CSE Timeline

From 1980 till now, view CSE's progress.

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The Centre was established in January in a small two-room office in South Delhi. Among the Centre's first activities was to start a news service aimed at increasing public awareness on science, technology, environment and development.

In 1985, CSE published the second citizens’ report on the State of India’s Environment, which carried the first report in the developing world on how environmental destruction affects rural women and received nationwide attention. In 1986, deeply impressed by this report, the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi invited CSE founder director Anil Agarwal to address the nation’s Council of Ministers and the Parliament on the importance of sustainable development for a country like India.


The Citizens' First Report on the State of India's Environment went a long way in reconciling the global debate on environment versus development. In 1972, at the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, leaders from developing countries had argued that they cannot undertake environmental conservation at the cost of economic development, and that in developing countries economic development must take priority.

This report was the first major study from the civil society of a developing country which argued that developing countries must ensure that environmental conservation must go hand in hand with economic development because any economic development which destroys the environment will create more poverty and unemployment and, thus, cannot even be called economic development. This is because the poor depend on the survival for their daily survival - for them the Gross Nature Product is far more important than the Gross National Product. Environmentally destructive economic development will impoverish the poor even further and destroy their livelihood resource base. Therefore, the environmental concern in the developing world must go "beyond pretty trees and tigers" and must link it with people's lives and protests.

CSE organised a workshop on Alternative Approaches to Urban Development in December


The Citizens' Second Reporton the State of India's Environment pointed out that when the rural environment gets destroyed it is poor women who suffer the most because of their culturally-determined role as providers of water, firewood and fodder to meet the daily survival needs of their households. It also pointed out that, for this reason, women often have a greater interest in environmental regeneration and management than men. This was the first report on the impact of environmental destruction on women published in the developing world.


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Environmental conservation is a concern for politicians: Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi invited CSE's director Anil Agarwal to address the Union Council of Ministers of the importance of environmental conservation in India's development. Subsequently, the Prime Minister requested Anil Agarwal to address all the 27 parliamentary committees attached to the various ministries of the Central government so that the message could also go out to all Members of Parliament and each ministry could discuss its own role in environmental protection. These presentations were based on CSE's State of India's Environment reports.

Environmental destruction has a serious impact on floods and droughts: Between 1985 and 1987, India not only saw major droughts but also numerous flood events. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi requested CSE's director to make a presentation (later published as Wrath of Nature), to all Members of Parliament on how environmental destruction affects floods and droughts. The Prime Minister wanted to see greater use of flood and drought relief funds for environmental conservation so that future floods and droughts would be easier to meet.

CSE led a seminar-cum study tour on the Thar Desert ecosystem of Rajasthan state. Later that year, CSE organised another workshop on Himalayan Wastelands was held in four Northeast cities in India.

In an attempt to influence Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was attempting to amend the Constitution to promote democratic village governance, CSE produced Towards Green Villages: A Strategy for Environmentally-Sound and Participatory Rural Development. The publication tried to learn from the relationship of the poor to their environment and from pioneering community-based rural natural resource regeneration efforts in India carried out in the 1970s and 1980s and present lessons for macro-policy formulation.

Gandhi's 'Village Republics' best suited for community anagement of natural resources

The study, since translated into several languages, argues that the Gandhian concept of 'Village Republics' provides the best legal and institutional framework to create community interest in natural resource management. Later that year, CSE jointly organised the India-Pakistan Conference on Environment with IUCN-Pakistan in Lahore.

CSE organised a seminar on the 'Economics of the Sustainable Use Forest Resources' and also a seminar on the 'Traditional Water Harvesting Systems of India'.


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With the world's economic development based on fossil fuels, limits are being reached because of its impact on the atmosphere. The Centre's publication Global Warming in an Unequal World pointed out that a global framework of inter-country cooperation is urgently required. Given the enormous differences between the levels of economic development and per capita greenhouse gas emissions, equity must become the key principle for managing the world's atmosphere in a sustainable manner.

That same year, CSE published Floods, Floodplains and Environmental Myths: Third Citizens' Report on the State of India's Environment that focused on the causes and effects of floods in the floodplains and river valleys of Ganga and Brahmaputra Rivers. The report, citing scientific studies and field reports, stunned environmentalists by arguing that floods in these regions, more flood-prone and which support more poor people than any other region of the world, can be controlled through better management of the rivers' floodplains themselves.


Down To Earth magazine was launched when leading publishers were closing popular science publications

CSE's biggest intervention in the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro was its proposal that the world's poor must have a 'Right to Survival', which, in operational terms would mean funds to ensure that all the world's rural poor are mobilised to regenerate their degraded village ecosystems. This programme would not only put a floor to rural poverty and stem distress migration from rural to urban areas but also make a massive investment in the rebuilding of the natural capital on which the survival of the rural poor depends.

