NEW DELHI: It was a high quality, deeply knowledgeable and incisively argued Titans Cup debate on Friday evening as 6 Delhi colleges squared off against each other to debate the motion: “The West’s insistence on strict environmental controls is a death knell for developing countries.” With the UN conference on climate change in Paris just two weeks away, the issues discussed were timely.

While speakers for the motion spoke passionately on the West’s hypocrisy on environmental standards, speakers against the motion argued equally forcefully that climate change was a life and death issue and too important to become hostage to politics between rich and poor countries.

The Titans Cup Debate is an annual debate organized by the Hindu College alumni association and consists of 6 teams of alumni. Each team comprises two members, one speaking for and the other against the motion.

In her opening address former principal of Hindu College, Dr Kavita Sharma spoke of the hallowed traditions of debate at Delhi University and the importance of a robust exchange of views in today’s times. Ravi Burman of the Hindu College alumni association pointed out how the Titans cup debate was growing in influence each year, this year women speakers out-numbering men and a larger number of youthful debaters being showcased rather than veterans.

The debate spanned many issues in the growth versus ecology dilemma. While law student Harsh Jain of SRCC argued that for developing countries its all about roti kapda aur makaan and not following western diktat, Usha Kelkar, Ashoka Fellow and alumna of Indraprastha College said we only target the West because we need an enemy to blame for our environmental failures. “The anti-West discourse on climate change is only a manufactured narrative for strategic reasons,” she said.

Former IAS officer Nita Chowdhury disputed this strongly. In a comprehensive and nuanced presentation, Chowdhury said the West’s environmental concerns have to take second place to Indian food security and West-imposed restrictions on fisheries, for example can damage livelihoods of millions.

Former civil servant and founder of Inpedia.com Parvez Dewan of St Stephen’s College, likened the West’s approach to environment as a hippopotamus asking a colony of ants to lose weight. Kalikesh Singh Deo, BJD MP speaking for St Stephen’s, said climate change impacts the poor most of all and should be a common goal rather than a divided one.

Speaking for the motion, Piyush Chopra, deputy GM of Essar and alumna of Miranda House, said the rich are the worst polluters while graduate student Yashika Bansal of SRCC said there should be no trade off between economics and environment and India needed to adopt green technologies to grow. Former Oxfam CEO, Nisha Agarwal speaking for Miranda House presented a range of statistics pointing to the seriousness of climate change and said the threat was too real to allow the luxury of political posturing.

In a colourful somewhat unorthodox presentation, TV personality Shivani Wazir Pasrich even spilled black powder on her white sari to demonstrate what pollution and bad air are doing to citizens. Radio Mirchi associate VP Akash Banerjee speaking for Hindu College however said the issue should not be personalized and instead the billion dollar hypocrisy of the West needed to be exposed.

TV anchor Kajori Sen also speaking for Hindu College said rather than create a binary opposition between ecological sustainability and GDP, India should look at ways to leverage the West’s environmental concerns to create high growth.

Psychologist Annima Bahukhandi speaking for IP College asked if the West was serious about climate change where is the money in the climate change funds?

At the end of the detailed and punchily argued debate, the motion was put to vote where the House was split down the middle, half saying the West was forcing the developing world to follow its climate agenda, the other half saying there was no western insistence and climate change was a real and pressing issue for India too.

Indraprastha College was adjudged the best team and won the Titans Cup this year. The runner up was Hindu College. The best speaker award went to Nita Chowdhury and runner-up was Akash Banerjee.

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