Vaishnavi Rathore is not yet 27 years old. But already, to her credit, is an impressive track record of work on environmental issues. Currently, she is the ‘Environment Lead’ at The Bastion Media – a three-year-old independent digital magazine dedicated to well-researched in-depth investigation in five key development sectors: Environment, Health, Education, Sports and Technology. Coming to The Bastion after rigorous fieldwork across Kinnaur, Lahul-Spiti, Mandi and Sutlej, the past two years have seen Vaishnavi Rathore make the most effective use of this new platform. She has upfronted more than a hundred on-the-ground investigations and analytical reports on a broad range of environmental issues. Particularly striking within her prodigious output is her comprehensive and courageous two-part investigation on the Delhi Development Authority-led ‘development’ of Delhi that illuminates the ‘planned’ marginalisation of the poor in an urban governance process privileging the privileged.
Vaishnavi’s research cuts through complicated land laws to understand why 40 odd urban villages in the capital city are expanding ‘illegally’ and face the constant threat of evictions. The biggest encroachers, she finds, are the government departments that have been arbitrarily allocated 7400 acres of Gram Sabha lands to build offices, factories, residences for higher income groups and other purposes! The consequence is shrinking common spaces, including public parks, essential for the well-being of those living cheek-by-jowl in cramped single rooms. Then, even while the 2041 Delhi Master Plan has ambitious plans to ‘beautify’ the Yamuna banks, lush existing nurseries have been levelled to plant trees to “beautify the riverbank’! There is no Plan for what she poignantly calls the ‘missing communities’ such as the people who fish in the river for a livelihood. Her painstaking research has struck instant chords with both the public and academia – raising demand for Hindi translation on the one end and on the other citations and suggested reading in university curriculum here and abroad.
Notwithstanding the Covid pandemic, Vaishnavi has not been confined to the capital city – her reports include how rural villages in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have coped with the crisis. Selected as one of five global fellows for a Sustainable Solutions fellowship in 2020, Vaishnavi travelled to Bundelkhand to document an NGO making bricks from the fly ash of a thermal plant; to Lakshadweep for a turtle conservation project trying to resolve the conflict between turtles and fishermen; to Odisha where village women are preventing forest fires by clearing dried leaves from jungles that they manage under the Forest Rights Act. Later, another month-long stint on the ground, reporting from six Adivasi districts in Gujarat, highlighted, amongst other issues, the disruption of lives and relationships of poor Gujarati women displaced by dam-building.
Coming from an Army family Vaishnavi’s early education moved her through 10 schools – a peripatetic exposure which perhaps generated greater sensitivity, resilience and taught networking. Then graduating in Economics and Political Science from St. Stephens, she moved to a Master’s in Public Policy and Governance at the Azim Premji University in Bangalore. Journalism training has come from firm feet on the ground, a perceptive eye for detail and an inner search for a more equitable world. The Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust commends Vaishnavi Rathore as an outstanding example of a young woman with great talent, intellect and humanity — someone who will go far in her quest for environmental justice.