It is time to act now and do something to save agriculture

A Mechanical Engineering degree from an Indian Institute of Technology is a passport to a wide horizon of opportunities for any student. But for R. Madhavan, who passed out of IIT-Madras in 1986 and took up farming as an industrial enterprise, it was a means to redefine the role of engineers. From being considered a fitting candidate for psychiatric counselling to an inspirational figure, he has come a long way. He spoke to Ajai Sreevatsan recently about his journey.

“In India, food is so expensive. Nobody can afford food. Poor families spend 70 per cent of their monthly earnings on food,” says R. Madhavan. “Technology has to be used to improve productivity. The cost per unit has to come down. Educated youth should take up agriculture as an enterprise and start value adding in villages through processing centres. Best of the brains should look at agriculture.”

But unfortunately in India, he says, agriculture is considered a lowly occupation and lack of technological intervention means we produce less than other countries in spite of our natural endowments.

“Agriculture is a science. Each plant is an industry. It is a life,” he added. Having left his well paying job with ONGC in 1993 and using all the money he had saved to buy six acres in Chengalpattu, he set out to prove exactly that – with the application of science, much of the drudgery and misery associated with farming can be overcome.

“At first, it was extremely difficult. There was no technology and nobody had practical information. All that the university departments could offer me were photo copies of books. How do you do farming with that?” asks Mr. Madhavan.

Eventually he learnt his ropes through trial and error and by devising a concept which he calls e-farming. He corresponded with an agronomist based in California – sending him pictures of crop growth, putting queries about pest control and then adapting solutions to Indian conditions.

The experience was an eye-opener he says. “I never realised so much of science is required in farming.” For example, 13 elements have to be properly balanced for a particular soil to be suitable for cultivation. I religiously sent samples to the district soil testing laboratory. But I soon realised that without even analysing, they were giving me a photo report copy assuming that soil samples from a particular district will have the same composition. That is like saying if you come from Tambaram, you have cancer.”

According to him, the disconnect between agricultural universities and farmers is vast. “Students are not being taught how to farm. They are being taught how to get a certificate. Farmer does not know why agriculture universities exist.”

Pointing out that 46 per cent of children in India suffer from malnutrition and we are worse off than Sub-Saharan Africa in child malnutrition he says the time to act is now and something urgent must be done to agriculture for the sake of future generations.

From THE HINDU

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Thanjavur: An exciting discovery and a 1931 scoop for The Hindu

S.K. Govindaswami touched or scraped the peeling flakes and a wondrous series of Chola frescoes was unveiled

The discovery of Chola frescoes in 1931 “extended the frontiers of the history of Indian painting,” set the scholarly world abuzz, and expedited conservation efforts at the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur.

FROM THE TIME OF RAJARAJA I: A beautiful fresco of Nataraja. At right, in the Tripurantaka panel, a demon and his consort are featured.— PHOTOS OF FRESCOES: N. Thyagarajan/ASI

The 1000-year-old frescoes, painted at Rajarajesvaram, or the Big Temple as it is popularly known, remained unknown and hidden for centuries. The man who brought them back to life was a 28-year-old historian, S.K. Govinda swami.

On April 9, 1931, Govindaswami, a lecturer with the Department of History of Annamalai University, was examining the seven-feet-wide dark passage around the sanctum of the temple. What he found with the help of his ‘baby petromax’ was not Chola paintings but the 17th century Nayak paintings. He was disappointed and almost gave up hope of finding something from the Chola period. As he walked the remaining part of the passage, the cracked painted plasters on the western wall drew his attention. He touched or scraped the peeling flakes. They fell down and through the cleared portions he found what he excitedly described as “a fine series of frescoes palpitating with the life of other days.”

S.K. Govindaswami

Govindaswami realised he had discovered the Chola frescoes. The very next day, he wrote to The Hindu about his sensational discovery. On April 11, 1931, the newspaper published his admirably factual account. It described the paintings and his experience of discovering it. Govindaswami followed this up in The Hindu with a two-page feature article on the Chola paintings titled “A new link in Indian Art.” It was published, with impressive illustrations, on June 7, 1931. It is here, even before he wrote his scholarly papers, that he described at length the themes of the paintings and its connections with India’s art history. He even identified a figure in one of the panels as the portrait of Rajaraja I, the builder of the Big Temple (this was subsequently refuted by other scholars).

The published reports drew nation-wide attention and brought scholars rushing to see the frescoes. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, who wrote the magnum opus The Colas, the first part of which was published in 1935, was one of them. The noted historian of South India recalled two years later that he viewed the frescoes “very soon” after its discovery “together with” Govindaswami and agreed with him that they belonged to the 11th century, the same period as the construction of the temple (which was completed in 1010 CE).

Although the temple was listed as a ‘government monument’ as early as 1891, it was only after the discovery of the frescoes that serious efforts were made to protect it.

