Sunita Narain is a writer and environmental campaigner who conducts her research with forensic rigour combined with passion, so that knowledge can lead to change.
Born on August 23, 1961, Narain’s began her work in the early 1980s, as a co-researcher with Anil Agarwal, an eminent and committed environmentalist who gave the country its environmental concern and message. She began her career researching and co-editing the State of India’s Environment Reports. With Agarwal she wrote Towards Green Villages, which advocated local participatory democracy as the key to sustainable development. She has continued to research and write about how environment must become the basis of livelihood security of people in the country. She has also linked issues of local democracy with global democracy, arguing that every human being has an entitlement to the global atmospheric common.
Narain has been actively engaged in seeking solutions for air pollution control. She believes that the answers to the growing problems of pollution will be in reinventing the growth model of the Western world so that we can leapfrog technology choices and find new ways of building wealth, which will not cost us the earth. In this context, Narain and her colleagues advocated for the introduction of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in Delhi, to reduce air pollution. The successful implementation of CNG in buses in the capital has lead to substantial reduction in air contaminants and has become a model for the rest of the world. As a member of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for the National Capital Region, she continues to monitor and implement strategies for reducing pollution in Delhi and in other cities across the country.
Sunita Narain’s key achievement has been the interest in the country on the need for water security, using rainwater harvesting to augment resources and pollution control to minimise waste. She believes that her biggest contribution would be to build a strong and vibrant movement for water literacy in the country.
Under her direction, CSE analysed bottled water and then carbonated beverages for pesticide residue content. The aim of the study was to understand the extent of contamination of groundwater and food systems and to use this research for reform of the regulatory system. The study lead to the setting up the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on pesticide residues in and safety standards for soft drinks, fruit juices and other beverages. The JPC gave its report in February 2004, endorsing the findings of CSE on pesticides in carbonated beverages and recommending wide ranging reform in food safety for the country. This work has helped to build a strong public opinion and awareness in the country against the contamination of food and water.