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  • Writer's pictureReshma Jain

India needs affordable growth that is sustainable

A Padma Shri awardee Sunita Narain is a renowned environmentalist and political activist as well as a major proponent of the green concept of sustainable development. She is the Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment and the Director of the Society for Environmental Communications.

While in school, Sunita Narain happened to go to a conference being held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi to discuss this movement. There she met two other fellow students from different Delhi schools who had similar interests. They joined hands to form a student organization in the field of environment, called Kalpvriksh – the Tree of life. Their work together took them to visit the women of Chipko. As they travelled through the Himalayas, Sunita began to see the connection between livelihoods and the environment.

A few years later, Sunita met Anil Agarwal, who had just founded the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and was beginning to work on an ambitious project called the State of India’s Environment (SOE). Sunita began working with Anil. The connections she had made in the Himalayas helped her realise – the environment was about development. For millions in India, the environment was not a luxury – a matter to worry about after they were prosperous. The environment was about survival. People depended on the environment – land, water and forests – and without this poverty was exacerbated. Sunita learnt that rejuvenating the natural asset was the way to economic growth. This gave her the reason she needed to pursue this work. It was the way forward for India’s economic growth.

Sunita believes India has a huge challenge to reinvent the way in which it will manage growth, so that it is both inclusive and sustainable, in the future. India cannot afford the high-cost way of the already industrialized world to clean up the environment. These countries had the money to invest in cleaning and they did. But because they never looked for big solutions, they always stayed behind the problem—local air pollution is still a problem in most western cities, even if the air is not as black as in India.

Sunita further said, “And I hope the children and the youth of the world will lend their voice to this burning issue, in whichever way they can. What else, as young human beings, can we do? It is clear that humans exert a massive impact on the environment. What we do and how we do it make a crucial difference. This is why the first task of being the change is to become aware of what we do. It is only then that we can transform our ways and begin to ‘tread lightly on Earth’.”

“Resources are limited; we must balance our growth to ensure these resources are there for many generations. This can only be done if our future generations are more conscious about their choices and have the concept of sustainable living rooted deep within. We must live the change,” concluded Sunita.

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