Thursday, May 31, 2012


Lot has been written and spoken about the impending energy crisis due to running out of the fossil fuels because of high rate of depletion of the reserves all over the world. To day's society is so much dependent on energy that many cannot envisage a world without abundant energy for maintaining the activities at the present pace. Besides fossil fuels and their by-products are inevitable to run the industry without which there could be economic chaos all around. The inequity that is the feature of to day's energy landscape is reflected by the lop sided use of fossil fuels by rich nations which are putting pressure on poor countries to cut down their energy consumption without showing any signs of self sacrifice! Added to this the environmental pollution that is changing the weather conditions for the worse arises because of carbon dioxide emission from burning the fuels. Here again poor countries are being pushed around by the well to do nations to cut down on such emissions drastically.

Newly emerging economies like India, China, Brazil, Indonesia etc have realized how important it is for them to have a bigger share of energy generated to catch up with the developed world in providing a decent life to their citizens and their dilemma is understandable when they take a stand that rich nations must sacrifice equally if not more by cutting down fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. It is not realized that warming up of the atmosphere can be disastrous for the entire world with rain falls becoming erratic and drought conditions prevailing more frequently which in turn adversely affect food production. It is true that food production on a globalized context always kept pace with population growth generating a feeling of comfort all around. but statistics cannot be relied upon when it comes to micro levels where food production is hampered creating shortages and famine. Perishable foods are vulnerable to easy and quick time spoilage unless the field heat is brought down after harvesting and their cold storage is ensured. If energy consumption is sought to be curtailed the food spoilage can attain monstrous proportion affecting the very health of millions of population residing in more than hundred countries who can achieve high productivity only to see most of it perishing at different stages from farm to the fork. Therefore cutting down on energy consumption may never be a practical answer to meet the crunch now being felt world over.

It is not that world is silently watching this deteriorating situation without doing any thing. In fact there have been tremendous efforts especially by the private sector to come up with alternate sources of energy at affordable cost. But the progress is not some thing one can be very proud of so far. There is lot of euphoria on alternate and sustainable energy technology conceptualized and developed and those in the forefront must be applauded for their ingenuity and hard work. Unfortunately world is still nostalgic about the past energy scenario when unlimited cheap energy was available from fossil fuels. News about energy being tapped from solar rays, oceanic waves, geothermal source, wind mills etc do not evoke much excitement because of the high cost in utilizing them as compared to conventional energy from hydroelectric, petroleum and coal resources. Solar energy is by far the most talked about technology and to some extent common man is exposed to this form of energy through solar water heating, solar based inverters, solar batteries and solar lights. If at all any alternative to fossil fuels is to become viable, only solar source is the one that may become a reality if modern day developments are any indication.

Thanks to Chinese initiatives solar energy cost has come down significantly during the last 2-3 years and new business models are being emerging that may transform the energy sector dramatically in the near future. There are some countries in Europe which have taken policy decisions to switch over to sustainable energy production setting for themselves amazing targets to increase proportion of renewable energy in their total energy consumption. The potential for solar energy is immense in many tropical countries and yet Europe seems to have out paced others in practicing renewable energy programs. One of the reasons why Europe is stealing a march is because of the investing capacity of the population there with high income, being able to afford the cost of solar panels and power generation equipment. Government policies offering attractive fiscal incentives for installing solar power packs also help in countries like the US to go in for this mode of energy production.

A flip part of the Chinese down pricing policy is the challenge faced by domestic solar power industry in countries like the US where people are increasingly going for cheap Chinese equipment in preference to indigenous ones on cost consideration. The condition has worsened further with new energy entrepreneurs bringing in innovative practices that in effect gives the users free power on no investment! Typically families lease out their roofs for the power generating companies to install solar panels which generate power in excess of the needs of the family and the investor makes money by supplying the excess power to the grid. Such lease arrangements are taking place across the US making the energy scenario a fast changing one.  

