India Today - - UPFRONT -

At a time when #cleanair and #right­to­breathe have be­come the most pop­u­lar hash­tags on In­dia’s so­cial me­dia scene, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Su­nita Narain talks to Prachi Bhuchar about her new book and a blue­print for a clean, green fu­ture.

Q. What makes Conf licts of

In­ter­est dif­fer­ent from your pre­vi­ous books?

I’ve never writ­ten a book like this. I’ve al­ways writ­ten on is­sues, but this one re­counts my en­vi­ron­ment jour­ney. It’s a lux­ury for some­one like me to write so re­flec­tively, and it’s in­tensely per­sonal. It takes the is­sues of en­vi­ron­ment to a gen­eral au­di­ence, ex­plains the jour­ney and also fo­cuses on so­lu­tions. The book is also a blue­print for a green fu­ture and the di­rec­tion it must take.

Q. What are the main ‘conf licts’ dis­cussed in the book?

In al­most ev­ery green is­sue, there is con­flict of in­ter­est. When we talk about air pol­lu­tion, the diesel con­flict of in­ter­est comes through. It’s the same with the pes­ti­cides de­bate. Even in tigers there is a con­flict of in­ter­est in terms of ide­ol­ogy and think­ing. In ad­di­tion to busi­ness, self-in­ter­est, there is an idea of a con­tested re­al­ity and there is a con­flict that ex­ists. The chal­lenge is, how do you change mind­sets and get peo­ple to sit up and take no­tice? Q. Who is af­fected most by the en­vi­ron­men­tal changes?

The poor are more sen­si­tive to en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion while the rich of In­dia are re­source ig­no­rant. The prob­lem is con­vinc­ing the rich

“We have per­fect poli­cies, but im­ple­men­ta­tion is a prob­lem. We have weak de­ter­rents.” SU­NITA NARAIN En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist

and mid­dle classes that they too will pay a price in the long run.

Q. The three big­gest en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems of our times...

Air pol­lu­tion, both ur­ban and ru­ral, is one of the big­gest. Data is clear about the health bur­den. Delhi needs leapfrog so­lu­tions. Cli­mate change and its im­pact on the poor is an­other is­sue. And the re­la­tion­ship be­tween wa­ter and every­thing else; wa­ter and pol­lu­tion, wa­ter and floods, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion. Wa­ter, or its scarcity, will be one of the big­gest prob­lems in the times to come.

Q. Is the prob­lem in pol­icy or im­ple­men­ta­tion? We are per­fect in the pol­icy de­part­ment but im­ple­men­ta­tion is a prob­lem. We have weak de­ter­rents. The sys­tems of ac­count­abil­ity have been weak­ened, so mon­i­tor­ing is a huge prob­lem. You can’t fix things if you dis­re­gard/ dis­able in­sti­tu­tions in power.

Q. A so­lu­tion to In­dia’s air pol­lu­tion prob­lems... Last year, there was no in­for­ma­tion about air pol­lu­tion, but we worked hard to put a con­sol­i­dated map of real-time mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions on­line. You are no longer in the dark and that is the rea­son there is out­rage to­day. There is strength in in­for­ma­tion, which is why gov­ern­ments choose not to put it out. We can sort out the pol­lu­tion cri­sis in Delhi since we know the sources. It is only a mat­ter of go­ing af­ter them. But no one wants to take re­spon­si­bil­ity. I am de­ter­mined to give one more win­ter to sort out pol­lu­tion. Next win­ter, we need blue skies.

Con­flicts of In­ter­est: My Jour­ney through In­dia’s Green Move­ment By Su­nita Narain Pub­lisher Pen­guin Ran­dom House Pages 240; Price Rs 599

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