Sunday, June 25, 2006

The War against heat

Preet Pal was a landless farmer. He worked for a corpulent dictator of a farmer; he paid him only Rs 10 an hour, utterly insufficient to feed his family. So Preet was delighted to hear of the new initiative by the government to grow Jathropha on hitherto uncultivated (and therefore, wooded) land. And even more delighted when his application to cultivate that land was accepted only with a bribe of Rs 4000.

Ram Singh was a hard worker. He earned his daily bread by chopping trees. His was an honest trade: he would make Rs 50 per tree he would chop down and dispose off. And he did four on a good day; three on a bad. His pay was roughly Rs 4000 a month; he was one of the massive Indian middle class. His wife worked in a pappad factory in the city; she made a cool 2500 every month; the could afford to send their children to a good English Medium school. Oh, and Ram was an expert bull-dozer driver.

Viral Patel was the contractor. He put the bread in Ram's plate (for hours of tree-cutting labour). He was the stereotyped middle-man; shouting into cell-phone in ear, spitting paan on the pavement, conveying an air of unparalelled unctuosity. With a white cap replacing the bald head, you could mistake him for one of those Lok-Sabha people. And a few years down the line, Viral hoped, you wouldn't just mistake him for one of "those Lok-Sabha people". Live everyone else, he had hopes of being the prime minister. Viral had bribed so many ministers that he thought it made good business sense to be one. Viral was now doing a job for the government; he was cutting the trees off a "boring" section Ranthambore. The government had carefully weighed odds; it had reckoned that energy were more important that keeping the tigers alive. Without energy, what is the use of tigers? No tourists, no money.

Amit Kumar was an engineer. Not the best in his class, but certainly passionate. He had gone to school long ago, he had done a few courses on energy. He remembered that biomass was Carbon-dioxide neutral. (The only carbon dioxide that it emits on combustion is the carbon dioxide that it absorbs while growing. Safe to say that the replacement plants are "recharging" the atmosphere with CO2.) He reckoned it would keep the world a safe, cool place. So, he designed a biomass (datura) cultivation system for the government.

Yusuf Khan was a professor. He had pioneered the use of datura ( a common weed) for energy production. His papers had won fame world-wide. He became a household name in India. Lots of excited parents started calling their new-born sons Yusuf. He had, coincidentally taught Amit that course, where he had made the claim about biomass.

So, Amit's plan to build the farm went ahead; Preet and Ram did their bit. Mr. Shere-Khan is now dead; so are 5000 trees whose services in converting CO2 to O2 have been lost for all eternity. A scar on the face of the planet. Yusuf then, went on to win the Nobel Prize for ushering in the black revolution in India. Alas, "black" could very well stand for eternal doom; not just oil oil.

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