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TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
INTRODUCTION: Challenges facing mankind on the environmental front have become truly global and pressing. Apprehensions are expressed that without remedial measures, we may face the bleak prospect of the collapse of the lifestyles that different societies presently enjoy. On the other hand, never before in the history has there ever been attempts on the same scale as we witness today, of the Third World countries seeking to usher in socio-economic development to provide for people, the means to realise self-fulfilment and create a society which is genuinely harmonious and free from want and deprivation.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: It is increasingly realised that the human race stands at the crossroads in choosing the options it has in the areas of environment and development. The industrial countries, having enjoyed more than their share of development, have achieved a decent standard of living. This has given to the earth pollution and eco-degradation as a result of affluence and underlying greed. It has now become clear that such patterns of development, lifestyles and quality of life are unsustainable. On the contrary, the developing countries are still struggling for minimum levels of sustenance. No doubt, they too have contributed to the eco-degradation and pollution, but this is essentially needed and poverty based.
The developing countries need abundant material growth to fulfil the basic needs of their people, but they cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the industrial countries. As far as possible, these countries must take the sustainable path of development from the very beginning. If sustainable development has to be translated into action, some basic rethinking is needed and a minimum agenda adopted. Notwithstanding what the techno-optimists and economists say, the planet as a whole is undergoing some changes which must cause far-reaching physical, chemical, biological, social and economic effects. Before we reach a point of no return, we must take tangible steps and follow a road that leads to sustainability. In India, the areas which require particular attention are population growth, change from non-renewable and polluting energy systems to those that are renewable and non-polluting, land use management, dryland farming and forestry. Above all, there must be effective Government policies on Environment and education of the masses.
CONCLUSION: However, there is no gainsaying the fact that the interest of rapid economic development and environment conservation and preservation will have to be balanced and harmonised only on Mk will rest all our measures to see that the development process is sustainable.
Decades ago, when the environment was not a buzz word, Mahatma Gandhi had. said “there is enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed, This is a statement with profound social and economic ramifications. Implicit In this statement are elements like equity, resource-use, sustainable lifestyles n essence, it implies that the present crisis in the environment is an outward symptom, of an inner crisis of mind and spirit. The question now rightly being is: how much is enough for an honest, chaste and a need-based and reasonably comfortable life. With this, the very lifestyles of people have gained relevance to the environment. It is not the whims and fancies of the wealthy individuals, but the interests of the community of organisms (including humankind) that will really matter. Thus ethical and philosophical questions have entered into the environmental arena. Eco-ethics/morality and eco-philosophy together with economics and eco-diplomacy are now parts of a broader framework of environmental ethics.
Indians have been very conscious of the environment from times immemorial, and to them, the issue of the environment in all its dimensions is not new. For Indians, the relationship with nature starts every morning, when many recite Gayatri Mantra as an invocation to the sun at sunrise and again in the evening. The Vedic gods such as Agni (fire), Surya(sun), Vayu (wind), Bhumi (earth), I ‘Aruna (water) and India (thunder and rain), together represent atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and sunlight and energy. These along with biotic wealth make the basic elements of earth’s biosphere which is auto-sustainable and self-generating. Much has been said about the importance of these elements and environment in general in The I ‘Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and the epics such as The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. In fact, most of these texts were written in the sylvan surroundings of forests, the like of which has never been written in the air-conditioned rooms of the present technological age.
The all-encompassing doctrine of Ahimsa (non-violence) is enunciated in The Mahabharata It is clearly stated that non-violence is not only the “highest dharma but also the highest form of self-control, wealth, penance, puissance, friendship, happiness, truth and scripture”. Non-violence is not intended to be practised only on animate but also on inanimate objects/materials surrounding us. Anita puma (Marina has serious implications regarding the use of natural resources and their management. Lord Makin, Mahatma Buddha and in recent times, Mahatma Gandhi preached the same doctrine. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi won India its freedom from British domination with the powerful weapon of non-violence. Thy basic question that haunts the country is the mass poverty and’ the pattern of growth and development that the country must follow in the present technological age which has brought with it tremendous immediate benefits and equally serious long-term costs. Blindly following the western model is not the answer to the country’s problems. Apart from eco-degradation that has taken place owing to poverty, it may be recalled that during the British rule, India’s natural resources were exploited in order to sustain industrial development in Britain.
