Sunita Narain | Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain


Lift your head from the sand

The outrage over the suspension of an official, Durga Shakti Nagpal, for simply doing her job—check illegal sand mining in the rivers of Uttar Pradesh—has highlighted a crucial issue. It is now evident that illegal mining of sand from rivers and beaches is rampant and the underbelly of this industry (I’m calling it industry for want of a better word) is powerful and connected. Worse still, all this is happening in violation of the orders of the apex court of the country.

What it takes to deliver midday meal

 The tragic loss of 23 young lives because of contaminated food in a Bihar school is unacceptable. But it is also a fact that the Mid Day Meal Scheme, under which cooked food is compulsorily provided to children in government schools, is too important and critical to give up on. The only questions that matter are: why does the scheme not work as well as it should and what can be done to fix it?

Gas, found and lost

Natural gas as fuel has environmental benefits, particularly when compared to burning coal for power generation or using diesel for vehicles. So when the government increases—in fact, doubles—the price of domestically produced natural gas it has far-reaching implications for air quality and public health. But these benefits do not matter at all in the price-benefit calculations.

Himalayan blunders

 The floods in the Himalayas have been ferocious and deadly. Fears are that the final body count could run into several thousands. There is no clear estimate of the number of villages wiped out, property destroyed, roads washed away and hydropower projects damaged in the mountain state of Uttarakhand. The mountains are bleeding and its people have been left battered, bruised and dead.

Pedestrian questions

Have you ever noticed the footpath? Does it even exist? And if it does what is its height from the road? What should be the ideal height that allows for pedestrians to walk without fear of being run over or breaking a leg clambering onto it, while not allowing cars to park and take over this public space?

Solar energy not war

  If you know that a sector has arrived when it makes for trade wars between countries, then solar energy clearly has. Last year, the US imposed anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports of solar panels; now the EU has proposed the same. The Chinese have in turn threatened that they will take action against European exports of poly-silicon, the material used for manufacturing solar panels. In February this year, the US filed a case against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for “favouring sourcing of panels from domestic manufacturers”.

Solar energy not war

 If you know that a sector has arrived when it makes for trade wars between countries, then solar energy clearly has. Last year, the US imposed anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports of solar panels; now the EU has proposed the same. The Chinese have in turn threatened that they will take action against European exports of poly-silicon, the material used for manufacturing solar panels. In February this year, the US filed a case against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for “favouring sourcing of panels from domestic manufacturers”.

Ganga saga part II: redesign dams, not rivers

Engineers require re-training, not the Ganga. This is where I had left our conversation last fortnight. Why did I say this? The inter-ministerial committee I participated in as a member was discussing how much the ecological flow—the water that should be left in the river for ecosystem and livelihood purposes—should be at all times. How much water is needed for the river to be a river; and not a drain?

Training engineers, not Ganga

Hydropower is important. But how important? Is it important enough to dry up stretches of our rivers? Or is there a way to balance the need of energy with the imperative of a flowing, healthy river? I have been grappling with these issues for the past few months. But now that the committee (of which I was a member) on the hydropower projects on the Ganga has submitted its report, let me explain how I see the way ahead.

A green facade

Building green is definitely important. But equally important is to know how green is a green building. Take the glitzy, glass-enveloped buildings popping up across the country. It does not matter if you are in the mild but wet and windy climate of Bengaluru or in the extreme hot and dry climate of Gurgaon, glass is the in-thing. I have always wondered how buildings extensively using glass could work in such varied climatic zones, where one needs ventilation. Then, I started reading that glass was green. Buildings liberally using glass were being certified green. How come?

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