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The Centre for Science and Environment has made environmental issues a talking point in living rooms

Tanmaya Kumar Nanda 

Sunita Narain, Director-General, Centre for Science and Environment
Sunita Narain, Director-General, Centre for Science and Environment

For long, environmental degradation has been the concern of two groups, neither of which found much resonance with the man on the street - the government and the green warrior, the two often working at odds with each other.

But if there is one entity that has made environmental issues a talking point in living rooms, it is the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based public interest research and advocacy organisation, which was awarded the 2015 Business Standard Public Institution award.

The not-for-profit entity became a household name in August 2003, after it released a study that found that colas sold in India contained pesticide residue. This was something that hit too close to home for every middle-class citizen, who had wholeheartedly embraced the return of Coca Cola and Pepsi to these shores. Even as global cola giants PepsiCo and Coca-Cola contested the report, the CSE dug its heels in. A year later, not only did the Joint Parliamentary Committee endorse the findings on pesticide residue in soft drinks, but also endorsed the demand for a strong public health agenda for food and water.

Established in 1980, the CSE has been working on issues like climate shifts, damage caused by industrialisation, pollution and the policy changes that are needed for sustainable and equitable growth. India's original green warrior and the CSE's founder, Anil Kumar Agarwal, spent a lifetime advocating environmental policies that drew on India's traditions and involved stakeholders. His battle against environmental degradation runs in the DNA of both the CSE and its current director-general Sunita Narain. Armed with its knowledge-based reports and findings, the organisation has managed to make environmental issues mainstream by creating awareness about problems, and by talking science in a language that is accessible to the common man.

Over the past few decades, the CSE has been highlighting the need to prevent further degradation of natural resources, as a large part of India's population depends on it for subsistence. About 47 per cent of the country's workforce depends on agriculture and natural resources. It is this population that will be most affected by environmental degradation.

Climate change is a reality and India's rural stress only underlines the need for more action towards sustainable livelihoods. The country's urban areas are not immune either. Rapid industrialisation has resulted in higher pollution levels and a higher incidence of lifestyle-related disorders.

The CSE's efforts are designed to create awareness about problems and propose sustainable solutions. Research at the CSE typically consists of in-depth learning about an environmental problem and then finding answers in accordance with the CSE's core values.

The institution has a five-pronged programme of eco-activism. It publishes periodicals and reports to create awareness and its magazine Down to Earth has a loyal, discerning readership. It is also engaged in research and advocacy across verticals.

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First Published: Wed, February 10 2016. 00:11 IST