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>>

1 August 2011

Sustainable mining is an oxymoron. Environmentalists will tell you this. Mining—coal to limestone—takes away forests, devastates mountains and leaves the land pockmarked. It also destroys livelihoods of people and displaces them. Worse, modern, mechanised mining takes away livelihood based on land but does not replace it with local employment—all estimates show that direct employment in the mining sector has fallen sharply. It provides wealth, but not for local development.

16 July 2011

My article last fortnight about people’s fight against POSCO has brought me interesting responses. They call for clarifications and further discussion. The question is about the value of current livelihoods of the people of coastal Odisha. Is earning from betel nut farming being exaggerated to reinforce the romantic and misinformed view that people are fighting projects because they are better off today? The equally valid question, then, is: why are the people so apparently poor if they are earning Rs 10-17 lakh per hectare (ha) each year as I had said?

1 July 2011

The sight on television was heartbreaking: children lying in rows in the searing sun to be human shields against the takeover of their land for Korean giant POSCO’s mega bucks project. Facing them were armed police sent by the state government to assist in the operation.

16 June 2011

Once again there is a food safety scare. A deadly strain of E coli bacterium has hit Germany, where it has taken the lives of 25 people and affected another 2,300 till date. German food inspectors on the trail of the source of contamination ha­ve as yet made two errors—blaming Spanish cucumbers and then organic bean sprouts—but no breakthrough.

1 June 2011

My position on the need to re-position forests in development (see ‘Rethink growth with forest capital’, Down To Earth, May 16-31) has brought me a huge response. On the one hand are those who argue that functions of forests already include conservation vital to life; they need to be valued and protected. The unsaid (and often stressed) corollary is that any discussion on the need to improve productivity of forests through the involvement of people needs to be shunned. The stretched and simplistic positioning of this view is that forests and people cannot go together.

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.

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