The same year, the Society for Environmental Communications started publishing Down to Earth magazine. This influential fortnightly newsmagazine on science and environment was launched at a time when all of India's leading publishers were closing down their popular science publications. Today, Down To Earth reaches nearly 60,000 serious readers spread over most districts of India and across the world.

The same year, CSE also published Towards a Green World: Should Global Environmental Management be Built on Legal Conventions or Human Rights? CSE also published The Price of Forests,a compilation of the proceedings of a seminar on the economics of the sustainable use of forest resources held earlier in the year.



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On CSE's invitation, Maldives President MA Gayoom delivered a talk on the Maldivian environment in New Delhi. CSE moves to its new home in the Tughlakabad Institutional Area. The building was designed by the renowned Ahmedabad-based architects, Radhika Doshi Katpalia and B V Doshi. The five-storied structure is spread over 1000 sq/m.

A particularly interesting feature of the building is the design which incorporates several cascading terrace gardens. The building has been designed to harvest rainwater. Rainfall flows from the top terrace down to the bottom terraces where it is finally collected in underground water storage tanks. The building's garden includes several important Indian survival trees. The building accommodates more than 110 permanent staff and 40 volunteers and contract staff.


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CSE counters the move by industrialised countries to split the stand of developing countries on emissions reduction. When the small island nation states (AOSIS) asked the rich countries to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2005, the developed world led by Germany, countered by making the AOSIS proposal conditional to large developing countries also reducing their emissions by a similar level. CSE took strong exception to this unfair proposal by pushing more than 50 Northern NGOs to lobby against this with their government negotiators.

CSE lobbied with the Climate Action Network, made presentations and organised press conferences in Delhi, Berlin and New York City. The combined pressure of environmentalists and the media forced the German negotiators to withdraw their controversial proposal. This year also saw CSE foraying into its maiden video venture, CSE produced a series of three videos on sustainable village ecology called The Wealth of the Nation.

The same year, CSE also produced Harvest of Rain which deals with traditional water harvesting techniques. Similarly, the video The Village Republic dealt with decentralised governance as an answer to rural India's threatened ecological existence.


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CSE published Slow Murder: The Deadly Story of Vehicular Pollution in India the first systematic study that presented a comprehensive picture of the causes of vehicular pollution in Indian cities - ranging from poor engine technology and fuel quality to traffic planning and engine maintenance. The book sparked a nationwide discussion on the growing menace of urban air pollution. Noticed by the Supreme Court, the government of Delhi had to file an action plan on how to reduce the city's air pollution.



After completing a seven-year exercise, which documented India's traditional knowledge in rainwater harvesting technology management, CSE published the seminal book, Dying Wisdom: The Rise, Fall and Potential of Traditional Water Harvesting Systemsas part of its Citizens' Fourth Report on the State of India's Environment (SOE-4). This influential book pointed out that

pre-colonial India's rural prosperity and urban development was built on a variety of rainwater harvesting techniques. Instead of depending exclusively on the state for water supply, a paradigm that is not even two hundred years old, water should once again become everybody's business. The Central Government, in addition to several Indian states including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have since launched major rainwater harvesting initiatives to combat drought and widespread land degradation.

CSE's publication, Homicide by Pesticides presented a study on pollution in the Yamuna river basin and showed how pesticides used on farmlands in the upper reaches of the river were seeping into the drinking water of towns and cities downstream. The same year, CSE shocked India's citizens with its data on the death count resulting from urban air pollution. In Delhi, one of the worst cities in India, one person died every hour from air pollution in 1995. Between 1991-92 and 1995, deaths doubled in the city, from 5,726 to 10,647.

CSE revealed data to show that the growth in pollution is far outstripping the growth in the economy posing serious questions about the state of the environment in the decades to come unless concerted efforts were made to control pollution. Between 1975 and 1995, India's GDP increased 2.6 times but the industrial pollution load went up 3.5 times and the vehicular pollution load went up 7.5 times.

In July, perhaps the first of its kind in the country, CSE organised a national-level conference on Health and Environment which drew more than 40 renowned health and medical experts from across the country. In October, CSE organised a National Conference of Water Harvesting in New Delhi which drew water harvesters from all across the country.



Five-Leaf Award launched. This first-ever NGO rating of industry was instituted as part of CSE's Green Rating Project. This pioneering effort seeks to bring about greater transparency in industrial performance in environmental management, by rating companies in various sectors that helps in identifying and distinguish the good ones from the environmental black sheep. The first study, which involved numerous readers of Down to Earth as voluntary inspectors across the country, examined the highly polluting pulp and paper sector. Detailed profiles of 28 Pulp and Paper Mills and a Technical Issues Report were made available for public dissemination by CSE.

