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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 11, March 2, 2013

Tribute: Subrata Sinha - Passionate Defender of Environment

Wednesday 6 March 2013, by Sankar Ray

The passing away of Subrata Sinha, the former Deputy Director General of the Geological Survey of India, on January 19 (born 1932), removes from the midst of down-to-earth environmentalists and earth-scientists an exceptional character for, indeed, he was a personality with exceptional scientific wisdom, an equally strong faith in traditional knowledge and its practitioners at the grassroots, and a delightful sense of humour. This singular quality endeared him to activists, devoted to the task of disseminating science to the people and combating prejudices and superstitions. Readers of The Statesman are familiar with his edit-page articles on matters of environmental significance.

Subrata Sinha has, of course, been known for his passionate defence of the environment. During his three-and-a half decades of working with the GSI and thereafter, he was wholly committed to the sequential connectivity and continuity of geo-science, people and practice. He waged a cautious opposition to the Rajasthan Canal Project in the 1970s while posted in Rajasthan, based not just on the printed word but more from oral and traditional knowledge that he was constantly gathering.

He was fond of sharing with his friends how and why he took that path of resistance. “I was curious to learn why displaced peasants refused to grow crops on plots allotted to them and asked many of them. All of them replied bluntly: ‘The land is our mother and we cannot be witness to the molestation of the mother. But note it down, the entire area would turn alkaline.’ I was convinced by their logic and tried to convince the decision-makers but in vain. The knowledge, handed down by the ‘illiterate peasants’, was ignored and the damage happened”. He also wrote several articles warning against the choice of Singur as the site for the automobile project, pointing out that it is one of the six most fertile tracts in the world.

Sinha was one of the two members who resigned from the Environmental Appraisal Committee for Multi-Purpose River Valley Projects—known as the Bhumla Committee—that unanimously rejected the Tehri Hydro-Electric Project, in protest against the manipu-lation of the Power Ministry bureaucrats to subvert the consensus through a one-man panel that accorded a conditional nod.

Sinha served as the Director, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Trivandrum, and took a nodal role in the unique and award-winning ‘resource mapping’. He has also served on the West Bengal State Planning Board and State Land Use Board, the Tripura State Planning Board and was the President, All India People’s Science Congress too.

(Courtesy: The Statesman)

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