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Friday, Apr 08, 2005

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Work environment

Anjali Prayag

The environment sector promises exciting, and even high-paying jobs ranging from Green laws to eco-friendly engineering and energy auditing among others.

A field study in coastal biodiversity - Shaju John

Santosh Sutar, a Programme Officer with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Bangalore, is thrilled about the growing levels of environment awareness in schools.

"There's no doubt environment education has finally begun to be recognised as a niche area in the study of science. Several schools have launched eco clubs and show keen interest in the subject."

And environmentalists like Sutar are equally excited about new careers opening up in the environment sector for those who want to combine passion with ambition. A budding environmentalist today has more than just activism to choose from. There are four kinds of organisations offering environment-related jobs: NGOs, corporates and industries, government agencies and research institutions.

Sharat Chandra, a Bangalore-based environment consultant, says NGOs are looking for professionals, not necessarily for advocacy alone. Research and training are coming into their own. Companies are hiring specialists for pollution control, air monitoring and wastewater treatment. And, of course, enforcement agencies like the Pollution Control Board are always looking for professionals in the related areas.

Leo Saldanha, Coordinator, Environment Support Group, stresses that environmental activism has grown beyond sporting khadi kurtas and carrying a cloth bag on your shoulder. Some of the Green campaigns he has fought relate to the Cogentrix power project, the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project, the Kudremukh National Park and Save Cubbon Park. Anyone involved in environmentalism must have a sound knowledge of environmental law and policy, he says. The range of jobs has grown, too. Environment protection has opened up job opportunities for lawyers, engineers, social workers and communicators. There is an increasing role for environmental, mechanical and civil engineers to design, construct and commission systems for urban water treatment and supply, and pollution abatement.

"With many companies implementing the ISO 14000 series environmental management systems, there is scope for environment and energy auditors too," says S. Gopikrishna Warrier, Media Officer, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad.

Qualifying courses

The research lab at a biotechnology company - Shaju John

There are formal educational courses for those aspiring to make a career in environmental science. Apart from undergraduate courses like BE or BSc, most universities also offer a post-graduate degree (ME) in environment science.

Law schools are incorporating environment education as part of their curriculum and, at the same time, offering several short-term courses too.

For example, the National Law School (NLS) in Bangalore has started courses in environmental law; the Indian Institute of Sciences at Bangalore has post-graduate and doctoral studies in ecology; the Salim Ali School of Ecology, affiliated to the Pondicherry University, offers a similar masters course; the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi has masters and doctoral courses at the Centre for Environmental Studies; The Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun has courses on habitat and wildlife protection; Anna University at Chennai has courses in environmental engineering.

Apart from those undergoing specialist courses, graduates in science, engineering, social work, social marketing, accountancy or communication can also join environment-related jobs, provided they have the right aptitude, says Warrier.

It's in the law

Volunteers involved with turtle conservation - N. Balaji

Environmental law has gained tremendous importance of late, says Prof Omprakash Nandimath, Assistant Professor in Law, National Law School. He's also the co-ordinator for NLS's Centre for Environmental Law, Education, Research and Advocacy (CEERA).

The Centre has taken on the responsibility of educating at least one teacher in every law school in the country on environmental law. Besides this, one judge and one lawyer in every district is being sensitised to the subject.

The five-year-old programme, called Environment Management Capacity Building Project, has covered 450 law schools and almost all the districts in the southern States. Now CEERA is also working with enforcement boards across the country.

Saldanha says there is indeed a great need for environmental advocates in public work. "Lawyers get better exposure to court procedures and environmental law when they work with NGOs," he feels. The same with engineers who find industry jobs boring. Of course, money can be an issue in NGOs with limited resources.

However, Saldanha feels that graduates in environmental science and engineering often lack direction and perspective. "The undergraduate courses are producing science graduates that are half-baked," he says.

Dr Vanaja Ramprasad, Director of the Bangalore-based Green Foundation, working in the area of agro biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, says farming education should be taken up seriously. "Capacity building is a pressing need," she feels.

The field is vast

Sharat Chandra's career graph proves that in environmentalism one can cover a wide range of activities. A biologist and wildlife enthusiast, he has spent four years (1974-77) at the Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, studying the spotted deer.

He taught ecology and environment science in Shillong and at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. After a stint with the Karnataka government as Additional Secretary, he is currently a consultant for donor agencies.

Warrier of ICRISAT says enthusiastic young men and women, with appropriate skills and qualifications, can start their career in any of the areas related to environment. From then on, the formula for success is the same as in any other industry: hard work plus the ability to make use of opportunities.

There's no doubt that passion matters more than compensation in this kind of work, but the million-dollar question is, how competitive are salaries in the industry?

Sutar of CEE says freshers start at Rs 5,000-6,000 per month and anybody with five years experience can expect to take home about Rs 25,000 per month.

With so many different organisations operating in this sector, the salary spectrum is pretty wide. In some activist organisations, salary is perhaps limited, but there are also several high-paying jobs in the corporate sector, as well as multinational and multilateral organisations. International and Indian NGOs also offer high-paying job opportunities, says Warrier.

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