I will miss you Shyam Chainani

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on


After a hard fought battle against cancer, Shyam Chainani died on December 25, 2010. I will miss him dearly, as will all those who worked with him and came to know him down the years.

He was one of a kind... tough, fair, very intelligent and internally committed to the notion that the best way to leave a lasting legacy for tomorrow was to leave this world a better place. He was a fighter for both our living and non-living heritage and no doubt much will be written about him in the months and years to come. Here is what I wrote in the Indian Express exactly a year ago when the news broke that Jairam Ramesh was thinking of diluting India's Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules.

Shyam Chainani, BEAG, (with a little help from people like me) spent over two years working on the CRZ Rules in 1988 and 1989. Our logic for protecting the coasts then was that these were the breeding grounds of marine organisms and were vital commons that could not be sacrificed for short term profits that builders and all manner of developers wanted. Today, with climate change upon us, these coastal habitats are recognised across the world as carbon sinks, defense against extreme climatic events and insurance against food shortages. Those responsible for diluting these laws will tomorrow be put on trial for crimes against humanity because millions of lives are threatened by the destruction of these coastal ramparts. Jairam Ramesh would be well advised to bring Shyam Chainani back from his semi-retirement to help defend coastal India in the days ahead.

Sadly Jairam, who personally had great respect for Shyam, has not thus far accepted his sage advice. But it is still not too late for him to do so before shortsighted politicians, builders and very pliable bureaucrats prevail upon him to sign away the future of coastal India. 

I can think of no better way to remember Shyam than to ensure that the battles he fought for India are kept alive.