The five principles underlying sustainable development are ecological harmony, economic efficiency, conservation of resources including energy, local self-reliance and equity with social justice. The last involves political decisions. To translate these into reality, we require an abundant measure of relevant science and technology which has to be environment-friendly. We also need an abundant measure of economic and social transformation at the level of individuals, communities and nationalities. And we need transformation at local, national, sub-regional, regional and global levels. Transformation of individuals is very necessary because society or a government is but an extension of the individual. This means ushering in a well-meaning programme of environmental education with regard to long-range ecological security.
Today in terms of population, India is adding to itself one-and-a-half Australia (18 million) each year. Commensurate with this increase, there are no developmental programmes (for providing food, shelter, clothing, Medicare, sanitation, education). With the unusually high percentage of youth in our country, it will be a long time before the results of population stabilization will be visible. Furthermore, any serious attempt at providing equity and social justice would call for a very marked escalation in the consumption of resources including energy and services. It will also mean a considerable escalation in greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. While the country has simultaneously to make serious efforts in these directions to provide goods and services and to mitigate the ill-effects of scarcities, population stabilisation becomes all the more necessary.
The birth rates must fall perceptibly at the earliest. The transition to stabilisation in population would need an action plan to be followed diligently to its logical conclusions.
A change-over is necessary from non-renewable and polluting energy systems to those that are renewable and non-polluting. Much of the pollution in the Western countries that cause the generation of the greenhouse gases, resulting in the possible change in global climate and sea-level rise, owes its origin primarily to non-renewable energy utilisation. In fact, choosing a good energy strategy is actually choosing a good strategy for the environment. Thus if energy options are right, the environmental aspect will be taken care of. Among the major options, though at present neglected, are solar energy (photothermal, photovoltaic and photosynthetic) and solar hydrogen. The solar option is non-pe, luting and perpetual. However, policymakers have to give a boost to this option in concrete terms by taking advantage of the technologies available in Germany, Japan and the USA. The importance of solar option lies in the fact that future society would I be a solar or biomass/photosynthetic society. In any case, renewable must now come into the mainstream of energy.
In other areas as well, a change-over is needed from the present resource-intensive and pollution-prone technologies to environment-friendly technologies where less and fewer resources (including energy) are used. The indicator of such technology is the maximum output of usable product with the use of minimum energy and generation of minimum pollution. Energy efficiency is no longer the responsibility to be adopted only by the Western nations but is also a dire need for developing countries so as to ensure high outputs with low energy inputs.
Abundant waste is available from agricultural, horticultural, industrial, mining and building material industries, which could add materially to the national wealth. Mercifully, recycling and reuse of newspapers, plastics, cans, bottles and scraps have become a part of the small trade. Recycling and reuse of wastes will be one of the flourishing industries because one-time use of materials is a symbol of negligent consumer society, which is going to be a thing of the past even in the West. It is only a question of time.
The stress has to be on products that are environment-friendly the manufacture of which does not degrade the environment. Business and trade have to realise that there was a time when money was in exploiting resources (timber, coal, metallic and non-metallic minerals, petroleum etc.) but in future, there is going to be increasingly more money in the conservation and efficient use of resources. ‘ Environmental protection, therefore, would be an in-built component of business management involving the manufacture, handling, transport, use of safe disposal of various, products without any risk to the environment. Eco-labelling of products has to become an integral part of technology and business.
