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Time to get our act together

Chitrangada Choudhury speaks to Chairman of The Energy Resources Institute, RK Pachauri about the range of ecological challenges the new government needs to tackle head on. Read on...

delhi Updated: Jun 05, 2009 02:04 IST
Chitrangada Choudhury

Chairman of The Energy Resources Institute, TERI, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri is universally acknowledged as the high priest of environmental issues in India.

Chitrangada Choudhury

met him to discuss the range of ecological challenges the new government needs to tackle head on. Excerpts:

What are the biggest environmental challenges facing the government?
We have run up a huge deficit of natural resources. We are seeing a progressive deterioration in the quality of air and water. We are degrading our eco-systems, thinning our forests. The extinction of the tiger seems to be becoming an inevitable outcome. We have to reverse this damage on all fronts.

What would you tell the ministers dealing with all these issues?
I am really happy someone like Farooq Abdullah has been entrusted the Ministry for Renewable Energy, because India is on the cusp of big opportunity. We have enormous potential for generating solar and wind energy, and energy from biomass.

The ministry has to make these options commercially viable, and Mr Abdullah has to... act as a catalyst in bringing stakeholders together.

We also need the environment minister to draw up a national brief on the state of our forests...
To the education minister, I’d say: equip local colleges so they can get involved. To the petroleum minister: do away with perverse subsidies like those that encourage three-wheelers in Ludhiana to run on kerosene without a care for the damage it does to the air.

What administrative reforms does India need to protect the environment?
Our Pollution Control Boards are extensions of the government, instead of independent watchdogs, insulated from all pressures. This is doing immense damage to our environment.

The government should overhaul them and make them report to a group of eminent local citizens, equip them with budgets to hire expertise.
Also, the structure of our government makes it difficult for it to offer holistic solutions to problems. For example, resource like water and energy are handled by multiple ministries. Maybe, what’s needed is for the PM to set up a body that coordinates efforts to address these challenges. He’s already set up such a body on climate change.