Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and political activist as well as a major proponent of the Green concept of sustainable development pushing for changes in policies and practices and mindsets.
Born in 1961, Narain has been with the India-based Centre for Science and Environment since 1982. She is currently the director of the Centre and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications and publisher of the fortnightly magazine, "Down To Earth".
She is a writer and environmentalist, conducts research with forensic rigour and passion, so that knowledge can lead to change. In 2005 and again in 2008 and 2009 she was included by US journal Foreign Policy as one of the world’s 100 public intellectuals.
She has also received the World Water Prize for work on rainwater harvesting and for its policy influence in building paradigms for community based water management.
"Making water everybody’s business"...
is the book she co-authored along with Anil Agarwal where she puts forth her discovery of the fascinating ingenuity of communities in India to harvest rainwater across the country. Water is clearly most important asset for the country. For Sunita Narain it is an issue of great passion as she devotes time to research and advocate for the need to change the paradigm of water management in the country. She continues to build an understanding of the need for water security, using rainwater harvesting to augment resources and pollution control to minimize waste.
In 2005, she also chaired the Tiger Task Force at the direction of the Prime Minister, to evolve an action plan for conservation in the country after the loss of tigers in Sariska. She advocated solutions to build a coexistence agenda with local communities so that benefits of conservation could be shared and the future secured. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Climate Change. As well as the National Ganga River Basin Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister, set up to implement strategies for cleaning the river.
Narain 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. In 1985, she co-edited the State of India’s Environment report, which built an understanding in the country on why India is so important for the poor.
With Anil Agarwal she learnt that environment and development are two sides of the same coin and that for the millions of poor, who live on the margins of subsistence, it is a matter of survival. 9, learning from the successful initiatives of people to manage their environment, Anil Agarwal and she wrote "Towards Green Villages" advocating 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.
But it is her criticism of international soft drink makers Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. that has won Narain most attention. Over the past few years the CSE has regularly alleged that soft drinks sold in India contain high level of pesticides – a charge both Coke and Pepsi reject. Narain says her main goal is not to hurt companies but to spur the government to tighten regulations. But a little publicity goes a long way: her pesticide charges spurred some Indian states to ban the sales of Coke and Pepsi last year. Now, she's taking on river polluters.
Narain remains an active participant, both nationally and internationally, in civil society. She serves on the boards of various organisations and on governmental committees and has spoken at many forums across the world on issues of her concern and expertise.
In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India.