Recently some significant developments have taken place in the solar energy area that may revolutionize the energy sector like never before. Thanks to Chinese endeavor solar panel cost is coming down dramatically and consequently the energy generation cost is becoming cheaper, able to compete successfully with conventionally generated power. While corporate honchos are able to invest on roof top solar converters with their deep pockets, it is the home owner who finds it hard to mop up the required finances for installing solar power modules on the roof top. Sound economic sense may not justify spending on solar power packs at individual homes because the real energy cost works out to more than 100% of that available from the grid. In a country like India, investing in solar energy equipment attracts a measly discount of a few paise per unit which does not amount to even 5% of the utility bill!. Who ever goes for solar energy in this country can justify the decision only because of the perpetual power shortage and frequent shut downs one experiences in most parts of the country round the year.

The roof top leasing sounds attractive to many house holds in the US where it is becoming a popular option for those finding the utility bills escalating due to increasing cost of power generation. In India power suppliers, mostly government companies revise power tariffs almost every quarter making the lives of middle class families miserable. As the power bill payment cannot be deferred beyond a point consumers invariably pay up fearing disconnection. Such a situation gives sufficient confidence to entrepreneurs for venturing into roof top leasing activities with practically no risk. It is time such models are created in many tropical countries where solar energy is available abundantly during most parts of the year.  


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


In spite of the super power tag in the world landscape, assiduosly being sought after by India, the ground realities that exist in the country speak a different story. Patriotism is an inbuilt trait generated from early childhood and is supposed to be fostered at the schools through right education but it cannot be demanded by a government which does not respect the citizen or does things which do not inspire self respect and pride of being the citizen of that country. India is precisely at this juncture to day with kids and youngsters not knowing fully the culture, tradition and past history of this once great country. The basic human quality of compassion and fellowship is fast dwindling and the frenetic urbanization that is taking place is creating a people with indifference, selfishness and inhuman qualities. Many people may not agree with such a portrait of this country while many others will swear by this assertion.

Series of financial scams that shook the country recently are shaking the very foundation of the moral and ethical values cherished by a honest society and it is all the more shocking that those in power are in a denial mode, refusing to recognize the deteriorating atmosphere in the country not conducive to transparent, honest and peaceful living any more. Be it the judicial system, political set up, the fourth estate or the armed forces, no one seems to be acquitting themselves creditably before the people's court. It is the perception among the masses that country's resources are being looted or squandered with very little benefit flowing to the so called "aam aadmi". In the food front inflation is gnawing at the very existence of poor people unable to keep up with rising prices and it is naive to blame the condition to globalization, openly welcomed by the country two decades ago. While Indian citizens are willing to pay international prices to buy the essential needs, will the government ensure that they get incomes comparable to citizens in wealthy countries? 

The brand new food safety regulations, ushered in after 5 years of "incubation" does not seem to have done even a wee bit to rein in food adulteration exposing the citizens to the dangers posed by the flourishing food frauds industry! Neither the infrastructure nor the determination to tackle this menace is evident in any part of the country and "merry go around" of the food adulterators is continuing with impunity. Added to this, the ill-drafted Food Safety Act is being challenged by some "money hungry" food industry groups in the judicial courts rendering many provisions inoperative, at least for the time being. The proud fact that more than 90% of retail trade and 75% of processing taking place in the unorganized and small sector is turning out to be a nightmare for the consumers as many of the products turned out by them rarely conform to food safety laws. The state machinery for safety vigilance is woefully inadequate and fraudsters get away by default. 

