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Sunita Narain's picture
1 April 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Sunita Narain's picture
16 March 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Sunita Narain's picture
1 March 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Gita Kavarana's picture
28 February 2011
Gita Kavarana

I was grounded in a village in Alirajpur, Chaktala in Sondwa block, (Jhabua District Madhya Pradesh) due to travel sickness, while my colleague went to see some good work on the wadi concept being undertaken by a local NGO and funded by NABARD. When I woke up around 6 in the evening feeling reasonably normal, I was sitting at the doorway of the house, waiting for the return of others.

Anumita Roychowdhury's picture
21 February 2011
Anumita Roychowdhury

It was a proud moment and a powerful statement when Dhaka rolled out a bedecked iconic cycle rickshaw on the opening day of the World Cup cricket. This is perhaps the only capital city in our region that can boast of zero emission areas with majority walking or on cycle rickshaws. Yet cars, only 10 per cent of all wheeled trips, bring this city to a grinding halt daily – traffic jams are as bad as we see in the worst of times in Delhi. Jam-struck on Dhaka’s roads, I understood, what warped fuel pricing can do to our cities of South Asia, and, wondered why our finance minister has not figured that out yet?

Sunita Narain's picture
16 February 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Sunita Narain's picture
1 February 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Gita Kavarana's picture
31 January 2011
Gita Kavarana

Jhabua is home to a unique indigenous poultry breed called the Kadaknath. The tribals value the breed for its cultural as well as its health values and also consider it sacred. The bird is high in iron and amino acids and low in fat. It tolerates extreme heat and cold climatic conditions and requires minimal management inputs. The breed is disease resistant and is valued for the quality and flavour of its black meat. It is also locally known as Kali masi because the bird is black inside –out – skin, feathers, legs, meat, blood, etc.

Sunita Narain's picture
15 January 2011
Sunita Narain

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.

Gita Kavarana's picture
14 January 2011
Gita Kavarana

‘Only minral water availabale (sic)’ -- where in India can you see such a sign? Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi? Or even Bhopal, Indore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad? Sorry, this was in a hotel in Jhabua, the district capital of the tribal district of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. I asked the hotel manager, a school drop-out tribal, why he had put up this sign. He said that most of the customers demanded bottled water.

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