Summertime and the living this year hasn't been easy
OUR June issue goes to press with an intimidating summer upon us. It is not just the heat but power cuts too. If getting around is challenging, working indoors is not easy either. Journalistic endeavours are hardwired to deal with adversity. Resources are always short and conditions can have you standing on one leg. But you need to be especially weatherproof to meet deadlines for writing stories, making pages and ensuring that the nuts and bolts of a media enterprise are intact.
If the growing trend of government officers joining politics is something you have been thinking about, our cover story done by Anil Swarup on invitation by us will offer you some perspective. He discusses the formal rules and the unwritten boundaries as few understand them. Anil spent a long career in the services and acquitted himself honourably in different roles. We have known him across ministries and now in his retirement. He is dignified, pragmatic and straightforward — all traits we need in public discourse on contentious issues.
Summer is a good time to remember our rivers. Our opening interview is with Venkatesh Dutta, professor of environmental sciences in Lucknow’s Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University. He pleads for a vision for our rivers that goes 50 to 100 years into the future and places them in our cultural, historical and urban landscapes. In the absence of a vision, India’s rivers have been downgraded to drains and then flawed technological solutions such as large sewage treatment plants are used to try and keep them clean. Instead, we should be looking at the dynamics of water systems of which rivers are a crucial part. Prof. Dutta has the title of Waterkeeper of the Gomti, a troubled river he has spent a considerable time studying. The Gomti is an example of “too much extraction and too little restoration”, says Prof. Dutta. We need to see water as nature’s gift to us to be used wisely and replenished. What we take from a river or put in it should depend on the river’s capacity to rejuvenate itself.
Similarly, arsenic in groundwater is a public health issue that has to be addressed through respect for the compositeness of nature. The presence of arsenic deep below the surface is a geological phenomenon, which wouldn’t be a problem but for the overuse of tube-wells. It is now in drinking water and the food chain in general. Millions of people are affected in the Gangetic belt. But it has taken decades of campaigning by scientists and activists for governments to even accept that there is a problem. We are as yet a long way from addressing it. Once again, a lack of vision comes in the way of meaningful action. There is little realization that the sourcing and availability of water should be at the heart of development planning. In the case of arsenic poisoning that translates into use of surface water in rain-rich areas. It is as easy or as difficult as that.