India's Unsung Eco Heroes, Green Warriors - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Until a few years back, I was not much aware of the fact that there are a number of folks who were doing sterling work in India on the environment and ecology fronts. True, I had heard of the Medha Patkars and Vandana Shivas, but I naturally thought they were probably the only ones.

How wrong I was.

The last few years, as I read more and more on renewable energy and sustainability in India, I have had the pleasure of coming to know of many more such people who are going out of their way to do something for the environment around us.

This issue of the newsletter is dedicated to these wonderful folks, specifically those folks who are less well known. I am sure there are many more environmental heroes and heroines than are mentioned in this article. I’ll glad to hear from you on those so that I can include them as well in this list.

The unsung heroes

Tiger hero: “Billy” Arjan Singh – “The air we breathe and the water we drink stem from the biodiversity of the universal environment and its economics. The tiger is at the centre of this truth. If it goes, we go.” So said this legendary tiger lover, who at the age of 92, passed away in Jan 2010. During an extraordinary life, most of which was spent on his farm Tiger Haven, Billy devoted himself to tiger conservation. The former hunter turned conservationist was even instrumental in persuading the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to create a tiger reserve in Dudhwa. Today, Dudhwa National Park
(see here – and here – ) is home to tigers, elephants and rhinos.

J Vijaya – India’s Turtle Saver – Not every environmentalist gets to have a genus named after her, but J Vijaya has had that rare honour bestowed upon her. One of India’s foremost green warriors, Vijaya was India’s first woman herpetologist. As assistant to Edward Moll, chairman of the World Conservation Unions Freshwater Chelonian Specialist Group, she undertook a nationwide survey of turtles. She was one of the first people to sound the alarm on the turtle trade in India, photographing the slaughter of Olive Ridley turtles on Digha beach in West Bengal and the meat markets of Kolkata. The photographs appeared in a national news magazine and led to the then prime minister Indira Gandhi writing to the Coast Guard to take steps to protect the sea turtles. Vijaya also extensively studied and documented the forest cane turtle. In 2006, posthumously, the turtle was officially renamed Vijayachelys silvatica in her honour. Read this account of Vijaya ( ) to understand what an extra-ordinary character she was. Pity she passed away when she was just 28! Vijaya’s life proves what a single person’s determination could do to an entire species!

Prosper S Marak – He’s just 24 years old, but his efforts make us respect him enormously. His goal is to protect the biodiversity rich Garo Hills of Meghalaya from the ruthless mining industry. Prosper is remarkably young and despite not being formally trained, his knowledge and passion for India’s wildlife has won him the reputation of a giant-killer with many hard-fought conservation battles under his belt. He is the President of the Southern Zone of the Garo Students’ Union, the apex body of Garo Youth. With his young compatriots he has taken on the coal mining mafia that dominates much of the northeastern state of Meghalaya. Having grown up just outside the elephant forests of the Balpakram National Park and the Siju Wildlife Sanctuary, he fell in love with nature and learned to respect it from childhood. Marak was declared Earth Hero for 2009 and also won the Young Naturalist Award for 2009 –, . Knowing the perils that we Indiand have to go through while fighting against the land-grab and mining mafias, he will need all our blessings to succeed.

V Subramanian and Dr R Madhavan – Making Chennai green, one tree at a time. Together, these two simple folks from south Chennai, have planted over 50,000 trees I and around their locality. That’s a humungous contribution. I had the fortune of having met them and spent a couple of hours with this remarkable duo. What was really interesting to me was that they did not have any major plan or goal when they started it – it was almost as if they were planting hundreds of saplings in Chennai just to better use of their spare time! But what a sterling service they had done. I am told that the contribution from these two gentlemen might have played a big role in making south Chennai as green as it is today. Amazing!

