‘NEXT WINTER, WE NEED BLUE SKIES’
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