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Uma Bharti must focus on all rivers, not just the Ganga: Bahar Dutt

Environment journalist Bahar Dutt has chased some of India’s biggest stories, and fought battles to keep our flora and fauna safe. In a chat with Fiona Fernandez, she talks about the hurdles, and hope for a greener India

Q. The world observes Environment Day today. What remains your toughest battles and hurdles in such a challenge-ridden profession?
A. Throughout my book, I’ve tried to create hope, without coming across as a doomsday messenger (chuckles). As far as battles go, being an environmental journalist, — where you are competing with politics, Bollywood and sport — is always an extra challenge. It’s all about how you ‘mainstream’ your story. I was able to overcome this. It depends on how you pitch the story to your editor. While at CNN-IBN, I wanted to look at environment as a political space. You will always come across politicians and corporates who are not used to being confronted on green issues. They are not accountable and take it for granted that our natural resources will never run out. Truth is, it is finite, and we must protect it.

Bahar Dutt
Bahar Dutt helps rehabilitate an endangered turtle in the Sunderbans. PIC COURTESY/ARUL PRAKASAM

Q. So, how does someone like you stay afloat amid the indifference and apathy?
A. It’s about being able to win battles, however small. When one helps save a green patch, it’s a great feeling. It is reassuring to learn about people out there who want to save our resources. I recall, during my investigations on illegal mining in Goa, we came across an honest officer who helped us immensely and ensure that we could air this story to
the world.

Q. There’s a new ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejunvenation. What should it, along with the Environment ministry strive for?
A. It’s welcome news. But the new government must avail of indigenous knowledge. Years ago, Dr Veerbhadra Mishra (founder, Sankat Mochan Foundation) had worked on a plan to clean the Ganga, but it’s been collecting dust for nearly 10 years. I am curious to know the future of several hydraulic dams planned along the Ganga where a lot of money has been invested. Will the government be bold enough to go ahead and clean the river still?
As far as Uma Bharti’s ministry goes, I would request her to concentrate on all our rivers, not just the Ganga. India’s rivers fall prey to industrial pollution, illegal sand mining and sewage. So one river shouldn’t be cleaned just because of its religious sentiment.  

In 2009, over 100 gharials died in the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary due to In 2009, over 100 gharials died in the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary due to a mysterious disease.
In 2009, over 100 gharials died in the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary due to a mysterious disease. PIC COURTESY/VIJAY BEDI

Q. What role, according to you, can our education system play in modifying mindsets?
A. I wish we treated environment as an experiential subject rather than being an exercise of tasks like testing water in rivers, which can get too bookish. The system must invite NGOs and platforms working at the ground level to provide the real picture of living in the natural world.

An elephant crosses the Ramganga river  as mist rises from the Jim Corbett National Park landscape.
An elephant crosses the Ramganga river as mist rises from the Jim Corbett National Park landscape. PIC COURTESY/ VIJAY BEDI

Q. Your advice to aspiring environment journalists…
A. I am very worried about the future of the profession. Several media houses have discontinued this beat altogether. Environment must be as mainstream as politics, sport or entertainment. More importantly, organisations and editors should assign the beat to committed people who understand the subject.

Green Wars: Dispatches From A Vanishing World, HarperCollins India, Rs 299. Available at leading bookstores
Green Wars: Dispatches From A Vanishing World, HarperCollins India, Rs 299. Available at leading bookstores

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