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak – To me, Dr Pathak’s actions represents those I would call truly significant. What indeed has he done? While his Sulabh International today is involved in a number of social activities, Dr Pathak’s original – and the most important – contribution was building toilets so that the poor of India will not need to do the daily ablutions in shameful and unhygienic conditions. I still remember an interview in which Dr Pathak said that the toilet was one of man’s most important inventions. I could not agree more. His toilets also made innovative use of biogas technology by linking to fermentation plants, which have become the byword for sanitation in developing countries. A distinctive feature of Pathak’s project is its odour-free biogas production. The water released from the toilets is clean, rich in phosphorous and other ingredients that are important constituents of organic manure. I’m not sure if you have used the Sulabh toilets. When you use one, you will see the difference – clean and providing you a sense of different India. Dr Pathak’s dedication to the cause of sanitation is so much that he even has a Toilet Museum – .

Harish Hande – Bringing Light to India’s Rural Areas – Since its founding in 1995, Selco, based in Bangalore and founded by Harish Hande, has provided over a lakh homes with solar lighting systems. Harish went to IIT Kharagpur for his undergraduate studies in Energy Engineering. He then went to the U.S. to do his Master’s and later PhD. in Energy Engineering at the University of Massachusetts. Inspired by a project he did during his studies, he returned to India and set up SELCO, to literally help light poor people’s lives through his solar lamps. Selco’s customers range from poor daily-wage laborers to institutions like schools and seminaries. All buy solar panels that can light 7-watt bulbs for four hours between charges. To make it work, Selco had to persuade rural banks to lend hundreds of dollars to people who have almost no money – a tough sell. “Rural people don’t pay, I was told,” Hande recalls. Now fewer than 10 percent of his customers default. That’s a disruptive business idea for you. It was quite absorbing for me to read the following in one of the articles about Harish: “The best lesson in rural business that Harish Hande…ever learned was from a street vendor in Bangalore, who said: “Rs. 300 a month is expensive, but Rs. 10 a day is fine.” Typical of the country’s poor, the street vendor was spending Rs. 15 a day — about 10% to 15% of her income — to get light from a kerosene lamp that allowed her to sell her vegetables after dark. “The rich don’t spend that much for one light,” says Hande…The street vendor’s comment helped Hande understand that rather than reducing the cost and quality of SELCO’s solar products to reflect the low incomes of rural and urban poor, he needed to offer creative ways for poor customers to finance purchases while keeping quality standards high”. Here’s a nice and detailed article on HH –

Green Geek? – Green warriors need not only be those who unassumingly trudge through forests to protect exotic wildlife. They are also those who come with smart solutions to make our lives more sustainable. Vipul Kasera, the man behind Bangalore’s first major car pool campaign ( ), is one such modern warrior whose web site makes it easier for folks to carpool.

Invisible heroes of Dharavi – In the chaos of Mumbai’s best-known slum, thousands of recyclers process the megacity’s garbage and provide an invaluable environmental service. .

Here is a detailed article on many more green warriors, each with an interesting project –

PS: Folks like Dr Pathak and Dr.Hande are no longer “unsung heroes” – they are fairly well known in the eco circles. But I doubt if they are anywhere as well known among the masses; hence, I clubbed then under the unsung category.

And now the leading ones…

I don’t think I will add any much value by writing about the most well known eco-folks; at the same time, no article will be complete without their names. So, I will leave you with just a mention.

Sundarlal Bahuguna –

Vandana Shiva –

Medha Patkar – ,

Maneka Gandhi –

References and stuff

India’s environment heroes –

The Unsung Heroes of India –

Green Business Shoots –

Indian NGOs Working For Saving the Environment – Here is a comprehensive list

Saluting eco heroes – Every year, across the globe, National Geographic undertakes initiatives to create awareness about conservation and global warming. Come September, the channel will launch the Green Conclave, a national platform to discuss the path forward for our planet.

Hope you found the post useful. As I mentioned before, please write in about any other eco-heroes – sung or unsung – and I will be glad to learn about them and include them in future posts


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About Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi)

Narsi, a Director at EAI, Co-founded one of India's first climate tech consulting firm in 2008.

Since then, he has assisted over 250 Indian and International firms, across many climate tech domain Solar, Bio-energy, Green hydrogen, E-Mobility, Green Chemicals.

Narsi works closely with senior and top management corporates and helps then devise strategy and go-to-market plans to benefit from the fast growing Indian Climate tech market.

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