In one of the reports emanating from Delhi it was said that each and every day,what "hundreds of wholesale traders at Delhi's Azadpur Mandi, a sprawling, chaotic market where trucks blare Bollywood music, porters haul huge brown sacks of fruit and vegetables and hawkers ply tea and cigarettes" are doing, can put any body to shame. Fruits are laced with calcium carbide. for ripening before selling to thousands of unsuspecting customers and the traders do not seem to feel any guilt in doing it because it has become a habit with them since long, going on unchecked or unchallenged by safety authorities. They are least concerned that ripening of fruits with carbide can be dangerous to consumers despite being told that it causes cancer. Probably it may be a simple calculation or common sense that they have neither heard nor seen any body dying of eating fruits ripened with carbide! Added to this they are bewildered by so much noise being made by people about what they are doing and on top of this they have to pay bribes to all and sundry to keep their business running!.

If one talks to food safety officials, they have their own story. Many of them are not well conversant with basics of food safety and are not convinced that what is being done by the trade is some thing dangerous. They agree that use of carbide is banned by FSSAI, but from a practical point of view empathize with the trade because fruits arriving from distant places in raw condition require to be made market ready by controlled ripening and the present practice of carbide ripening is the only method they know about. The traditional practice of smoke ripening or the modern etheral ripening technology does not seem to be ringing any bells in their head due to ignorance or convenience!  Similarly lacing sweets with dangerous non-permitted artificial colors or adulterating high value spices with a variety of unsafe substances or mixing cheap oils with costly ones or tampering with genuine ghee goes on with no fear about retribution. It is a shame to hear the country's premier safety enforcement body at Delhi announcing from the roof top that milk adulteration is rampant in many states and blaming the state agencies for this sorry state of affairs!. The ingenuity of adulterators is truly amazing and India may be the only country in the world "producing" milk without a cow or a buffalo! The fraudsters' milk, sold widely in many parts of the country, is simply a white colored concoction made from a blend of palm oil, detergent, urea and other ingredients and it is intriguing as to how people are accepting such products readily. 

FSSAI is a new body created to shoulder the task of safeguarding the health of consumer from adulterators and economic fraudsters but it is hampered by sub-critical number of qualified and experienced personnel. Ideally for a population of the size India has, this agency may require at least a hundred thousand ground level staff and is it not a pity that it has not even 2% of this requirement at present! The laboratory infrastructure is dilapidated and unless their number is increased dramatically, capabilities raised several fold and facilities modernized quickly, the chaos and drift that that are the hall marks of food safety enforcement regime obtaining at present will go on and on till perpetuity with 'no light at the end of the tunnel".   

Thursday, May 24, 2012


When the subject of obesity is talked about, there is always this tendency to advice the victims of such physiological disorders to cut down drastically on food intake, least realizing that there is no quick fix solution to overcome the epidemic. It is true that balancing the calories consumed with that expended is a key to "prevent" development of obesity but cutting down on calories by people already obese has minimal effect forcing the unfortunate victims to seek medical intervention. Many slimming diets propounded by commercial special food industry also do not help in controlling weight in all people, their impact being not uniform among the patients trying to bring down body weight through this route. It is for nothing that obesity "industry" is growing fast attracting victims who do not get solace through conventional diet therapy.  

Mathematics is a precise science and it is the basis of all designs man comes up with during the last few decades. There are many mathematical models evolved by scientists to test hypotheses and concepts and with the computing power of to day's man becoming mind boggling, there is nothing which cannot be predicted based on mathematics. Practically the whole space program was developed on computer calculations and modeling studies. It is against this background attempts are being made to use mathematical modeling studies to understand and predict obesity trends among human beings based on food intake and other data available already in the literature. Probably better and more intensive use of mathematics may reduce drastically the time needed to understand and project future possibilities.

A standard answer to any question related to calorie intake and weight reduction will always be that it takes about 3500 kC calorie reduction to lose. But it appears this is no longer the holy grail if some mathematicians have their say. They aver that the behavior of the human body is not the same under over caloric and under caloric conditions. Proof of this contention is that a person already overweight puts on more weight for every 10 calories additional intake compared to a normal healthy person consuming the same number of calories. In other words the effect of calorie intake is not manifested immediately and there is a certain time factor to see its weight gaining effect. If these findings are true the dietary science may have to be revised to keep in tune with the new predictions by the mathematics experts.

