My position on the need to re-position forests in development (see ‘Rethink growth with forest capital’, Down To Earth, May 16-31) has brought me a huge response.

Why are bees important to humans?

The 20,000 or so species of bees are the principal pollinators of plants, both in gardens and in the wild. If you like having flowering plants around, for the most part you need to have bees around. There is a need to create awareness that pollinators need help. People should be encouraged to plant flowers and buy local honey and governments around the world should encourage beekeepers and regulate the use of pesticides in agriculture to minimise risks to honeybees.

Can you love tigers but hate forests? This is the question that troubled me as I visited the middle of India last fortnight. I was in Nagpur, where local politicians, conservationists and officials were discussing what needed to be done in this chronically poor and backward region endowed with forests and tiger habitats.

What are your observations about Indian cities?

I come from a school of thought that likes cities, and I find an Indian street fascinating. There are so many different users: bullock carts, food vendors, beggars, cyclists and cars. I can see how cars are a necessary part of city life but they must not dominate it. If you allow cars all the time, the city becomes dysfunctional very quickly. And my sense is that Indian streets have reached optimum car use. There is no room left for the car.

Every ordinary Indian can see that we need new solutions. But every traffic engineer is still trying to put in the flyovers that speed up traffic on one side even if everything grinds to a halt again on the other side.

On the idea behind the project

The project was developed for the eighth edition of the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in synthetic biology, hosted by Massac­husetts Institute of Technology in November 2010.

We were on a beach. Somewhere close to Puducherry. The sight was surreal: half-smashed houses with wide open fronts, people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or a cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village; there was no protection between the sea and the village.

DTE: What is that BIRAP offers that private industry cannot get elsewhere?

“Stroke of the pen” reform is critical as in many cases policy is dastardly and change is laggardly. The essential element is to find that big-ticket item that can have impact on a scale and at a pace that is needed. I believe Union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh’s letter addressed to all chief ministers clarifying that bamboo is indeed a grass and not timber, is such an item.

Two major events happening at two ends of the world—Japan’s natural disaster and nuclear fallout and unrest in Libya and other countries of the region—have one thing in common. Energy. The fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, hit by earthquake and then the tsunami, has not yet been contained. As I write this, news is breaking about possible contamination of the seawater surrounding the damaged installation. Fears are it could lead to groundwater contamination and radioactive toxins in the food and fish. Last week there was a scare when Tokyo’s water was reported to have iodine 131 in excess of safe limits. Nobody really knows how badly the core of the reactor is damaged. Nobody’s clear how Fukushima’s problems will be buried.

I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public’s verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song.