Environmental health is an ongoing struggle within India. Noted environmentalist and political activist Sunita Narain, who is associated with the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), has said, "India's environmental movement is at a crossroad. There is a need for a new way of environmentalism, one that can move beyond the problems of today and yesterday, and can embrace ideas without dogma, but with idealism and purpose."
Narain opines that a particular brand of politics has to be imbibed to make this new way of environmentalism a reality. She said, "While acknowledging that there is a greater acceptance of India's concerns on the issue of environment, there is also a growing resistance to taking required action, and as a result, every indicator shows that things on the ground are getting worse. Our rivers are more polluted; much more garbage is piling up in our cities; air is increasingly getting toxic; and hazardous waste is dumped, and not managed. Worse, people who should have been at the frontline of protection are turning against the environment."
In her article, Narain wrote, "They see it as a constraint to their local development and even as they may protest against the pollution of neighborhood mines or factories, they have no reason to believe that their livelihood from natural resources is secured. They are caught between the mining companies and the foresters. Either way, they lose."
Narain acknowledges that while much has changed in the over decades since the beginnings of India's environmental movement, yet nothing has changed. She said, "The worst indictment is that over 700 million people in India still use dirty, polluting biomass for cooking food and that an equal number defecate in the open. They do not have access to the basics-clean water, hygienic toilets that do not end up polluting rivers and groundwater, and energy for lighting or cooking. Clearly, somewhere we are going wrong, very wrong."
Targeting institutions for their oversight, Narain said that many more actions need to be taken to ensure consistent protection of the environment, as many more people are interested in environmental issues. She said, "There are fundamental weaknesses and contradictions, one of which is, the fact that, we have lost the development agenda in environmental management. Instead of working to regenerate the natural capital for inclusive growth, we have increasingly framed action as 'development versus environment'. The management of natural resources-swinging between extraction and conservation-is leaving out millions who live on the resources. These people cannot afford either degradation of the resources or pure conservation. They need to utilize the natural resource for their livelihood and economic growth. In this way, the environmental movement is in danger of making enemies of the very people whose interest it is working to protect."
Narain also stated that the debate on environmental issues is getting increasingly polarized and seen as being obstructionist. She concluded by saying that solutions for environmental management require inclusive growth, as search for technologies and better sustainable approaches to environmental management.
Her article was released on the occasion of World Environment Day.