Blog Posts by author Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Blog Posts by author Sunita Narain


Sunita Narain

Director General of CSE and publisher of Down To Earth, an environmentalist pushing for changes in policies and  practices and mindsets. More>>

16 May 2011

Can you love tigers but hate forests? This is the question that troubled me as I visited the middle of India last fortnight. I was in Nagpur, where local politicians, conservationists and officials were discussing what needed to be done in this chronically poor and backward region endowed with forests and tiger habitats.

30 April 2011

We were on a beach. Somewhere close to Puducherry. The sight was surreal: half-smashed houses with wide open fronts, people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or a cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village; there was no protection between the sea and the village.

16 April 2011

“Stroke of the pen” reform is critical as in many cases policy is dastardly and change is laggardly. The essential element is to find that big-ticket item that can have impact on a scale and at a pace that is needed. I believe Union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh’s letter addressed to all chief ministers clarifying that bamboo is indeed a grass and not timber, is such an item.

1 April 2011

Two major events happening at two ends of the world—Japan’s natural disaster and nuclear fallout and unrest in Libya and other countries of the region—have one thing in common. Energy. The fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, hit by earthquake and then the tsunami, has not yet been contained. As I write this, news is breaking about possible contamination of the seawater surrounding the damaged installation. Fears are it could lead to groundwater contamination and radioactive toxins in the food and fish. Last week there was a scare when Tokyo’s water was reported to have iodine 131 in excess of safe limits. Nobody really knows how badly the core of the reactor is damaged. Nobody’s clear how Fukushima’s problems will be buried.

16 March 2011

I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public’s verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song. The government, already scam-bruised, hastily scrapped the contract. Since then there has been dead silence among the powerful scientific leaders of the country, with one exception. Kiran Karnik, a former employee of ISRO and board member of Devas, spoke out. He explained it is wrong to equate this deal with the scam of mobile telephony, where it was alleged that the minister fiddled with procedures to hand out spectrum at throwaway prices. The reason is that this band of spectrum called S-band, reserved for use in satellites, is different from terrestrial spectrum used by mobile operators. In the S-band the users are different, risks are higher and the customer base is smaller. Hence, the cost calculations done for terrestrial spectrum cannot be used to estimate the loss to the exchequer in the ISRO-Devas contract.

1 March 2011

As I write this piece, the finance minister has dispatched the Union Budget 2011. The press is busy reflecting the views of business and industry lobbies, as they quibble over duty exemptions, insist on financial stimulus and other incentives, and cry for big-ticket reform—foreign direct investment in retail and insurance. The only other discussion is about the growing fiscal deficit: will the finance minister give in to populism while extending the programmes for the poor? Or will he raise taxes to pay for the growing developmental needs of the country? The finance minister, it would seem, is caught between two battles: of checking the bulge in fiscal irresponsibility and of meeting the need for delivering governance.

16 February 2011

The World Economic Forum—the gathering of power glitterati each year in Davos—has assessed the top risks the world faces in 2011. According to this analysis, climate change is the highest-ranking risk the world will face in the coming years, when its likelihood and impact are combined. What’s even more important is the interconnections between climate change and the other top risks: economic disparity (ranked 3), extreme weather events (ranked 5), extreme energy price volatility (ranked 6), geopolitical conflict (ranked 7), flooding and water security (9 and 10). The world—even according to the richest men—is in deep and desperate trouble.

1 February 2011

Some hundred people, men and women, were gathered on the hill. Many more, I could see, were trudging up. Their faces were resolute. I asked why they were opposing the cement plant. Their answer was simple: “We cannot eat cement.” “But the plant will bring you employment and prosperity,” I said. The reply this time, with a touch of irritation, was: “We have our fields and now with the water in the tank we have good produce. We are not rich like you but we have food to eat.” I persisted, “But your land is not being taken away to build the plant. The government says it has only allocated village grazing land and wasteland to build the factory.” Their anger spilled out.

15 January 2011

2010 was a loud year for the environment. High profile projects—from Vedanta to Posco and Navi Mumbai airport to Lavasa—hit the headlines for non-compliance with environmental regulations. While 2009 was the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, it was only last year that we were all outraged by the disaster. The realisation of how every institution—the judiciary, parliament and government— had miserably failed to provide justice to the victims shocked us deeply.

31 December 2010

Last fortnight we discussed the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun to change the framework of the climate change negotiations to suit big and powerful polluters. Since then Cancun has concluded and a deal, in the form of a spate of agreements, has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.

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