Sunday, August 25, 2013

My heart doesn't bleed...

                                                                                   (This is the lecture I delivered at Miranda House)
Hello everyone!

It’s a great opportunity to be here. 

But before I speak, first a disclaimer: I’m no expert. I’m a journalist. So, I’m a jack of all trades. I will basically deal with media’s role in environment protection. I will also try and offer some tips on how to collaborate with media for the green cause. And, yes, I will spare you the environmental jargons.  

Media has a great role to play in generating awareness on environmental issues. I’m sure reporters across publications are doing their job well. But I think we can do much more and less. What worries me particularly is the fact that the line between being a journalist and being an activist often gets blurred. That should not happen. Knowledge of the subject you’re dealing with always helps. But an environment reporter does not necessarily have to be an environmentalist.

In my career, I never did the environment beat. In my last assignment, I in fact covered the opposite – infrastructure development. But that didn't keep me from taking to environment reporting a year ago, when I came to Delhi.

I will share some of my recent experiences not to brag but to let you have a sense of how things work. I exposed luxury hotels, mighty clubs and hospitals for wastage of resources and causing massive pollution. 

My articles helped in saving a number of trees from being axed in the execution of poorly planned infrastructure projects. I also took the forest department and pollution control authorities to task whenever they indulged in blatant wrongdoing.

Mention my name and you will find officials of the Public Works Department particularly cursing me. That’s because so many of their idiotic projects have got stuck, contractors are losing crores, thanks to my articles. Taking note of my writing, courts have also scolded them time and again. I assure you none of it is personal for me.

Having said all of that, I firmly believe there’s only so much you can do as a reporter. Many here may not agree, but I believe it’s not my fight; I’m not party to it. And now a line which I often repeat and which will not make me any popular here --- my heart doesn't bleed when I see a tree being felled. But I know what to do about it.

I am dispassionate, because I don’t want to lose my sense of objectivity. Being dispassionate doesn't mean having no passion for you work. It simply means you do your job without bias. It means you don’t pre-judge people.

I am not on a mission to change the world, make it a better place to live in. My job is to make people aware of what is happening around them and, in the process, if I happen to help mitigate some of the problems, I feel good about it and move on.

But that’s for us, the reporters. You could be as passionate as you want. You have your convictions to drive you. Make interventions whenever required. There’s a tree helpline. Make use of that. Take to RTI; that’s a great tool when information is hard to come by otherwise.

What does awareness do? It creates interests. It sets people thinking. And without being full-time activist, they can do a lot. Our job is to report and let people take informed decisions. Our job is also to suggest alternatives to people and policy makers. And you have to take our suggestions up for debate and discussions.

With so much infrastructure development happening around and people taking to modern lifestyle, there's always a danger of natural resources being compromised. This is where you can come in.

But climate change is a very catchy term. We need to figure this, breaking it down to more relatable, more doable and more tangible activities. You can start with saving water at home, asking your neighbour not to hack that tree and use public transport.

There are 75 lakhs vehicles in Delhi. The daily addition is 1400. Every year, Delhi gets 6 lakh news cars. This means we need an additional 310 football fields every year to park these cars. 11% of Delhi has gone into parking. Only as much of this city is forest area. These vehicles also mean massive pollution.

You need to promote public transport. You need to ensure car usage goes down. But even public transport eats into greenery. For every phase of Metro expansion, 10 to 15,000 trees are sacrificed. You need to keep a watch on compensatory plantation.

Despite crores spent and various court orders, Yamuna remains choked with all kinds of pollutants. The river is dead, almost.  A total of 22 Delhi drains empty themselves into the river. 5.5 tonnes of arsenic is dumped into it by Rajghat power plant alone every year. DDA and DMRC have alone dumped 25000 truckloads of debris along the river.

Three of the four landfills are long overdue for closure and there are no fresh landfills available to take in the current daily discards of 9,000 tonnes. By 2020, the Capital needs an additional area of 28 sqkm, more than the entire spread of Lutyen's Bungalow Zone, to dump 15,000 tonnes of garbage per day.

Winter will soon be here. Delhi will soon face the smog problem. You need to check if Delhi has learnt its lessons. How are you going to do all this and more? That’s the question.  

I’m not citing these examples to scare you. This is just to let you have a sense of the task ahead. Environment is no more a fashionable word. It’s a daily reality, reminding us of the fact that survival will only get more and more difficult.

Build good rapport with reporters. But that takes some doing. We are so intelligent; we don’t mingle with rookies easily. You need to challenge us intellectually!

Kidding, but only partly. You actually need to convince us that not only you care for environment but you can also be a good source for the kind of reports we are looking for. After all, everything doesn’t get published. But that shouldn’t keep you from doing what is needed.

Every reporter has his own timings for newsgathering. If the subject you want him to pursue is not on his agenda, chances are he will avoid you forever.

Don’t lose heart. Don’t try and contact a reporter for not-so-important stuff, post-sundown. Because that’s when most of the stories are written.

What we expect is tough to tell. You will get to know as you go along. Often even we’re not sure what we want!

One piece of advice --- read, research and do real work. Never go for your moment of glory. Quotes and interviews appear only when you have done enough and your words carry weight. So, don’t try and reverse the process. 

The objective shouldn’t be lost sight of.

Together, we can make a difference.

Most of all, enjoy what you do

Thank you very much.

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