July 30, 2012
It is not very often that a BTech graduate of Chemical Engineering and Material Sciences chooses to pursue an MA degree in Climate and Society.
But then Mukund Palat Rao, who just graduated from the Amrita School of Engineering at Coimbatore and has enrolled in Columbia University in New York, is no ordinary student. Combining a love for nature with a keen understanding of the inter-disciplinary approach that is needed to solve humanity’s problems today, he sought admission into the highly competitive masters program and obtained it.
His class-mates in New York will include students from backgrounds as varied as finance, communications, earth sciences, geography, biology, anthropology and ecology, in addition to engineering.
After graduating from Amrita this past summer, Mukund had the opportunity to undergo a month-long certificate course on environmental and developmental issues, offered by the Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
The course included a week-long field trip to rural India. The field trip was supplemented with discussions with environmentalists, academicians and grassroots activists.
“India is a very vast country, and often there is a lack of information about what is happening in its remote areas,” Mukund shared.
Mukund, together with other course participants, traveled to the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, to explore eco-restoration efforts that communities there had undertaken.
In the process, he came face-to-face with the modern idea of development, and how this impacted the management of the natural resource base, people’s livelihoods and the environment.
“With numerous hydro-electric projects coming up on the Sutlej and its tributaries in the district we visited, we saw first-hand the catastrophic destruction of the environment everywhere. Blasting at the dam sites was causing major landslides in the area. The Chilgoza pine nut trees were being ruthlessly cut down, and the suspended particulate matter in the air was affecting apple production also,” he ruefully pointed out.
“Economic growth needs to be balanced with a concern for ecology and the environment. Now I question the value of focusing on GDP growth alone. Can development really be just defined by a simple metric or should there be more things factored in, such as how people’s lives are changing for the better or the worse?” he asked.
It may have been the month-long course that gave Mukund some of these sharp insights, nevertheless it was his four-year tenure at Amrita that first helped awaken a deep love for Mother Nature.
In accordance with the mandate of the Supreme Court of India, every college student in Amrita undergoes a course on the environment. The course is supplemented with many out-of-classroom activities where students experience first-hand the benefits of organic gardening, water conservation and proper waste management.
“The blend of the above helped us learn about environmental issues both from a scientific as well as a social sciences approach. I realized that the environment is not something that is limited to fancy protocols and conventions in Cancun and Copenhagen alone; rather it is a part of our daily lived experiences. I understood that there is a little bit of the environment in everything we see, hear and do.”