One of the surprising findings is that weight gain and reduction cannot be achieved in short time and it may take 1-3 years to reach equilibrium by the human body. In other words there is no quick fix for weight reduction as is being propagated by the merchants and peddlers of weight reduction diets world over. How difficult it is to lose weight can be gauged by the fact, as brought out recently, that it takes about three years for a dieter under any dietary regime to reach a steady state and there should not be any disappointment if results take longer to arrive than expected! The mathematical model arrived at by the new studies predicts that if one wants to reduce 10 pounds, it is necessary to cut down 100 kC a day for 3 years. Most welcome finding that will give solace to many weight watchers is that huge variations in daily intake of foods will not be a problem as long as the average intake is maintained to achieve the desired goal of reduced weight. 

One of the reasons as to why in the US one out of every three persons is obese can be seen against the above background. Since 1970s the food cost in that country has been coming down significantly while the per capita income has been increasing, putting more money in the hands of people. American food industry started its "seduction" program to tap the increased money in the hands of the population by creating foods that stimulate the palate rather than improving their well being! If the obesity in the US has assumed alarming proportion during the last one decade, it has to be understood in the context of the growth of the food industry there churning out foods with empty nutrition and abundance of calories. If the mathematical modeling is taken into consideration once the equilibrium level of the body is reached in 3 years resulting in increase of 10 pounds in the body weight, every additional calorie is bound to escalate the weight accrual relentlessly resulting in obesity in no time. As against 2000-2500 kC intake by healthy persons in developing countries, the corresponding figure is in the vicinity of 3500 kc! Under such a condition one cannot help saying "Obesity, thy name is America"!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


A troubling question that haunts many people is why does any one eat at all? For pleasure, health or longevity? While food connoisseurs swear by taste and flavor, nutritionists want the food to provide nutrients and business men want to make money by making people gorge on food! Another section of consumers want to eat less providing restricted calories with the assumption that it will allow them to live long. If all these diverse stake holders are allowed to argue out their case who could be the likely winner. Not sure, because all of them are well articulated groups capable of winning their case with convincing details. However the fact of life is different. Eating less than what body needs will result in losing weight ultimately leading to many complications while eating more will result in increased weight eventually leading to obesity. 

Watching people eat their food can be an interesting hobby. Some eat the food even before the food arrives on the table and the pace of eating can be frenetic. One wonders whether the food has even a chance to get masticated in the oral cavity which only can release fully the flavor and taste of the food eaten. Mastication also serves to predigest the food through the Ptylin enzyme system present in the saliva that operates in the mouth and helps to reduce the load in the Stomach and Gastrointestinal Tract once swallowed. Many others eat normally chewing the food before gulping it down the digestive system. A few people are very slow eaters taking enormous time to finish a meal and theoretically they should be the models to emulate by others. Slow eating helps to digest the food better, extract as much of the nutrients as possible and creates satiety preventing over eating. 

In some communities talking is not permitted once the eating starts while some others spend a couple of minutes sitting before the meal praying to God and thanking Him for providing the meal. Generally eating with bare hands finishes a meal faster than the ceremonial eating using knives and forks. What about use of sticks by Chinese and Oriental people for eating their meals? Those accustomed to such eating style can do a fast job of finishing the meal whereas beginners may take ages for the same. Watching of people in India eat their meals served to them is an interesting experience. In many public functions several courses are served on a certain pace and the diners are forced to sit before the plate till each item arrives before them!   

The new mantra that is being touted as the ultimate in controlling the body weight interestingly talks nothing about the composition of food but focuses on the "way" one eats! According to this "eating slowly and genuinely relishing each bite" can stop the obesity at its track! Buddhists are taken as examples for proving this theory and it appears the pupils are trained to meditate with food focusing the attention on the food and the sensation it provides before actually consuming them. Staring at the food consciously for 15-20 minutes, feeling it slowly, masticating leisurely appears to be a part of the eating regimen being followed by Buddhists. While this can be ignored if it was only a Buddhist tradition, what is interesting is the advocacy of such a practice by no less than the Harvard School of Public Health which is convinced that this is the best way to prevent over eating. They call it "mindful eating", probably to differentiate it from "mindless eating" or gorging mechanically without giving a chance to the body to react and indicate satiety. Besides preventing unnecessary over loading of the system with food not required by the body, this new "avatar" of eating practice is reported to be able to open the "third" eye. 

Mindful eating, according to the theory, is not akin to using special diets or about giving up anything to achieve the goal. It is supposed to be about experiencing food more intensely and the pleasure arising out of it. Probably eating a pizza slowly and mindfully may provide more pleasure besides giving the body a chance to say to stop eating further as satiety has set in or seek some other food with less calories! Of course the waste of food under this eating regime may be some what high but individually the health of the consumer is supposed to be safeguarded. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012


Food aid is vital for saving thousands of lives, especially in war-torn countries of Africa. USA, by far the most charitable nation on earth diverts a significant portion of its surplus into poor countries with the hope that people would give up armed conflicts once fed properly. The classical surmise is that poverty causes conflicts and any step taken to reduce poverty would automatically reduce the intensity and spread of such conflicts. But recent studies have thrown up disturbing trend which needs to be noted by all donor countries. According to these findings, higher the food aid more will be the tendency to prolong the conflict or begin new conflicts. Incidences of insurgency and armed rebellion invariably increase whenever the US food production generates huge surpluses! 

The above conclusion is based on a scientific analysis of food aid from the US and its consequences during the last 35 years at Harvard University and the significance of the same cannot be belittled. While every body appreciates the yeoman service rendered by the US to humanity the flip side is that such aids hide another selfish agenda which compels the country to send its wheat surpluses to "needy" countries. The peculiar agriculture system that exists in the US mandates the government to buy from the farmers surplus wheat produced, whatever be the quantum at certain support prices and it becomes imperative for the government to dispose of the surplus before the next harvest. Interestingly it was found out that higher the surpluses bigger were the food aid delivered. Probably it makes sense that such humanitarian programs protect the local farmers while a host of economic activity is spurred in the form of more employment and income generation for those handling the aid.

The Study revealed that the surplus shipments of wheat had a consistent impact, albeit negative, on armed conflicts in developing countries who receive such aids. It came out that following high production years in the U.S., regular recipients of aid experienced a jump in both the onset and duration of violent conflict within their borders. The authors of the study further averred that for every 1000 tons increase in U.S. food aid, there was increased incidence of civil conflict by 0.38 percentage points. The same shipment also decreased the probability of an existing civil war ending in a single year by between 0.48 and 0.61 percentage points. Further it was concluded that in a country, already experiencing a conflict, the extra wheat shipped by the U.S. in response to a bumper crop makes it more likely the conflict would continue and if there is not already a conflict, the increased  U.S. production could create new conflicts in such countries. What a tragedy indeed!.

Why is this contradiction? Probably the insurgent groups get as much benefit from distributed foods as those targeted for receiving such aids. It is a fact that in many cases the US government does not identify the constraints in delivering the aid to the targeted beneficiaries and the hurry with which these aids are dispatched because of local storage limitations makes it difficult to work out the distribution logistics properly. It is not realized that many developing countries suffering from civil conflicts due to one reason or the other do not have good road networks or transport infrastructure, making it easy to hijack such supplies by warring groups denying the food to those who really deserve. Besides opposing war groups steal or seize food from refuge camps for buying weapons aggravating the hunger problem as well as the local conflict.

Is there any solution to this problem? Probably none. World has to reconcile to the fact that a certain percentage of food aid coming from donor countries would be diverted regardless of any precaution taken because in many war-ridden countries there is no law and order causing utter chaos and anarchy and deploying international forces for protecting the supplies may suck the latter into the local conflict. One can only console that at least a major part of food aid dies benefit and support large populations which otherwise have no hope of survival.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Coconut oil is to day considered as a healthy oil sought after all over the world. True it contains more saturated fats mainly the medium chain ones (MCT) but these are considered beneficial for maintaining over all health and avoid serious health disorders so common to day. If the price of this oil is galloping internationally, it is because of the increasing demand by health conscious consumers. While those consuming this oil for ages traditionally are convinced about its virtues, more and more people are switching to coconut oil, especially after technologies emerged to manufacture odorless oil. The typical flavor of coconut oil is well liked by those who swear by it but new customers find it difficult to "stomach" it easily. It cannot be ruled out that one day coconut oil may become as precious as olive oil and unless its cultivation is augmented serious shortages may develop in supply in the coming years.

While the food, medicinal and culinary values of coconut oil is well known, its extensive use for application on hair and body is not recognized. One of the perennial mysteries regarding the jet black hair most people in Bengal and Kerala own, is sought to be explained by their extensive use of coconut oil for grooming their hair. No doubt coconut oil has several non-food uses which include as a body lotion and moisturizer, a palliative for any body itching, an anti-bacterial agent, insect repellent, after shave soothener, sun-screen, deodorant hair conditioners, polishing of wood and bronze, removal of rust, leather cleaner etc. Vulnerability of coconut oil to hydrolytic rancidity is a negative point limiting its use to some extent. During monsoon season due to inadequate drying and incipient mold growth, the oil in the nut gets hydrolyzed releasing free fatty acids generating the typical smell associated with rancidity. However mechanical driers and modern refining technology have made it possible to pre-empt these drawbacks to some extent. 

Though coconut oil is touted as a cocoa butter substitute and an alternative to trans fatty acids-containing plastic fats, widespread belief that its consumption increases cholesterol levels in the blood still makes it a "suspicious" fat. However it is established that coconut oil increases the HDL cholesterol which is a plus point in favor of it. Whether coconut oil causes build up of plaques in the arteries is still a debating point and the jury is still out on the issue. In a country like India where "milk" is created with 100% artificial ingredients, coconut oil is an easy prey for adulteration. Food fraudsters have found that coconut oil can be mimicked in terms of chemical composition and physical characteristics by rubber seed oil and palm kernel oil and this has spawned a parallel adulteration industry which mixes these oils with coconut oil to varying extent without the consumer having any clue to it. Mineral oil is also admixed with coconut oil by some unscrupulous traders though such blends cause stomach upsets within a few hours of consuming. 

One of the recent "innovations" in the use of coconut oil is to help drunken drivers escape from legal action at the hands of police whenever caught by the breath analyzer test! Mini packs of coconut oil containing a couple of ml of the product are becoming increasingly popular because they are disposable, easily used and can be stored in the car for handy access. If "experienced" drivers  are to be believed at the sighting of a traffic police all one has to do is to empty one small unit into the mouth which effectively masks alcohol vapor, not allowing it to reach the breath analyzer! As the punishment for driving with alcohol content in the breath becoming harsher ( Rs 8000 or 3 years' jail) there is every chance that a Rs 2 coconut oil mini pack can save lot for the violators and will be in greater demand in coming days. Probably thin coating of oil inside the mouth absorbs alcohol vapor preventing it from exhalation into the test equipment, leaving the police red faced! Here is a challenge to the alcohol technologist to come up with an alternative technology for detecting alcohol in the blood of those caught for suspected drunken driving. May be an oral swab or an arm band or the degree of redness in the eyes can be the basis. Here is wishing good luck to the police!


