[Reader-list] A letter to Mr Gates

Ravi Agarwal ravig64 at gmail.com
Sat Dec 10 08:15:05 IST 2005

Apologies for the last posting which was garbled.

An oped published in Indian Express by Toxic Link's Ravi Agarwal upon  
Gates' visit to India.

A letter to Mr Gates

Think philanthropy and info-tech, but also think of a cleaner world


Posted online: Thursday, December 08, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

Bill Gates has joined the illustrious list of American
businessmen philanthropists, from Rockefeller to Ford. With over 200  
USD to be given for the health sector alone and an expected over 1  
USD investments in India, the scale behooves the richest man in the  
However, what is it that distinguishes the business of today from  
that of 50
years ago? Fundamentally, it is the recognition that business and, in  
all activities of human development needs to be 'sustainable'.

Take the case of vaccine immunisation, very basic to protecting  
lives from deadly diseases. Over 4.2 billion vaccinations are carried  
out in
India alone, almost a third of the global figures. These are done  
several times a week, in over 5,00,000 places, covering several  
million in a
few weeks. Each uses a plastic syringe, made up of a mixture of  
plastics and
now used as single shot auto disable devices to prevent cross  
transmission of
infection from one to another.

So far so good. But what happens to the syringes? They are burnt openly.
Even well meaning agencies like UNICEF and WHO do this, unaware of the
deadly toxins which are emitted, and which have long term health effects
like cancer and endocrine disruption, on mothers and infants in  
Only recently has India through its Reproductive and Child Health  
mandated that these needles not be burnt but the metal sharps be  
and the excellent quality plastic recycled. However where are the  
budgets to do this? \
Of the 200 million USD promised by the Gates Foundation for safe  
is anyone going to ensure this 'sustainability'?

Another example is of the industry Bill Gates leads worldwide. Does  
he know that most
  of the over 500 million old computers slated for disposal in the US  
and Europe,
will head towards India, Africa and China? There these will be broken  
by hand,
exposing poor workers to very caustic acid, cuts and burns and toxic  
from the over 50 hazardous chemicals each computer has? Several  
million workers in
India and Asia are exposed to these hazards even as the high growth  
connected Indian IT industry just looks on.

India is planning to double its computer penetration from 11 per  
thousand to
20 per thousand. But what will happen to the waste as computers are now
changed like underwear, every three years as against five years earlier?
Surely the industry of the future must not help build a world, which is
toxic and unjust on its impacts on the poorest of the poor? Gates should
give a clear message to the IT industry that the future can be  
only if we take action in the present.

We welcome Bill Gates in the true traditions of Indian hospitality,  
but we
also want to remind him that the future patterns in India will impact  
planet at a scale never before seen in human history. We need  
and computerisation, but we need cradle to grave approaches. We need
both  philanthropy and sustainable partnerships and development.

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