Unfortunately, Govindaswami did not live long to pursue his scholarly interests or revel in his fame. He died in Chidambaram at the age of 38. The Hindu, on June 24, 1941, published a brief obituary on the Annamalai University history lecturer. It referred to his recent tour of Ceylon to give “lectures on Tamil literature” and mentioned that he was survived by “two wives, two sons and one daughter.”

“I have not met him personally,” recalls M.S. Govindaswamy, retired professor of history who joined Annamalai University in 1957, “but have heard about him from Sadasiva Pandarattar who remembered him as a man of scholarship and intelligence.”

When S.K. Govindaswami died, his unfinished manuscript on Indiya Varalaru, a Tamil book on Indian history, stopped with the beginning of Rajaraja’s time – the period in which the Thanjavur frescoes were painted. The manuscript was posthumously edited by C.S. Srinivasachari and published by Annamalai University in 1943.

A. Srivathsan From THE HINDU

Global warming impact study to be taken up in Tamilnadu State

“Five M. Phil. candidates will be chosen to conduct the study”

The council will invite proposals during May

The study will come out with suggestions on combating climate change

MADURAI: A ‘global warming impact’ study is to be taken up in Tamil Nadu to come out with suggestions on combating climate change.

The Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology has decided to offer fellowships for the study, the objective of which is to understand the effects of global warming in the fields of agriculture, public health, environment pollution and so on.

This State-specific study was being undertaken since it was felt that there was no adequate database available to know what could be the problems caused by climate change.

“It has to be a time-bound study and should be completed in one year. The council will invite proposals during May and work has to commence in July,” S. Vincent, Member-Secretary, Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology, told The Hindu here on Sunday.

According to him, the council will select five M. Phil. candidates for the work and each will be given a fellowship of Rs. 1 lakh for the study.

He said that the study would be helpful in understanding the impact and problems besides suggesting solutions in the context of climate change.

“We want the selected candidates to work on the field by meeting all stakeholders, including scientists, farmers, general public, officials and institutions. They must come out with data,” Dr. Vincent said.

The Member-Secretary said that this was the first step to comprehend an issue that was being debated worldwide. Candidates interested in participating in the study must submit a theme paper and the council would finally choose five best proposals.

“The findings of this exercise will be sent to respective departments for appropriate action. Understanding the impact at grass-roots level is very important than talking about global warming in general terms,” he opined.

Shastry V. Mallady From THE HINDU

Ooty: Training programme for tiger census commences

Data will be compiled by the Wildlife Institute of India

Udhagamandalam: A four-day training programme on ‘Synchronised Tiger Population Estimation’ for forest officials, organized by the Forest Department, got underway at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) near here on Friday.

Inaugurating the programme, the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) V.N.Singh adverted to its significance and the important contribution of the MTR.

He pointed out that when such an exercise was organized during 2006, Mudumalai was only a sanctuary and had not been made part of Project Tiger, he said that even then the population of the apex species was quite healthy there.

However after being converted into a tiger reserve, it has become one of the best of its kind thanks to the strengthening of conservation measures.

Density

Stating that the density of the carnivore in the 326-kilometre MTR was about 56, Mr.Singh said that it was one of the highest in the country.

MTR ranked fourth among the tiger reserves and among the newly-formed ones it headed the list.

Pointing out that the Union Government was conducting the survey once in four years, he said that the data will be compiled by the Wildlife Institute of India.

Along with MTR, the survey would be conducted at Kalakad- Mundanthorai and Anamalais in Tamil Nadu during February.

Among those participating were senior officers of the three places.

From THE HINDU

Chennai: Packaged drinking water unit sealed

For selling water that does not conform to norms laid down by Bureau of Indian Standards

CHENNAI: The Chennai Corporation on Tuesday sealed a packaged drinking water manufacturing unit in Arumbakkam for selling water packed in an unhygienic surrounding.

Officials of the Corporation said the civic body had been receiving complaints about Karuna Enterprises at MMDA Colony, Arumbakkam, selling packaged drinking water that did conform to the norms laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

During the raid it was found that the unit was packaging water without treating it. The products were being sold under different labels such as ‘Pure H20’ and ‘Oasis 5.’ A 15-member team comprising sanitary inspectors, health inspectors and public health department officials conducted the raid.

The BIS authorities had recently cancelled the water quality licence issued to the unit. A notice to the unit was issued on Monday by the civic body. Following the raid, the civic body cancelled the trade licence it issued for the unit, the officials said.

“Last year, we seized nearly 3 lakh water packets and about 3,000 bubbletops that did not meet mandatory requirements such as printing of the date of manufacturing, address of the manufacturer, expiry date and the batch number,” a civic body official said.