Generally, economists think that they have discharged their duty by enhancing Gross Antidotal Product (that is, growth rate). Such an increase, in the ultimate analysis, could be based on the equally high rate of consumption of natural resources of which environmental degradation is an inevitable result. In such a situation, it is the society at large that pays for environmental neglect, although economics by itself is concerned with the welfare of the society. Thus, the present day economics is at loggerheads vita environmental concerns.
Following the world trend, India has also opted for a major economic transition towards free marketeetinolny, in the hope that it would revitalise what was a sick economy based on unrealistic expectations. There are reasons for such a transition; sonic Elamite advantages are expected to follow. However, few economists would entreat the idea of ecological disadvantages inherent in such a major economic shift. In order to ensure the success of such an economic transition, it is imperative that the economists also take into account nature’s economy and begin to internalise short and long term ecological costs. This is a lesson one can learn from the consumerist societies of the West.
The present budget and planning procedures recognise the need to increase the rate of growth of GNP. The rate can gallop in the short range in the liquidation of environmental assets. High economic growth might thus depend on a high rate of extraction, transport, transformation and utilisation of non-renewable and renewable resources. These constitute the basic raw materials and are obtained from our planet. In essence, industrial development is the transformation of low-quality natural resource into high-quality products through human ingenuity by the application of technology. There is no economic and industrial growth without ecological costs. However, depending upon the technology used, the extent and nature of the ecological costs may vary. Naturally, zero ecological costs are not possible. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that it is not only the rates of economic growth and GNP that are important; equally important is the rate of degradation (or regeneration) of our natural resources. Equal emphasis must be given to both. Thus, the enhancement in Gross National Product in the Annual Budget must be accompanied by an Ecological Budget where economic realities are combined with ecological realities. Taken together, the two will give a correct picture of our economy. For this, a prerequisite is to assign an appropriate fiscal value to our natural resources. The National Accounting System must reflect the state of both our economy and environment.
Economists understand economic security and also the economic deficit. They take steps to ensure economic security and wipe out the economic deficit. Furthermore, for wiping out the economic deficit, loans on easy terms have been arranged from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other banks, through bilateral assistance and even by mortgaging reserves of gold. As the economy improves, the country is expected to return the loans and free the gold (which has been achieved). At the same time, a rigid economic discipline has been imposed in the Annual Budgets so that there is no enhancement of the already large fiscal deficit.
Although ecological deficit has been stalking the country for several decades; the country has been largely indifferent to wipe out the same. Such indifference may, perhaps, emanate from our ignorance of the enormity of the problem or the lack of appreciation about the criticality of ecological deficit to our very survival. We must realise that a healthy economy cannot flourish in a sick environment.
Restorative strategies to reduce the ecological deficit, taken up during the early part of the eighties, were the Ganga Action Plan, Watershed Rehabilitation and eco-development of derelict land (subsequently renamed as Wasteland Development). We have not yet framed any meaningful preventive strategies to ensure that there is no addition to the ecological deficit on account of future economic growth. In short, contrary to the economic discipline imposed through the Annual Budget (1991-92), no ecological discipline has been imposed to prevent the future decline of our environment. There is also no meaningful strategy to insulate the country from adding to the already existing ecological deficit. One such strategy would be to make environmental impact assessment and environmental management plans, a statutory obligation, of all developmental projects.
There is an urgent need to make an in-depth study of the effect of the present day environmental protection legislation and policies on industry and economy. Equally important is an in-depth study of the environmental effects of the liberalised and open market consumerist economy. A critical a would indicate if economic and environmental objectives are mutually supportive of both Such a study can lead to the birth of a brand new industry which by itself economic growth. One such industry would be based on biotechnology. At present, such technologies are developed by private industry which owns the rights. Unless environment-friendly technologies become available to the developing world, the objectives of environmental conservation would not be furthered. This would again fall under eco-diplomacy.
In short, we must aim at eco-development, that is, economic development based on ecological principles. Ecology and economics share the same Greek root Oikos meaning house. The former is ecological housekeeping while the latter is financial housekeeping. The two must go hand in hand. There has to be a determined effort to blend economy and ecology into a connected whole and not leave solutions of our social, economic and environmental problems to the “free market”.
