually out of our sight and mind. I find it amazing that people from Kutchery onwards towards Lebong see the smoke everyday when they come into town but have nothing to say when they reach town.  Where is the fresh air we are so proud of when we head down to the plains? Truly, ‘Contaminate your bed and one day you will suffocate in your own waste’ Chief Seattle 1854.

Yes indeed it is time demand our right to life which is based on a clean environment. It is also time we take responsibility of our own waste and manage it properly. “Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Tribute to the Graduation Films 2011

11 July 2011, Inox. Graduation films from the Mass Communication Department, St. Joseph’s College, North Point is a culmination of self expression of three years of studying the forms of mass communication and reflection by the students. It is the students final self expression before they leave college which introduces them to the world of opportunities in their respective career. The graduation films initiative is an innovation of the department which enables the students to work on their own projects, put their concepts and skills to practice and take a concrete piece of work to show to the world. This adds value to the marks that they obtain in their examinations.

2011 had 3 films Chasing a Ripple, Darjeeling Diaries and Quest. All the three films had expressions of personal self reflection as well as reflections of Darjeeling. The self reflections at times were dark but as a viewer could really identify with it. Darjeeling was presented indepth sometimes in a quirky manner, from a perspective of people who have lived here and observed it closely. This enables the viewer to get an insider current perspective Darjeeling deals with whether be it in the larger socio-ecological space or at a very personal level. Critical societal issues were dealt with, which does not find easy expression, such as trafficing, depression, sexual exploitation or opportunities. Personal journeys were integral to the script facilitating viewer identification with the character as well as self reflection.

This year the films were treated very well with shot selection, texture, editing, acting and original score. The films also had some good conceptual work in terms of discussing reality, personal journeys and allowing wide interpretation. Each film allows viewers to discuss and interpret taking the film beyond the experience of watching. There is always scope of improvement with spaces for tightening the script, editing, sound and camera works. But at the end of the day the overall experience is going for three good movies, enjoying every bit of it, talking about it and telling others to see it. And if this is a sign of things to come i cant wait to see what comes next.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment