Mysore biofuel initiative needs closer scrutiny

Jatropha is a wasteland plant. And allowing a bio-fuel company to landscape 40 acres of ‘lung space’ close to P K Sanatorium with jatropha plantation appears wasteful; but, at any rate, would need closer scrutiny by environmentalists. If only because, the long-term impact of jatropha plantation on soil quality and environment is unknown.
What is known about jatropha ( kadaharalu in Kannada?) is that it is a hedge plant that grows on otherwise uncultivable wasteland. It is drought resistant. And its seed has 40 percent oil, which, mixed with fuel, can drive vehicles and most other engines that run on diesel. Undeniably, there is a case for promoting jatropha as eco-friendly fuel source.
My concern is with a proposal by Mysore-based Labland Biotechs to take on lease 40 acres of
sanatorium land for jatropha plantation as a model project. Admittedly, a sanatorium needs green environment, but not necessarily of the jatropha variety. If anything, judicious mix of trees (notably, neem) and other vegetation would be more in order for sanatorium land. The mix the bio-fuel company has in mind comprises an assortment of medicinal plants, castor and lots of jatropha.
The company founder
Dr Sudheer Shetty says the entire area would be landscaped and the jatropha plot would be showcased as a ‘bio-energy park’ to attract tourists. Blowing the chaff off the promotional spin, the company would like to see the place developed as a jatropha demonstration plot, where farmers could come and see for themselves the economic benefits of planting jatropha, a hedge plant that has till now been growing in the wild.
If jatropha picks up as a commercial bio-fuel source, it would cease to be a wasteland plant. And encouraging its plantation on cultivable land could become a long-term factor in our food security concerns. Instead of planting jatropha on land where other vegetation could grow, the focus should be on reclaiming wasteland; and the government would do well to take a policy position not to encourage jatropha plantation on otherwise cultivable land.
But then the forest department, as reported in the media, has “thrown its weight behind the (jatropha) project, as it facilitates their ‘Green Mysore’ programme”. The programme, to plant samplings on all available vacant space in Mysore, is reported to have
got bogged down due to failure of Mysore Urban Development Authority MUDA) to release the committed funds to the forest department.
Instead of falling for soft options in its anxiety to green Mysore the forest department, MUDA and other concerned local authorities could tie-up with Labland Biotech for planting of jatropha as a hedge around public buildings, playfields, along rail-tracks and on road-dividers in public highways. Self-help groups could take on lease such hedge space for jatropha plantation under contract with Labland Biotechs.

Cross-posted in SiliconIndia


3 Responses

  1. True. We almost never evaluate the ecological implications of our actions and most of our economically rewarding activities are based on stripping nature of its resources. Indeed, the better you can denude nature, the richer you will be.

    Growing jatropha is on the face of it different from, say, mining a mountain, but can be no less devastating if it replaces entire forests. Economics, like justice, is blind.

  2. The public and the media needs to be vigilant. But planting those trees by the side of our railway tracks and Highways can be thought of. Biofuels are here to stay unless we think of other renewable energies like Solar Energy. More research needs to be done to make Solar Energy more viable

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