Growth, Where a Dead Tree Has More Value Than A Sapling, Cannot be Sustainable
The World Bank expects India to grow at 7.6% in 2016-17, followed by a modest acceleration to 7.7% in 2017-18.India is, undoubtedly, an emerging economic power in the global arena. It is necessary, rather imperative for India to fasten the process of industrialization to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamics of the global order. While many see the acceptance of the notion of sustainable growth as a deterrent to the process of development, one sees it as an opportunity, a blessing in disguise for India to build an alternative model of development, which shall have a base of the old, conventional methods but a superstructure of a holistic vision to the entire process.
There is no denying the fact that “development” and growth in many so-called and widely perceived developed nations has come at the expense of environmental exploitation. Also, one cannot deny that growth and in turn development can only come to the developing nations, the same very way. Why? Because, the notion of development and growth is faulty. It is commonly held that being rich is being developed; economic gains are seen as growth.
The big question is what needs to be developed: people, society or the economy? The sad part is the difference of opinion on this issue. On the one hand, human rights’ activists demand for certain “basic rights” to all human beings, and on the other extreme there are people in power who give more importance to national interests than individual interests. For one, development is a micro-process and happens at the grass root level and reaches to the top, and for the other development follows a top-to-bottom approach. There is the third category of economists who mainly see development through the narrow and technical prism of GDPs and GNPs. Amidst this notion of confused priorities, the ‘real development’ somewhat takes a back seat.
An idealist approach to ‘real development’ will mean a close, intimate and a two-way relationship between creatures (read: human beings) and the creator (read: nature). No doubt, there is a close, intimate relationship but it is only one-way. Nature has continuously, since time immemorial, been robbed.
The famous Brundtland report of 1987 sums it up very beautifully: “The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs, and attempts to defend it in isolation from human concerns have given the very word “environment” a connotation of naivety in some political circles. The word “development” has also been narrowed by some into a very limited focus, along the lines of “what poor nations should do to become richer,” and thus again is automatically dismissed by many in the international arena as being a concern of specialists, of those involved in questions of “development assistance.” But the “environment” is where we live; and “development” is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable.”
Now let us try to put things into perspective. In India, very rich people focus on raking up profit and neglect the sustainable use of resources. For poor, sustainable use of resources holds no relevance when they barely manage to survive on a daily basis; and for the not-so-rich, not-so-poor people, they believe it is not their prerogative and blame the government for all the wrongs.
This is a circle. Everyone raises concerns but no one wishes to actively participate for the cause. Therefore the biggest challenge is not about making suitable policies per se. But to persuade people to participate through robust mechanism of incentivisation. The need of the hour is collective responsibility, and not only bureaucratic frameworks; present damage control and not future damage compensation. We are the last generation which can effectively work towards ecological balance.
Creating a sense of collective responsibility is probably the most difficult aspect. People assume that their individual efforts will not be large enough to bring about a change, so they refrain from doing it. Media has a huge role to play in this. They need to push the agenda of ecological balance effectively on a timely basis. The government also needs to promote individuals and organizations working in the field of environment related research and ‘environment activists’ by speeding up licensing processes, and easing tax burdens. Such moves will not only create a favorable environment for work but also encourage others to join hands.
For growth, India needs energy, and more energy. Most of the coal reserves are in the dense forests of India. The policy makers have time and again justified the destruction of forests by an ill-perceived theory of “compensatory afforestation.” A bill of the same name is also pending in the Parliament. But the question which arises is: Can destruction of natural forests be compensated by “artificial regenerations”?
Sustainable growth in India can only be achieved when the three most important aspects are seen in the same light: economy, equity and ecology. In the popular public discourse, economic growth holds paramount importance. It is argued by the leaders that economic growth will lead to inclusive growth (read: equity), rendering all the weight behind an economic model of growth.
The most saddening part is the complete ignorance of ecology. India argues that it needs more energy for development and that it is the responsibility of the developed world to cut emissions, and reduce consumption. But can two wrongs make a right? Just because few countries followed a flawed model of development and accidently succeeded doesn’t mean others need to follow it as well. The present model of development is based on consumption, and more consumption. A dead tree has more value than a growing tree because it can be sold in the market!
Non-renewable resources like coal, oil and gases are not only limited in nature but also possess health hazards. Take the example of the small village of Jharia in Jharkhand: this village has huge coal reserves and is undoubtedly a very prized possession. But one kilometre inside the village and there is smoke everywhere due to underground coal fire. Almost all the villagers suffer from respiratory diseases and their average life span is way shorter than the country’s average. What does it show? It shows the high cost of development and growth; it shows the imbalance between rural and urban India where a large number of villages in the vicinity of forests are destroyed, and villagers are rendered homeless, just for the well-being (read: development) of a select few in big cities.
It has been a very long time since we are talking about unconventional sources like solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy etc. But are they feasible in today’s India? Barring select few places in cities where they are implemented and numerous number of books written on their potential, the truth is that these form of energies have not reached the masses( read: poor). The reasons are manifold, ranging from high costs to technical limitations and lesser efficiency (than the conventional sources).
Another important aspect is the rural-urban divide in technological uses. To understand this, let us take the case of the recently built Badarpur-Faridabad solar equipped metro corridor. All the new metro stations built are environment friendly. It is a welcome move by the government. But what about the numerous constructions in the nearby villages of Faridabad? They are still based on the old model and balances out the ‘eco-friendliness’ of the metro corridor. So, what we are left with is a net zero progress in that particular area vis-à-vis environment. This is the case almost everywhere in the country.
Therefore, it is important to set our priorities right. What kind of development do we wish for? Who all are paying the price for development? We need to introspect whether our development needs to depend upon economic growth only.
The present government with initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start up India’ is promoting industrial growth in the country. It is a welcome move that the government is focusing on manufacturing sector in the country. But, the government needs to monitor the functioning of upcoming start-ups closely, and lay a comprehensive guideline on their responsibilities towards ecological balance.
Our country is blessed with a large population of youth. With this demographic dividend in its armoury, India has every right to dream about growth and development. It is the responsibility of everyone to make this dream a reality. But, it is equally important to set the priorities straight. It is imperative to move from the mindset of short term ‘profits’ to long term ‘preservations’.
Sustainable growth is indeed possible notwithstanding the various challenges in India. It all boils down to those small and fundamental changes. Let us all try to be that change.