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A Million Mutinies: Raising India's Environmental Awareness

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

New York: December 14, 2000

Sunita Narain
Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi

Shyama Venkateswar
Senior Program Officer
Asian Social Issues Program, Asia Society

The program is followed by a Question and Answer Session

Shyama Venkateswar

I'd like to introduce Sunita Narain from the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi. Sunita is very well known in the environmental world and she's also an active participant in various campaigns for clean air and water management.

Along with several publications, the most recent one is entitled “Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations.” The talk today will focus on the current environmental challenges in India. In the past 20 years, India's GDP has doubled but it has also increased associated environmental costs -- greater pollution, greater stresses on natural resources, greater consumption patterns and so forth. So, really, the critical questions that need to be examined today and I understand that Sunita will touch on them, are: How do we reconcile these--growth and associated costs? How should decision making processes be structured? Who are the actors? Who are the stakeholders? How can they be formally involved in the decision making process? And finally, what is the role of collective action and community responses to some of these challenges?

This afternoon's seminar, many of you may know, is part of Asia Society's new, exciting, timely initiative, called the Asian Social Issues Program. The program specifically looks at various kinds of environmental and social challenges facing parts of Asia.

Sunita Narain

I'm delighted to be here to share with you something of what is going on and what we're doing in Delhi. I work in Delhi. I work in the Centre for Science and Environment. We essentially do what we call today knowledge-based activism. We're a kind of mix between if you were to put together World Watch Institute with a sort of State of the World report. We do the State of Environment reports. And I don't know if any one of you have seen our reports called “The State of India's Environment Citizens' Reports.” They're fairly detailed reports from a point of view of people in terms of what's happening to resources. But we're also partly a policy-research organization. So we sort of like PRI (Public Radio International) mixed into World Watch. And then, of course, we combine a co-function which is advocacy. So we're a bit of Green Peace as well. If you can think of a strange animal like that, that's roughly what we are in Delhi. We also bring out a fortnightly news magazine on science and environment, essentially to try and inform people in India about Science and Environment issues and we're trying to get a sense of urgency about things that need to be done.

I share with you today things that we have been working on and thinking about and things that are happening in India today. It's very clear, and there's no doubt about it, that India's environment is in a state of crisis today. And the state, the political system, has really failed to address problems of literacy, poverty and resource management. But what is very interesting and I think that really, to me, gives us optimism in terms of the future is what that has led to is the increasing role and the importance of the community and non-state actors to both intervene and demand for change.