(Image via Arriere pensee )
Finding the right balance between economic development and sustainability remains much like the search for the Truth: not many believe it exists, and those who do are light-years away from finding it.
There are those who believe in economic growth with no compromise. India has made tremendous progress in all sectors – technology, manufacturing, exports, et al– in the last few decades. It’s clear that we have to keep up this trajectory if we want to keep up with the frenemy next door (China. I mean China) or Europe or, of course, Amreeka. Increased incomes, improved livelihoods and a better standard of living all around: the promises of unfettered capitalist development sound sweet indeed.
And then there are people like us, who believe the economic growth without environmental sustainability will get us nowhere. We’re no doomsday prophets, but at the end of our current path, it’s hard to see anything but toxic levels of pollution, scarcity of natural resources, the Third World War over water… and either we turn this planet into a mass graveyard or we all migrate to Mars for a fresh start (and ruin that planet too).
We can’t afford to procrastinate on fixing issues till we become financially stronger. That is a dangerous stance to take. Obviously, the issue is quite complicated and there’s no magic wand that’ll put everything right with a wave, but the bottom line is that we cannot eat money. As our nation grows, and we work to bring millions of people out of poverty, we have to focus on socio-economic growth models.
India has to give far greater weightage to the environmental implications of all projects right from the incipient stages, instead of dealing with the impact as an after-thought.
Implement the laws. We’ve actually got a good set of them: our environmental laws are well-intentioned and quite comprehensive. But there is no strong entity that ensures that these laws are adhered to in both letter and spirit. Loopholes are one thing, but the casual ease with which ‘development’ corporates flout the law of the land without consequences is both staggering and sickening.
We have to learn from our mistakes- like Kerala, right now- and not repeat the patterns of ignorance, misinformation, and apathy that have informed our development policy making for the last 70 years. Let us first recognize and accept the environmental challenges at hand, and then focus our energies on clear-sighted problem solving instead of slapping a band-aid on it and calling it good.
Sustainable growth is the only way forward. Sorry, but there’s no other option. We have to include environmental issues as one of the most pressing fundamental problems today, because you know what? It is. High-paying jobs, low inflation, minimal unemployment and solving the Kashmir problem won’t mean a thing if our grandchildren end up breathing vaporised sulfuric acid.
So no, we can’t let environment take a backseat until we become ‘developed’. This short-sighted approach doesn’t just destroy us, but all our future generations. And the planet, with all the dogs. Unacceptable.
It’s not about ‘can development and environmental responsibility co-exist?’. The real question, which most governments are too afraid/indifferent to ask is ‘What are we willing to give up to ensure that they do?’