Book Title: Conflicts of Interest: My journey through India’s Green Movement
Author: Sunita Narain
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Price: Rs 599
Sunita Narain is country’s foremost environmentalist. She raises issues which directly affects people. She is the Director-General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). To work for environmental causes in India is not easy. The lobby which represents vested interests regularly abuses environmentalists. Many time environmentalists are seen as people who are against development. But, gradually environmentalists are getting recognition.
Her book Conflicts of Interest: My journey through India’s Green Movement gives a personal account of her battles as part of the country’s green movement. While outlining the enormous environmental challenges that India faces today, Narain talks about how corporate lobbies and political interests often scuttle their effective resolution. She recounts couple of widely reported controversies triggered by research she and her colleagues had undertaken. The book also includes an environmental manifesto ‘A Blueprint for the Future’.
Narain’s book contains couple of interesting battles she fought. She covers important issues like air pollution, Endosulfan’s curse, Cola wars, Climate’s change, Tiger and Water. The author is a crusader. She takes issues to its logical conclusion. When one talks about environment and pollution, she/he directly challenges the current model of development where profit is prime motive. The health of ‘consumer’, people and environment are secondary.
The chapter Cola wars narrate how corporate lobby uses public relations agencies, bureaucrats and even politicians to defame people who challenge their way of exploitation of environment. It was quite evident when CSE released their study of pesticides in colas in August 2003. It revealed high level of pesticide residues in these drinks. The author says,” All hell broke loose”. Within hours two giant companies and arch-rivals convened a press conference and condemned CSE report and questioned the credibility of study. The actors who were brand ambassadors were pulled in to convince people that drinks are absolutely safe. Narain says,” After all they are paid actors-available to mime for a price. The problem was that regulators – the government – had abdicated its role.”
Under Sharad Pawar’s chairmanship, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed. After many sittings and deliberations, where efforts were made by a certain section to protect Cola companies, final report of JPC said,” The committee, however, finds that the CSE findings are correct on the presence of pesticide residue in carbonated water strictly in respect of the thirty-six samples of twelve brand names analysed by them. The committee also appreciates the whistle-blowing act of CSE in alerting the nation to an issue with major implications to food safety, policy formulation, regulatory framework and human and environmental health’.
Smog has become an annual winter event for the residents of Delhi. The ever-growing number of vehicles and toxic gas-emitting diesel cars are among main reasons for polluting Delhi’s air. The author and CSE campaigned against diesel vehicles. They say it is necessary to drastically improve the quality of fuel and technology used in truck engines. The answer is to limit number of cars and build a convenient and modern public transport system so that even well-off does not use their vehicles.
She narrates in detail their battle against endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, which has been banned or restricted in many countries because it is toxic and persistent. Chapter on Tigers is equally relevant. The author is for people and tigers’ co-existence. Traditional conservationists were against Narain’s idea of co-existence. Not surprising when she was appointed as chairperson of Tiger Task Force traditional wildlife conservationists were against her. The report she presented to the then PM Manmohan Singh in early August 2005, said,” Even as we secure inviolate areas for the tiger by relocating people, we would have to accept that not everybody can be relocated. We would have to practice co-existence – sharing benefits of conservation to gain reciprocal protection.”
The Supreme Court of India, in March 2017, ruled that no vehicle which was not BS-IV would be registered as of April 1, 2017. The court said,” We cannot be asked to shut our eyes to the phenomenal rise in pollution levels in the country.” The court added,” While the development versus environment paradigm could be debated upon, there cannot be any debate in the development versus public health paradigm.”
She also writes about challenges before us and discusses it in the last chapter ‘a blueprint for the future’. It’s an important book to understand what we need to do to protect our environment.