The project has developed an approach that can be used by any NGO in any developing country to monitor the environmental performance of industrial firms even if its environmental governance is very poor. CSE sets up a National Water Harvesters Network to share information and resources with water harvesters across the country.



As part of this effort, CSE starts publishing the seminal Catch Water newsletter on water harvesting to support CSE's People's Water Management campaign. CSE published the first report on Global Environmental Negotiations (GEN-1) titled , Green Politics which was first released during the fifth Conference of Parties to the Climate Convention (CoP-5) held in Bonn, Germany. Special book release events were held around the world over the next year.



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Cse presented the Down To EarthJoseph C John Award to the villages of Bhanota-Kolyala in Rajasthan in recognition of their outstanding efforts for regenerating the Arvari river. President of India K R Narayanan visited the villages to personally award the villagers with this prestigious award. Indian President KR Narayanan invited Anil Agarwal to address the governors of Indian states and senior Indian ministers, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the importance of community-based water harvesting as a solution for combating drought and land degradation.

In the face of dire predictions about the impending water crisis, CSE organised a public lecture on January 6 to coincide with the release of the millennium issue of Down To Earth (Harvest of Hope) at which CSE director Anil Agarwal cited examples of outstanding community-level efforts that had brought about a dramatic change in the local ecology and economy.

That year, CSE is the only Southern NGO to participate in the second World Water Forum in The Hague where it propagated the communitising of water resources. CSE also participated in CoP-6 meeting in The Hague in November, where it published Equity Watch, an influential newsletter that analysed climate change issues from a Southern perspective.

Geen Rating Project (GRP) releases the environmental ratings of the Indian automobile sector. The findings were published in a comprehensive report, Mileage: Environmental Rating of the Indian Automobile sector. 26 of the 28 major automobile manufacturers voluntarily participated in the project. The "Life Cycle Assessment" approach that evaluated the companies' environmental management practices from the raw material stage to product disposal phase was used in rating this sector.


Making Water Everybody's Business was released in several cities in South Asia. It received wide media coverage, helped generate awareness on water harvesting

CSE published Making Water Everybody's Business, a comprehensive resource for water planners and the general public that contains information on the policies, practices, and mobilisation strategies needed to start a movement on water harvesting. That same year, CSE also published Poles Apart, the second in the series of Global Environmental Reports (GEN-II).




After several years of testing, the Anil Agarwal Air Pollution Model was launched by former Chief Justice B N Kirpal in December. The computer-based Model runs calculates all possible policy interventions, technical and administrative, to assess the possible impact on the air quality as a result of these actions. The Model takes stock of the current measures to combat vehicular pollution. The Model then charts an alternative course, showing that vehicular pollution can be purposefully tackled only if some hard decisions are taken. The same year CSE starts a new Rain Centre in Chennai.

The Rain Centre, the first of its kind in India, includes a permanent exhibit of traditional and contemporary designs in rainwater harvesting. CSE's Global Environmental Governance unit publishes several editions of Equity Watch newsletter during the CoP-8 held in New Delhi. In order to increase its reach and further disseminate environment and sustainability information, CSE launched Down To Earth Web edition in May.


In August, CSE released the study on the pesticide residues in soft drinks, which had been conducted by the Centre’s pollution monitoring laboratory. The study brought a strong response from the two companies that were manufacturing soft drinks in India namely, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola who contested the findings and argued that the laboratory report was faulty. The study was covered very prominently by both electronic and print media.

The issue was also discussed in Lok Sabha. The members expressed serious concern over the finding of pesticide residues in soft drinks and requested the Government to come with an explanation after finding out all the facts. The minister of health and family welfare presented another report on the pesticide analysis undertaken by the government in the House and argued that the drinks were ‘safe’ because they met the existing bottled water regulations.

The minister’s statement lead to strong opposition in the Parliament and the members demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe in the issue. Thus, the fourth parliamentary committee since Independence was set up. The committee was formed in early September 2003 and gave its report to the parliament in February 2004. It not only endorsed CSE’s findings on pesticide residues in soft drinks but it also endorsed the demand for a strong public health agenda for food and water.

The second rating of the pulp and paper sector was completed and Shri K R Narayanan, former President of India released the ratings in New Delhi on September 30, 2004. The Green Rating Project’s book on the pulp and paper sector, All about paper, was also released. CSE’s recommendations on CNG-related issues were accepted by the Supreme Court for implementation. The Anil Agarwal Green College (AAGC) started with short and medium-term training programmes for a variety of interest groups, ranging from students and documentation professionals to journalists, NGOs and industry professionals.