The world is and has always been unequal; at present, there are at least two worlds; the small but rich and powerful industrial world and a very large but poor and powerless developing world. Between the two, the economic disparity is too wide. It is also reflected in the use of resources and energy. For instance, a child born in the USA today would use 56 times more energy than a child born in India. The industrial nations had their share of development and have left a considerable amount of pollution and eco-degradation. The developing countries, as indicated earlier, though way behind in development, have also contributed to pollution and eco-degradation on account of the dire need to eke out an existence. The major challenge before them is the mitigation of mass poverty which is a prerequisite to any meaningful environmental planning. This calls for major location-specific programmes of development, most of land utilisation for biomass production, processing and utilization to meet their needs and offering decentralised vocations for the local people. In turn, such a socio-economical environment programme calls for a major input of science and technology grassroots. It can be translated into action only through the bottom-upward approach. Its successful implementation requires a transition to decentralised local governance.
The industrial countries and richer sections of our own country should set an example by voluntarily avoiding ostentatious lifestyles. consuming resources and guzzling energy with a vulgar show of wealth and prosperity, which are no doubt unsustainable in the long run.
Land-use management has belied us for long. India’s mass poverty is directly related to land degradation. The country’s land holding is nearly 2.4 per cent of the world, but it supports 15 per cent of the human population and about 20 per cent of cattle population of the world. This had led to tremendous pressure on land in India. It is one of the most critical problems in a country which is predominantly agricultural. Outside the green revolution belt, agriculture still depends on rain. In fact, soil loss and water degradation lead to declining agricultural productivity, unsustainable land use, rural poverty, disease and hunger, ecological refugees and finally slums in megacities. All of these are inter-related problems. In India, land, water and forests are state subjects and, therefore, by and large, out of the purview of the Centre. Even so, there is a need to develop a policy on the subject including tenurial rights. Although an intractable issue, land-use management is very important and needs urgent attention.
On the one hand, our region has to make green revolution and industrial agriculture sustainable, on the other, the subsistence (commonly referred to as rain-fed agriculture) involving poor and often assetless farmers has also to be improved and sustained. The green revolution has given the concerned nations a prestige among the developed countries through the capability to feed themselves. However, the quantum jump to be made in India from the present 170 million tonnes of foodgrains to 240 million tonnes in the corning decade cannot be achieved by horizontal expansion; it can be secured by vertical growth through a major input of environment-friendly biotechnology.
The “green revolution” agriculture in irrigated areas has created its own environmental problems of land degradation through salinization and top-soil loss. It has also created socio-economic problems due to subsidies. These have helped agriculturally progressive farmers and states, while states, where agriculture is predominantly rain-fed, have been left behind. A hard look needs to be taken at the browning of the green revolution.
Furthermore, dry land farming which has not been paid the deserved attention needs to be attended to for the needed quantum jump. It has led to an exodus ‘of subsistence and assetless farmers to megacities where they become ecological refugees. They need to be encouraged, through proper policies, to remain in their villages by making subsistence/dry land agriculture sustainable. This would require a massive input of science and technology (S&T) as also appropriate, incentives.
Equally important is the qualitative improvement of our livestock which is among the largest in number but poorest in quality in the world. Associated with this is the improvement of our grasslands to sustain our livestock.
Forestry is in dire need of S&T inputs. It is, indeed archaic and unless a very determined look is taken at this area, our long-range ecological security is in jeopardy. We have to take effective steps towards conservation in areas like water regimes in the mountain systems, biosphere reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, fragile ecosystems. Secondly, community forestry needs to be given a big boost to help our rural areas to meet their timber needs, including firewood and fodder. Villages need to be self-sufficient. Thirdly, at present Rs. 900 million is being spent on forest-related imports. There is a need to boost production of forest goods to meet our needs for timber, paper, pulp, plywood and firewood. This is possible if we take to tree crop farming in plantation areas, as distinct from the conservation areas. Only sustained production from plantations can help in saving our conservation areas.