A senior BIS official said a majority of packaged mineral water units were concentrated in and around the city. At present, there are around 460 manufacturing units in the State, of which 200 are in the city. About 70 new units are added every year. Raids are conducted on the basis of complaints received from the public. The licences of the units are cancelled when they do not comply with the 51 lab tests, they misuse the ISI mark and operate with some other unit holder’s licence, the official said.

V.Murali, founder and patron of Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, said that the members had submitted a list of 82 unauthorised units operating across the State to the Health Secretary last month. Of this, 31 such units are functioning in the peripheral areas of the city.

Packaged drinking water units without proper licence have doubled in a year. Most of them sell products under the label of flavoured or herbal water, he said.

From THE HINDU

Tamil Nadu publicizes tourism in Mysore

MYSORE: The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) launched a publicity campaign in Mysore on Friday. Officials attached to the corporation briefed about various measures introduced in the sector to travel agents and promoters in the city. The TTDC are aiming to increase the inflow of tourism to the state by 20% through such publicity meet across India. They have organized such meets in New Delhi, Kolkata, Orissa, Bhutan, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

TN tourism secretary V Irai Anbu said, “Publicity campaign has been organized to create awareness among stakeholders in tourism sector about the new package tours introduced by the corporation. They had organized the meet in Bangalore four months ago and there was good response”.

Anbu stated that TTDC has decided to promote lesser-known tourists spots and attract more youths to the state through conventional tourism. More focus is being given to adventure tourism to attract youths. The secretary said boat houses at Mudaliarkuppam and Muttukkadu have become popular among adventure-loving tourists. Besides operating regular boating, they are having wave runners (water scooter), speedboats and banana boats.

Trekking programmes in forest and hilly areas are also been initiated. Anbu felt all southern states should join hands to promote tourism.

In his presentation, tourism director A C Mohandoss said with a view to provide quick and convenient mode of travel to amusement centres and places of culturally/historically importance in the state, the TTDC launched hop-on and hop-off tour packages, viz, one within Chennai and another between Chennai and Mamallapuram.
“Special buses operate every 30 minutes. The fare is fixed at Rs 200 each and the ticket is valid for two days.

The response to the package is overwhelming,” he claimed. Meanwhile, TTDC are promoting rail-cum-road package tours from places such as Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Lucknow. Here tourists are provided confirmed rail tickets from theses places to Chennai, from there they will be taken to different locations in special buses. “Tailor-made package tours are also offered to tourists based on their place of interest, besides South India tours, East West Coast, TN tour packages,” he added.

The director claimed that TTDC introduced about 248 tourist-friendly autos in TN of which 144 are plying in Chennai alone. The drivers have been given training on soft skills and English language.

From TOI

Chennai: Cyclone weakens, likely to cross TN coast

CHENNAI: Cyclone Ward’ has weakened into a deep depression and is expected to cross the Tamil Nadu coast between Kanyakumari and Nagapattinam early on Tuesday, said Meteorological Department officials. Only light showers are expected in Chennai.

The depression on Sunday evening was positioned at 9.0 degrees latitude and 83.0 degrees longitude, 400 km south-east of Nagapattinam and 400 km east of Pamban near Rameswaram.

The weather office officials said the system was likely to move in a west-south-westerly direction and cross north Sri Lanka coast in the early hours of Monday. Ward, they added, was then expected to enter the Gulf of Mannar and cross the south Tamil Nadu coast between Kanyakumari and Nagapattinam on Tuesday morning.

Due to the effect of the system, isolated heavy to very heavy rain is likely over north coastal Tamil Nadu and Puducherry during the next 48 hours. Rainfall with scattered heavy to very heavy falls and isolated extremely heavy falls is also likely over south-coastal Tamil Nadu during the same period.

The sea condition is expected to be very rough along and off the south Tamil Nadu coast as well as the north Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coasts. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea. From Saturday night, Nagapattinam district received heavy rains. Due to the cyclone, danger signal number three had been hoisted at the port.

“As the depression will pass through Kanyakumari and Nagapattinam, Chennai will not have much rains. Light or thunder showers can be expected in the city,” said an official.

With a third cyclone warning being issued for Rameswaram, the sea remained rough on Sunday and the day cloudy with a slight drizzle continuing throughout the day. Strong winds resulted in the some of the boats anchored off the coast getting damaged due to collision with one another and fishermen were no allowed to venture into the sea.

In Nagapattinam, a 120-member anti-disaster task Force arrived from Arakkonam to meet any eventuality caused by the cyclone, when it crosses the coast. Fishermen and coastal residents have been given a set of instructions to prepare them for potential disaster. A round-the-clock control room is also functioning.

Fishermen in 206 fishing hamlets in Nagapattinam stayed off the sea for the third consecutive day as heavy rains lashed the coastal district on Sunday. Strong winds in the coastal areas kept the residents worried.

From TOI