AAGC designed a multi-faceted one-month course titled, ‘The Challenge of the Balance: Learning the practice of environmental management in India for 15 students enrolled for a course in Environment and Development in Oslo University. CSE organised a workshop on pesticide contamination and food safety for south Asian journalists and journalists from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh attended. CSE launched the Green Schools’ Programme, designed to catalyse educators, students and school managements to collectively take positive measures to improve their environmental performance.


CSE was awarded the ‘Stockholm Water Prize’ by king Carl XV1Gustaf, of Sweden in Stockholm. CSE director addressed the Members of Parliament on “Water Conservation” and talked about the problems and challenges concerning water management and water conservation and sewage system in India. CSE director was also appointed as the Chairperson of the Tiger Task Force set up by the Prime Minister to review the conservation programme for the tiger and to suggest a new paradigm to undertake this task successfully.

The Green Rating Project completed and released its rating of the cement industry in December 2005. CSE published four books during the year (i) Agenda Unlimited (ii) Concrete Facts (iii) The Leapfrog Factor and (iv) Body Burden. An international conference on health and environment was organised in New Delhi. The conference brought together leading experts, policy makers, civil society groups and industry representatives from India and abroad. The Grameen Paryavaran Film Utsav, two unique travelling film festivals in Rajasthan and Orissa was also organised in the months of November and December 2005. CSE’s film "The Rain Catchers - a practical guide to solve the water problems" was also released.




CSE published the book, The Sewage Canal, which will be the launching pad for CSE’s campaign on Right to clean rivers. Nature, one of the world's leading and influential scientific journals, published from the UK, featured CSE and Sunita Narain as a cover story. CSE director, Sunita Narain was featured by the Time Asia Magazine as one of the six Climate Crusaders of the world fighting pollution. CSE released a follow-up study on pesticides in soft drinks and found that there still were very high levels of pesticide residues in soft drinks and that manufacturers had not done anything to clean up their act.

CSE rated the schools, which were part of Green Schools Programme under the Gobar Times Green Schools Award, and found that even small or rural schools were doing an exemplary job of implementing good environmental practices.


The sixth citizens’ report on the State of the Environment (SOE-6), Rich lands, poor people -- Is Sustainable Mining Possible? was published in November 2007. The book is an attempt to find answers to how the poor, who are living on lands rich with mineral resources, can benefit from the exploitation of minerals. It was released across the country in collaboration with local groups to ensure that local communities develop an ownership over the issue.

The Right to clean air campaign was able to influence the Delhi government to take measures to curb the use of diesel. It also influenced the government to take steps to favour public transport in the form of reduced taxes for buses and the launch of the Bus Rapid Transport Corridor in Delhi. This year, CSE’s director Ms Sunita Narain was made a member of key national and international committees to plan for actions to deal with climate change.


CSE published the results of its study on the presence of transfats in major brands of edible oils in India, advocating for regulatory standards for presence of transfats in oils and fats. CSE’s study was the first of its kind in India and results showed high levels of transfats in hydrogenated oils in India. Within a month, the Oils and Fats sub-committee of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare agreed to set standards on transfats in hydrogenated oils. To create public awareness of the impact of climate change on the people of the Sunderban delta, the film, Mean Sea Level, was launched in the Ghoramara island by Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the governor of West Bengal. The India Environment Portal, one of the largest portals running on open source content management was launched by Sri Jairam Ramesh, minister of environment and forests. Bangladesh department of environment requested CSE to design a training course on EIA for their officials and also to prepare guidelines for some of their key industrial sectors. India’s fourth Rain Centre was launched in Burdwan district of West Bengal in October, 2008. CSE received the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Prize for popularisation of science from Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the Indian Science Congress held at the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.



CSE’s advocacy on mining and environment issues - sharing of benefits with local communities and environmental safeguards are incorporated in the new mining regulation draft before Parliament. Published the book, Challenge of the new balance - the first study in India to look at options to reduce emissions, their feasibility and the costs involved, and understand the low-carbon roadmap and technology pathways for the future. Another book,

Mobility crisis: Agenda for action 2010 was published that discusses in detail ways and means of dealing with pollution and congestion. CSE was invited to participate in the regional experience sharing workshops on air pollution and urban mobility held in Colombo, Agartala and Dhaka. The lab-based studies and wide coverage on the presence of lead in paints and phthalates in toys resulted in government actions for improved regulations and standard-setting process. Another study on toxic chemical residues in soil and water in Bhopal forced the government in setting up of an institutional framework for remediation measures. CSE’s consistent work with media in South Asia helped built an informed public opinion on climate change issues. CSE's advocacy for strengthening the regulatory institutions has resulted in the acceptance and recognition for strengthening capacity of SPCBs in the Ministry. The India Environment Portal ranked first and became the top-most site on Google for information on “India and environment.



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