Interview with Vimlendu Jha of Swechha - Part 2

Today we finish our interview with Vimlendu Jha from Swechha and Green the Map.

~ One of your larger campaigns to date was spearheading the fight against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (a huge religious leader in India) who was organizing the Art of Living festival on the banks of the Yamuna River, with no concern for how that event would negatively impact the river. And in the process you even received death threats, because you were going against a beloved leader. Have your efforts curbed the impact on the river or is this something you are still battling?

Two and a half years ago, a festival was organized by Art of Living, Ravi Shankar, and we opposed it because it actually violated the law of the country. Since then, because of our opposition, they got a lot of flack and we took them to court. We got a lot of opposition and citizen support on this matter because it was in clear violation of my fundamental right to clean air and clean water. We got opposition support because their festival was actually polluting the river, with irreversible damage, as established by the experts. That continues, but the good news was that after our campaign, no one has dared to organize something on that scale. In a way, it is a success that we obtained, because... imagine if we allowed Ravi Shankar to do this without opposition, having many many Shankers and many groups who have gone and plundered the riverfront. Because of our action and timely intervention, now in the last two and a half years, nobody has dared to go to the river and dirty it. Nobody has dared to organize a mass event that is counterproductive to the river.

~ You spoke at the Virtual Climate Change Summit organized by the UN recently. Can you share with us the nature of that talk and how you feel it was received?

It was the first virtual climate summit organized. I’ve been working on the issue of climate change and I’ve also served on the UN Environment Advisory Board for sustainable lifestyle and education for the last two years.

The summit was focused on where we are at with climate change as a planet and as a community, and what do we need to do as a business, as government, and as society. Because we need to do something tangible on climate change.

Largely our focus was on large scale production and consumption. My presentation suggested that production and consumption needs to be linked to the idea of justice and the idea of equity. At the end of the day, the reason why we need sustainability is not just because of our love for the planet, but also a love for the people of the planet. It’s the poorest of the poor who suffer the most because of climate change. So climate change affects everyone, but climate change affects the poor the most.

~ How did you get involved with the US embassy?

I have been working with the US embassy for almost a decade and a half. I am a US government fellow through I.V.L.P. which is for future leaders, and so, I’ve been part of that since 2005. Every two years we try to collaborate on something innovative and two years ago, the food forest was our project.

There is an area, Gurgaon, which has the headquarters of two hundred or so of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, and we’ve actually planted a fruit forest there. It’s been a few years and it’s become a dense forest now.

In Delhi we’ve created five forests. We partnered with the American Embassy and they gave us a grant to help us take over a park from the government. The park was an abandoned park and we turned that park into a dense forest. When we started, the park had five percent green cover, and now, the park has 95% green cover in just over eight years.

We also collaborated on a project called “Break Even” where we reached out to schools and did workshops on sustainability and the environment and organized a musical concert on sustainability.

~ What are you working on now that takes up most of your attention?

Indian parliament assembled on Sunday,  December 11th in India’s capital, and so on the eve of the session I organized a town hall discussion calling representation from all political parties who have a stake in Northern India, demanding concrete action on air pollution and asking parliament to allocate one day for air pollution discussion.

We are a small spoke in the wheel. As we’re talking, it sounds so grand, but it’s a tiny little effort compared to what is needed. There is a lot to be done. We are always stretched. We don’t have the resources to pick up enough. Nobody wants to give money to run these campaigns. That’s the constant challenge. How do we save resources? How do we stay afloat? How do you fight the mighty? Because we’re talking about some of the most powerful institutions in the world that we confront. To set up these forests and make sure they survive, it’s not easy. My constant challenge is to keep that passion and intellect in tact, while at the same time, raising resources so that we are able to see another day and fight another battle.

~ What actions can Americans take to help offset climate change in a practical way?

I’ve been to America a few times and also knowing the global politics and global culture on climate change, I think the first thing the average American needs to do is start questioning their own lifestyle. It might seem that, doing whatever it is they’re doing, might be limited to only their own sphere, but the American lifestyle has an impact on the climate of the world. The average American needs to understand the impact of their carbon footprint, which is not just on the local environment but also on the global environment. We live in a very connected climate theater. Something someone does in one corner of the planet has an impact on the other corner.