Forestry is one activity which is the most urgent need of major S&T inputs. If this is not done, even our agriculture will suffer because the two are mutually reinforcing each other. In fact, the next green revolution has to be based on both crops and trees.
A meaningful programme on forestry based on S&T considerations in conservation areas will also help in the conservation of biodiversity. Ours is a very rich region from the point of view of nature and extent of biodiversity (plants, animals and micro-organisms). We have contributed several important crops and livestock species to the world agriculture and animal husbandry. While the Indian region is one of the very important centres of biodiversity and has contributed as many as 167 economic plant species (like rice, sugarcane, millets, pulses, etc.), the USA which is three times larger, has contributed only one species (sunflower) to the world agriculture. However, the USA has the world’s largest repository of germplasm of crop plants. While we are gene-rich, they are crop-rich and have made use of germplasm from all over the world.
The country has done exceptionally well as far as exotic conservation is concerned but has not taken meaningful steps about the in situ conservation at the grassroots level, in fact, the concept of wildlife conservation has now to be widened to cover conservation of biodiversity (plants, animals and microorganisms). The country must pay particular attention to this because biodiversity is going to be a major international enterprise but it is becoming highly politicized.
Most of the water bodies in the region have become sewers, being polluted by wastes of biological and chemical origin. Land-sea interface is equally polluted. The air in our metropolitan cities is, indeed, dirty because of the outdated technologies used by our industrial establishments. The major sources are domestic wastes (sheer faecal matter), industrial pollution and auto-exhausts.
Meaningful programmes like the Ganga Action Plan need to be taken up. Alongside environmental impact assessment has to be made a statutory obligation so that we avoid accidents like Bhopal in future. A lot of scientific, technological, economic, social and legal thinking must go in for control of pollution. Mere laws, howsoever punitive, will not suffice. These have to be realistic.
Awareness and education are one of the important inputs for a correct appraisal of environmental problems. Education can be at various levels: formal and informal including adult education.
Legal support should not be a static process. Environmental law is not a codification of do’s and won’t’s alone, it is law based on science, technology, sociology, economics and ethics. With a better understanding of many of these aspects, the legal framework needs to be updated. Again environmental law is not an end in itself; it can be very meaningful only if it is combined with a mixture of incentives and disincentives.
Although a plethora of state and national laws exist (some of these are very old and others new), there is a need for taking a hard look at all laws for updating almost every five to ten years so as to bring in newer concerns based on a better understanding about our environmental problems.
The inherent rights of all forms of life, be it plants or animals, are also coming to the forefront and need close consideration.
Looking at the whole canvas dispassionately, the only other Ministry that should be as important as the Finance Ministry is the one dealing with Environment. This ministry has to keep the environment in a healthy condition so that we have healthy and sustained economic growth.
At present, the real work of the Ministry of Environment is becoming synonymous with forestry, which is not its sole responsibility. This ministry has to keep track of the environment in all ministries of the government. It is basically a “watchdog” ministry and must have its finger everywhere. Also the Ministry of Environment, like Finance, must take a long-range view of the environmental component of all activities. The ministry has to mitigate the past ecological damage, take decisions about the present forms of development and to peep deeply into the future and bring out scenarios of the shape of things to come. It has also to formulate restorative and preventive strategies. To do this, the ministry must have the best expertise available in the country.
In fact, as proposed by the Planning Commission in 1988, there is needed a Committee on Sustainable Development where economic, social and environmental aspects will be dovetailed into workable strategies. Such a Committee must cut across disciplines, party affiliations and geographic barriers.
