Jayashree is a special correspondent reporting for The Times of India in Delhi. She covers the environment beat which involves tracking urban issues such as air pollution in Delhi, pollution in rivers, conservation of wetlands, renewable energy projects, waste management and others, and national issues such as food security, extreme weather events, forests, wildlife, and environmental policy.
Though her reportage has mainly been on environmental issues,she has also covered health, energy and human interest stories in her eight and half year stint with TOI. Before moving to Delhi in 2011, she reported on environment from Bangalore between 2008 and 2011.
Here is a short conversation with her:
What motivated you to pick the ‘Environment/Air Quality’ beat?
I chose environment as my beat because I was interested in understanding how nature/ environmental disasters, wildlife affected our lives. I also felt it may give me a chance to travel outside the city, see people’s relationship with nature and not get occupied loitering at government departments all the time in search of stories. I only wanted to do meaningful work, and enjoy it as well.
Over the years, however, I have realized the importance and dynamism of this beat. It overlaps with several important beats like energy, water resources, industry, policy, socio-economic issues and public health, among others. It helps me learn and understand all of these issues. That is why I decided to stick to the beat. In the past three to four years, environment has turned out to be one of the “prime” beats, obviously because of its impact on the economy and development.
For example, air pollution became one of the most important stories in Delhi because of its impact on public health and city planning. The “Let Delhi Breathe” campaign that The Times of India has been running since 2014 has given me an opportunity to write about data transparency, impact on health, crucial interventions and policies such as the odd-even scheme (vehicles plying on alternate days based on their numberplates). The campaign has also given me a chance to write about congestion charging (in its planning stage), public transport, role of the automobile industry, power plants and other related matters that can determine the future of cities. I am glad that I have the opportunity to continue on this beat.
Air quality was not the most important story till 2014 when the World Health Organization’s urban air quality database listed Delhi as the “most polluted city in the world”. Though the “Let Delhi Breathe” campaign started in the capital, other cities have also taken up similar campaigns.
In India, policies to control air pollution are being largely driven by the judiciary. The Supreme Court in the MC Mehta case and the National Green Tribunal in the Vardhaman Kaushik petition have led to significant orders, such as imposing a 1% cess on diesel sports utility vehicles, imposition of an environmental compensation charge (polluter pays principle) on trucks plying through Delhi, a fine of Rs 5,000 (~$75) on people caught burning waste and other actions have helped in reducing air pollution.
Covering proceedings in the NGT and following the Mehta case have given me an opportunity to understand how the judiciary and the executive function.
How can the scientists/activists interact meaningfully with journalists to create public awareness on air quality?
By involving us in each and every development and not only when there is big news. It takes time to understand certain aspects of air pollution. Many of us do not have a background in science, so it’s important that we follow every story and read as much as possible to be able to write in plain language for readers.
For scientists, it will be nice if they can break down jargon into simple language, which reporters can further simplify for readers. A short note on a scientific paper, or a blog on a research paper, can be helpful to journalists.
As for activists, I think it’s important that they keep in touch with journalists regularly, and tip-off on developments, instead of getting in touch only when there is a press release or a news conference.