Monday, May 7, 2012


The present government is very keen to push through the so called food security bill under which food grains like wheat, rice and coarse grains are distributed practically free to three fourth of the population in the country under the skewed perception that people would be happy if they could access staple foods easily. What is forgotten in this populist program is about the logistics of production of required food to meet the new needs arising out of the commitment by the government. The long forgotten Green Revolution had run its course, ruining the fertility and health of the soil and it is unlikely that the same soil can achieve quantum jump in production unless reclaimed or rehabilitated. Such a program of rejuvenation is far from the minds of the policy makers as of now and probably this commitment will eventually lead to massive imports of food in future. Present happy situation with the grain stocks cannot continue for ever and if the rains fail the country a couple of times the present stock can "evaporate" in no time. Is any one at Delhi, including the "exalted" Planning Commission bothered about this precarious situation?

The new Land Policy now being orchestrated is intended to facilitate land acquisition for industry and real estate conglomerates, the only redeeming feature being increased compensation receivable by the land losers. But disappearance of agricultural land, especially smaller holdings owned by millions of farmers in the coming years will make a dent in food production and such a land policy will also contribute to increased food imports. There appears to be a perception in the government that self reliance is a "sin" when the country has subscribed to free trade policies under the WTO regime. Is food import a wise policy? Of course not because grain prices in the international markets are influenced by many factors and India has no influence on the same. Is the country prepared to pay any price to import food grains when food shortages become acute one day? Recent events have seen how a small drought in one exporting country can cause spiraling of grain prices in the global market and imagine the potential risk in the form of civil disturbances that can occur under scarcity conditions! 

As one of the discerning critics has pointed out recently the present government seems to be more pre-occupied about mineral exports under the perceived impression that they can bring lot of money and this is the logic behind the enactment of the new Mining Bill. Though land acquisition for mining is not a pre-requisite as such lands rich in minerals are leased out for long time, fact still remains that land is lost for cultivation if minerals are found under the land, affecting again food production. Country seems to be forgetting the recent mining scams in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and others which have rocked the nation and all these scams are politician-mining mafia driven causing huge losses to the exchequer. Look at places like Bellary where the environment is thick with red dust generated by inefficient and crude way of mining and mining barons are ruthless in destroying every thing coming in their way. Illegal mining and exporting appear to be taking place under the very nose of the government in spite of judicial intervention! A number of NGOs who espouse the cause of environment are doing a yeomen service to the nation by their relentless fight against over mining and unscientific practices of mining industry. 

The current year bumper harvest may embolden the government to push ahead with its illogical policies because with large stocks of food grains in the government storage depots, covered as well open, a false sense of food security is likely to prevail at least for another year. When one talks about mining and export of minerals from the country, it is forgotten that precious non-renewable resources are lost once for all irretrievably and will the present rulers be around to answer to the future generations about such a heinous deed? What prevents the government from linking mining leases with production outfits which can extract the valuable mineral contained and return the bulk of the wastes back to the place preventing unnecessary land destruction. Export of minerals containing 99% sand and traces of targeted mineral is nothing but a folly when country is talking about value addition, industrialization and employment generation. 

India will be remembered in history as a country going down under with wrong policies and priorities, if agriculture is not given the importance it deserves. Almost 70% of the population living in the rural backyard of this country should be applauded and encouraged for providing food to the 30% of those living in urban regions generating economic wealth through manufacturing and other industrial and commercial services. If rural India falters the country will falter and it is the duty of the government to provide rightful environment through economic and policy support with more commitment. Farmers in this country should not be allowed to wither away by a deluge of suicides taking place in different agricultural belts and if such wake up calls do not ring alarm bells in the appropriate quarters, nothing else will!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012


There are thousands of temples, mosques, churches and other centers of worship in India where free food is served to the devotees ad libitum. Many devotees feel gratified by this gesture because they consider the food offered in these holy places as symbols of blessing from the God. In almost all temples in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka state food is served after the pooja to thousands of people in specially made dining halls. Modern kitchens have been established in places like Tirupathi, Dharmasthala, Mantralaya and in many other major temples using latest stainless equipment and cooking and serving personnel maintaining reasonably good sanitation standards. It is not a surprise that not even a single case of food poisoning was reported from any of these temples during the last several years.