There is a need for a transition for nations from fighting environmental problems alone to fighting these collectively on a subregional regional basis. This approach has become necessary because of the inherent regional/global character of environmental problems. A country or even a person may look after the environment individually, but if the neighbouring country or neighbours do not look after the environment, all efforts of the former are brought to nought. Following= such a rational and taking a specific example, one would think of South Asian Region as an ecological entity. This ‘talon is bounded in the north by the might? The Himalayas, and in the south by the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. It is a contiguous region and includes countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan. India is Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. There is a considerable commonality in the social, economic and environmental problems of the countries. The solutions will need a common approach. While the Himalayas have given the region its own distinctive climate, the mountain system is sick. The region as a whole suffers from mass poverty. The sick Himalayas lead to sick alluvial Indo-Gangetic Plains, which are not only the breadbasket of the region but has the potential to feed countries outside the region. In turn, sick plains mean land degradation with it’s attendant downstream social, economic and environmental effects.
About 70 per cent population in India is rural and lives in over 576,900 villages spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Sustainable development, including environmental conservation, can be ensured only with the involvement of the people at the grassroots level. For successful implementation, a change in the pattern of governance is necessary. It envisages a decentralised bottom-upwards approach for goal-setting, planning, accountability and sharing of benefits.
Two portfolios of strategies are needed. First Preventive Strategies by which people and the government have to make a firm resolve that there shall not be an addition to the present levels of pollution and eco-degradation. In this case, the environmental impact assessment has to be a statutory obligation. Secondly, Restorative Strategies are needed where the backlog of environmental drag created on account of the past damage due to unsustainable development must be corrected. Here major projects like the Ganga Action Plan and the Wasteland Development are included.
There is also needed environmental ethics because the environment has gone beyond wildlife, pollution and man-made ugliness; it now extends to the very mind and spirit of the human being. It touches on the question of need’ versus greed, comfort versus luxury. What is enough for a human being to fulfil his needs and to live in comfort is the basic question. There has to be a voluntary curb on the part of everyone to restrict his wants only to what is essential for human well being. The rich nations and richer sections in a country need non-material growth, but poor nations and their poorer sections are entitled to the material I growth. Ethics has come in a major way in resource use like water, energy, food, goods and services. If we change as individuals, then society and even governments can change. After all, a society or a government is only an extension of the individual. Here comes in the Dharana of Ecology. In the words of E.F. Schumacher, there has to he “maximum of well being with the minimum of consumption”.
Another aspect of needing active consideration is decision-making in the environment. For efficient and realistic decision-making, a major component is training. Since the environment has tremendous ramifications and involves all compartments of governments and non-government activity, a well-conceived Institute of Environmental Training and Management is needed. The training has to be holistic and we must prepare a cadre of Environmental Advisers, like the Financial Advisers. A beginning has to be made in this direction. The country can take a major initiative in this direction. The underlying purpose is to help in proper decision-making which should be scientifically and technologically accurate environmentally sound, economically viable, socially relevant and politically acceptable because in the ultimate analysis all decisions are political.
The country needs an Environmental Policy. Such a policy should have mass support like the policy of Non-alignment which became a part of the Indian ethos, no matter what shape or form of government ruled the country. Similarly, the environment being essentially a question of the very survival of the human race, the policy on the environment has to be above politics but must grow out of the people’s involvement and their aspirations. It should be on the agenda of all political parties.
Environmental policy and planning, while being globally sensitive, must be based on local needs. The country should not mimic the West. The relevance of the policy should be critically examined in relation to the relevance to our country and priorities in our scheme of things. We do not need western oriented greens, but we need greens which have local roots and have precise knowledge of what is relevant to us in our unusually large number of villages. For example, the over-emphasis given to the problem of global warming needs to be examined very critically rather than following the West blindly. We need scientists and technologists who in their mind and body are moored in the region and have the ability to translate relevant western thought to the good and benefit of this region.
Finally, if sustainable development has to move from mere wishful thinking and slogan-mongering into a reality, the world (developed and developing) as a whole has to move towards a New World Order in which new economic and technological orders are dovetailed. Such an order has to be aimed at benefiting the poor because, in the chain of sustainable development, the weakest links are poverty and inequity. This would need a tremendous amount of innovation and ingenuity.