Twenty-five years later

The in­au­gu­ral is­sue of DownToEarth (May 31, 1992) co­in­cided with In­dia open­ing up its econ­omy. We car­ried a de­bate on how eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion would im­pact the coun­try's en­vi­ron­ment. Par­tic­i­pants in that de­bate voiced the fear that lib­er­al­i­sa­tion could

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - ANIL MAD­HAV DAVE Union min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment, For­est and Cli­mate Change

Has eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion im­pacted In­dia's en­vi­ron­ment?

The wrath of wrong reme­dies

LIB­ER­AL­I­SA­TION DOES not mean get­ting free­dom from some­thing. It means fewer laws, less gov­er­nance, and more free­dom to do busi­ness. I feel it is un­nec­es­sary to pit en­vi­ron­ment against de­vel­op­ment. It is not like that. Time will come when peo­ple will re­alise that en­vi­ron­ment and de­vel­op­ment go hand in hand. The peo­ple who are strug­gling to un­der­stand this con­cept are do­ing so be­cause the fruits of de­vel­op­ment have not reached them.

Sim­ply put, lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is noth­ing but cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment to ease the process of do­ing busi­ness. We be­lieve in su-vikas or de­vel­op­ment for all. And the right to de­vel­op­ment and good gov­er­nance go hand in hand. It is un­for­tu­nate that some peo­ple have painted the im­age that en­vi­ron­ment and de­vel­op­ment go against each other. Such peo­ple are work­ing in non-prof­its that are for­eign funded. They are ham­per­ing cru­cial de­vel­op­ment by protest­ing against is­sues, such as in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, in bor­der ar­eas. They are do­ing this to slow down the de­vel­op­ment process. They still think that the coun­try should carry its tanks and weapons on don­keys. But such peo­ple are few.

I be­lieve their de­mands are gen­uine. They are strug­gling be­cause of wrong plan­ning and poli­cies. There is al­ways a smooth way out if one sticks to rules.

What­ever con­flicts have emerged in the past 25 years are due to wrong reme­dies. We need proper doc­tors to treat anom­alies. We be­lieve the fruits of de­vel­op­ment should ben­e­fit ev­ery­one. If it is not, then we call it ku-vikas or bad de­vel­op­ment. So we should work for su-vikas, which al­ways runs par­al­lel to the en­vi­ron­ment.

I be­lieve the con­cept of en­vi­ron­ment cre­ates a bal­anced ap­proach be­tween hu­man be­ings, na­ture and de­vel­op­ment.

A need to bal­ance in­ter­ests

ECO­NOMIC LIB­ER­AL­I­SA­TION is about re­lax­ing excessive reg­u­la­tions on eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, and this has been go­ing on in In­dia since the mid-1980s. But excessive reg­u­la­tions con­sti­tute only one of the many con­straints on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment; the other con­straints in­clude phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and skills, var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tional prac­tices and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Some peo­ple in the busi­ness sec­tor con­sider en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions as excessive for in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment in In­dia. I do not nec­es­sar­ily agree with them. It varies from case to case. In some cases, en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions are un­nec­es­sar­ily cum­ber­some and time con­sum­ing, but in many oth­ers, we have too few reg­u­la­tions (for ex­am­ple, those re­lat­ing to air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion, traf­fic con­ges­tion, de­for­esta­tion, ir­ri­ga­tion and wa­ter con­serva- tion), and even those that ex­ist are badly en­forced.

We have a long his­tory of ig­nor­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences al­to­gether in many decades of de­vel­op­ment, and many reg­u­la­tions are of re­cent ori­gin. One should keep in mind that there are ex­em­plary mid­dle-in­come devel­op­ing coun­tries where en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment are pro­ceed­ing smoothly to­gether. Costa Rica, for ex­am­ple, is a coun­try that has the best en­vi­ron­men­tal record in the whole of Amer­ica, north and south taken to­gether.

It also de­pends on the idea of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment one has in mind. Those who are pre­oc­cu­pied with max­imis­ing the rate of eco­nomic growth of gdp (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct) of­ten con­sider en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions as mere en­cum­brances. But a wider con­cept of de­vel­op­ment in­cludes bet­ter qual­ity of life that an un­de­graded en­vi­ron­ment al­lows and when dis­place­ments of poor peo­ple whose daily liveli­hoods de­pend on the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources are kept at a min­i­mum. If one fol­lows this wider con­cept of de­vel­op­ment, tak­ing care of en­vi­ron­ment be­comes part of the de­vel­op­ment process.

Even in ar­eas where there are trade-offs be­tween de­vel­op­men­tal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions what is most in need is a sense of bal­ance. Many of the con­tro­ver­sial is­sues of the day in­volve com­plex trade-offs and bal­anc­ing of di­verse in­ter­ests, which nei­ther the cor­po­rate lob­bies nor the non-prof­its pay enough at­ten­tion to.

Even those who speak in the name of the poor usu­ally un­der­stress the di­ver­sity among the poor—a dam may ben­e­fit thou­sands of small farm­ers in hith­erto dry land, while dis­plac­ing thou­sands of oth­ers, just like a de­vel­op­ment project may dis­place some from their an­ces­tral land, but pro­vide jobs and more pro­duc­tive liveli­hood to oth­ers.

It is pos­si­ble that af­ter care­ful bal­anc­ing of the gains and losses (both eco­nomic and so­cial) one may still con­clude that the dam should not be con­structed or the de­vel­op­ment project should not be un­der­taken. But this should be the out­come of a trans­par­ent de­lib­er­a­tive process where di­verse in­ter­ests and stake­hold­ers are rep­re­sented.

A de­vel­op­men­tal code is needed

POL­ICY CHANGES in eco­nomic man­age­ment usu­ally have reper­cus­sions in the ar­eas of ecol­ogy, so­cial and gen­der eq­uity. Look­ing back, the past 25 years of glob­al­i­sa­tion and lib­er­al­i­sa­tion have had both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive im­pacts. Avoid­able con­trols have been re­moved, but there has also been lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in han­dling our ecosys­tems, which has nearly en­dan­gered the liveli­hood se­cu­rity of the peo­ple de­pen­dent on nat­u­ral re­sources.

The chal­lenge ahead lies in har­mon­is­ing eco­nomic progress with progress in hu­man wel­fare, par­tic­u­larly with ref­er­ence to the un­der­priv­i­leged sec­tions of so­ci­ety. There should be a de­vel­op­ment code which gives over­rid­ing pri­or­ity to both safe­guard­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sets and pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. The United Na­tions Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals pro­vide guide­lines for achiev­ing a bal­ance be­tween eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity. One of the goals where our coun­try should pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion is Goal 2 (End­ing hunger, achiev­ing food se­cu­rity and im­prov­ing nutri­tion and pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture). Ul­ti­mately, we can see progress only if the greed of the rich is curbed and the gen­uine needs of the poor are met.

PRANAB BARDHAN Econ­o­mist and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley

M S SWAMI­NATHAN Agri­cul­tural sci­en­tist

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