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It's unfortunate that The Devil's Playground is getting a rather lurid promotion campaign during its American premiere, because it's not a lurid film. The setting is a boys' parochial school in Australia, where youngsters must wrestle with moral challenges and dilemmas that even their mentors haven't necessarily conquered. Though some of the subject matter is sensitive, as when sexual abstinence is discussed, director Fred Schepisi brings more subtlety and tact to his treatment than were found in his celebrated drama ''The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,'' which nonetheless has a stronger reputation among viewers in the United States. ''The Devil's Playground'' is an unusually thoughtful picture, carefully scripted and cleverly acted. It makes a worthy addition to the list of fine films from Down Under that have made their way to the international circuit since the Australian movie renaissance began a few short years ago.

Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R) of Wyoming has held hearings to emphasize the positive role of solar, wind, and other alternative energy forms in fulfilling President Reagan's own goal of US energy independence.

Encouraged by such pioneers as Landing, who has promoted residential wind-energy systems throughout the US in recent years, individual homeowners have been installing wind turbines - reducing their own electric bills and even contributing small amounts of power to the utility grids.

It has been variously estimated that wind power could eventually supply from 10 to 18 percent of US electricity. But, notes Elmer Hall, chief of generation planning for PG&E, large commercial installations such as the one in Solano County will be needed to make a significant contribution to overall power generation in the nation.

And although the wind is free, as Landing says, installation costs for wind generation are high in comparison to some other energy systems. It costs $2,500- kilowatt of a nuclear power plant now is estimated at $12,000; hydroelectric costs about $2,500 per kilowatt, a coal-fired plant $490-$600, and in oil-fired generator $900-$1,200.

Wind power enthusiasts rightly point out that there are continuing environmental and fuel costs involved in other systems. They consider the environmental problems with wind minor, and, of course, the ''fuel'' costs nothing. Maintenance seems to be the only significant, long-term cost.

As the Solano wind farm and other major wind power projects in Hawaii, southern California, and elsewhere from coast to coast illustrate, the chief physical obstacle to wind power is the need for large tracts of land where the wind blows hard enough and often enough - and there is a utility grid close at hand to take the electricity as it is generated.

Noise was a problem at first in both small and large systems, but better blade designs and speed controls seem to be coping with that. With the need to put the windmill up high enough to catch prevailing air currents, the aesthetic impact of the towers is likely to rule windmills out in some areas.

Both residential and commercial wind power operations, therefore, are coming under increasingly stringent control.

PG&E, which is embroiled in controversy over its only nuclear power installation - the Diablo Canyon plant - encourages both residential and commercial wind power operations.

Mr. Hall, who says there is no doubt that coal will have to be increasingly used for power generation, points out that there are limitations on utilization of wind power by the utilities: It cannot be stored as can hydropower, but must be used as it is generated; the wind cannot be turned on and off in order to provide ''peaking'' power at those times of greatest consumption.

One facet of the Solano County project that makes it feasible is that the California Department of Water Resources will buy ''off-peak'' electricity produced by the wind farm to run its pumps.

Despite the admitted difficulties in the way of developing wind power, there are entrepreneurs - such as those involved in Windfarms Ltd. and US Windpower of Burlington, Mass. - who have enough confidence to invest heavily in developing this ''free'' and constantly renewable resource.

But they do want that governmental ''boost'' in the form of tax credits to continue.

Since many of the industrial units and almost all the power stations in India are government run, there should be no problem about making them respect pollution requirements, given the political will. Also, the regulatory agencies that govern private industrial units would have no difficulty in ensuring that measures preventing air and water pollution are incorporated in these projects.

A far more grave problem is posed by the pollution of river and ground water. Despite a law passed in 1974 to control water pollution, very little has been done. Cities continue to dump sewage and other waste material straight into the water. The smaller municipal committees do not have the funds to process wastes to render them harmless before they are recycled into the river system.

A recent study by the Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution showed that the river Jamuna is highly polluted between Delhi and Etawah in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. In Delhi, the stretch from where the Najafgarfh drain empties into the river up to Okhla, which is the main intake point for the waterworks system, the water is so heavily polluted that it is deemed unfit for irrigation. And yet, this is the water that residents of New Delhi must use for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

Ganga is the other major river whose waters are sacred to Hindus. At a meeting of experts a few months ago, it was said that a 10-kilometer stretch of the river near the holy city of Varanasi (formerly Benares) was polluted by industrial effluents and sullage brought by 10 sewage systems. Yet people by the thousands come to the river here for a ritual bath.

A rural community in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh recently forced the closure of a paper mill, effluents from which were polluting their only source of water. Such actions, however, are rare. Most of the time people suffer in silence even when toxic elements poison their drinking water. Until recently, nearly one ton of cyanide from the electroplating industry used to be dumped into the Jamuna in Delhi. The Central Board for Prevention of Water Pollution, in conjunction with the World Health Organization, now has been able to persuade the industry to follow certain norms to prevent this.

Last May, four children between the ages of two and nine in a village in Rajasthan state died after drinking water from wells. Poisonous metallic discharges from a zinc smelter, dumped into the Berchi River nearby, had apparently seeped through the ground to these wells.

All forms of pollution, however, do not rise from industrialization. In New Delhi, throughout winter, the air is thick with smoke from wood and coal fires lit for cooking and for warmth by thousands of families unable to afford any other fuel. Life in their windowless shacks must be grim indeed.

In the villages, people often have to use the same stagnant pool for bathing themselves and their buffaloes, both done by physically stepping into the pool. During a dry spell, the same water may have to be carried home for drinking and cooking. Neither villages nor city slums have drains, and waste water accumulates in stagnant puddles near the shanties.

There are no lavatories either. In the villages, people wash themselves almost invariably in a pond which is also the main source of water for bathing, washing clothes, and utensils, and cooking - and sometimes, when the wells dry up, also for drinking water. Come the rains, all this filth from the puddles and the scrublands is washed into the ponds, tanks, and open wells without walls.

This type of pollution is a function of abject poverty, for even in rural areas, the better-off families have their own private wells, and sometimes private ponds as well. All this affects the health - especially that of children - and contributes to their undernourishment in poor homes.

The Department of Environment could influence the various urban development agencies to look into these aspects of pollution, particularly when plans for village communities are formulated. So far, however, there have been no indication that the department is even aware of this larger and more widespread form of pollution arising out of a breakdown of traditional facilities in the context of a population boom.

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