Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

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)

Question from the Audience

Sunita, I'd like to go back to a phrase you used. Why should people invest in technologies of the poor? Sort of an odd part there is globalizing and biotechnologies and all of these things that they see as cutting edge, as scientific research. Why should people listen to technologies? It seems to always be seen as a small part of the story?

Sunita Narain

It is. But on the other hand, that's where the future of markets are. If I was in business, I would really focus on the poor and large numbers. It's the malaria story versus cancer. It's fairly the same thing.

Question from the Audience

I guess my question is at what levels, in what arenas can these standards be enforced? Does this then defend national conventions in parliament? You and I know what happened in the Hague a couple weeks ago was a complete disaster if you are looking at international conventions to enforce protocols and to sort of enforce what kinds of technologies --more Green or more sound or more participatory or more democratic. Water management going back to the people when they need to be building huge dams is much more prevalent. When we have the ear of the WorldBank and ADB (Asian Development Bank) and all these major institutions who are willing to give money to just wipe out drought with a single blow of building a huge structure.

Sunita Narain

The challenge is fascinating. Take water. Forget scooters and flush toilets and I can come to that later, but take water. It's fascinating that in a country like India which has really believed in the big dam and believed in big engineering structures, to read the same statement in Gujarat which is fighting over the Narmada dam, has the largestcheck-dam program in the world. And a very good one as well. We sentour reporters out because we weren't sure that the Gujarat governmentwas really serious about it. And we're not technology people, we don'tbelieve technology works until you have a social process which governsthe technology. And so, therefore, we wanted to really understand ifthe government really has internalized what we're talking about. Butit's not the check dam but really the village institution. Who callsfor that technology will manage it and things like that. Punjab has afascinating program. It's worth seeing. Ten-thousand check-dams werebuilt last year. They have a separate minister for small-waterharvesting which will now energize it for the future. A state likeGujarat, a state like Madhya Pradesh, I mean, the government of Indiahas itself earmarked a huge amount of money for traditional waterhouses systems.

So mysense is that there is an understanding that those small technologiesare what are very important for drought-proofing India, and that's whythey do. Now, whether they will have internalized the technology --we're saying that it's not just the technology but also the institutionwhich manages the technology -- the nature of democracy at the village level. Will it be participatory? Will it be representative? You're talking about hard political questions, governing the use of that technology. Whether the politician is going to be smart enough -- I don't know. A big legislative thing -- again, it's not. Fine, some day he will go and some better guy will come as well take his place. Or it's our job to be able to influence politicians to say, “Why is it that this thing is succeeding? And why are you failing?” In terms of water technologies, it's quite amazing to see that in spite of the paranoia over Narmada, in spite of all the chest-beating, they also have a fantastic small water harvesting program. Now where we have not entered into that dialogue and have never been able to, we don't believe in small versus big. So that's been an issue which to a certain extent has made the politician feel that this is not just saying that Narmada is the only thing we need. We've always believed that you can have Narmada ,if you need. But you first need to have your small water harvesting system. They will really drought-proof larger parts of your state.