While fresh food preparations are made in modern kitchens, what is disturbing is the conditions that exist in preparation places where "sacred" prasadam is made in substantial quantities. In Tirupathi millions of Laddus are made in different sizes in kitchens which were not considered satisfactory till recently and it was only after the intervention of the internationally reputed CFTRI from Mysore in late nineteen eighties that some reforms started to improve the kitchen conditions. Fortunately to day these kitchens have installed many stainless steel gadgets for handling the materials though Laddu making by machines has not yet been fully achieved. Modernization is hampered by religious conservatism and age old blind traditions. Still Tirupathi management deserves appreciation in achieving a fair degree of modernization in kitchens under their control.

Sabarimala is another sacred temple in Kerala and along with Guruvayur attracts very large crowds of devotees from all over India through out the year. While these two temples do not serve any free meals to their devotees, Sabarimala temple prasadam in the form of Aravana Payasam and shallow-fried Neyyappam are in great demand. Travancore Devaswam Board (TDB) which controls this temple has been producing these products in facilities equipped with modern canning machinery and other mechanized gadgets. Still it has not been able to meet the increasing demand for these products from millions of devotees visiting the shrine when ever it is opened during the year. One is reminded of kitchens in gurudwaras  in Punjab where automatic roti making machines are reported to be working with capacity as high as 2000-3000 pieces per hour to serve at the Langars. It is a progressive sign that temple authorities are becoming more and more receptive to ideas of modernization.

Regarding Sabarimala, this shrine was recently in the news after about 28000 cans of Aravana Payasam were found blowing up due to fermentation of the product inside. This incidence raised serious doubts regarding the safety of the product, sanitation in the processing facilities and adequacy of the process deployed. In response to a Court directive as a result of a PIL case, TDB conceded in its testimony that the mishap occurred because of deficiencies in the process and negligence of the personnel on the shop floor. In its directive the Court directed the authorities to set up adequate Quality Control facility near the processing facilities for better control of the process and increased safety of the products. Here is a case where two processed products are served as prasadam, both of which are not considered technically sound. In spite of CFTRI offering technical help in early nineteen nineties the TDB spurned the same, continuing with its own way of doing it. The Neyyappam is another product which is in urgent need of reformulation and process modification as the current product is hardly edible though it is supposed to be a"divine" one! 

Technically Aravana Payasam is supposed to be a high sugar product and with right recipe it can be preserved in any container for a long time with no spoilage. The panchamrutam of Palani is another example of a high sugar product preserved on its own. Only the water activity has to be maintained correctly to prevent growth of bacteria, mold and yeast during storage. Why the TDB had gone for a sophisticated canning facility costing more than a crore of rupees investment is still not clear. All that is needed is a bottling facility worth about a few lakh, the equipment easily available locally. Normally canning process depends on thermal treatment and vacuum to preserve its contents whereas in bottled products preservation is achieved through osmotic pressure and water activity manipulation. With abundant reserves at its disposal, TDB can afford to truly modernize its prasadam preparation facility bringing it on par with ISO/HACCP certified  food industry standards. All that is required is a certain degree of commitment and a few dedicated technical personnel.

What is said about Sabarimala is true with regard to all big temples in India. Most of them make the preparations manually posing real risks to the devotees. While complete automation is not called for, many unit operations can be mechanized to reduce human handling as much as possible. It is ironical that many state governments are "nationalizing" many rich temples with high income and administering then under the Muzrai department staffed with hard core petty officials, interested only in "Hundi" collection  while no attention is given to invest in providing facilities to devotees who come from far away places for worship and solace.