Context: 1970s and 1980s India saw the rise of environmentalist movements like Chipko, Silent Valley, Narmada, Koel-Karo. The government too responded with a series of forest, wildlife, environment- related laws, and policies. As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, we examine how this legacy is now being carried.
An earth under stress: key facts
- According to NITI Aayog, 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress with nearly 70% of water being contaminated; India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.
- Land degradation and desertification are taking place over 30% of our land, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation.
- The World Bank reported in 2013 that India was losing 5.7% of GDP due to environmental damage.
- The latest global environmental performance index (EPI) by Yale and Columbia Universities puts India at the bottom among 180 countries.
- With a score of 18.9, India’s 180th ranking comes after Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
- India has also scored low on rule of law, control of corruption and government effectiveness, according to EPI.
Indian government has rejected the methodology and findings of EPI based on following grounds:
- The ‘projected GHG emissions levels in 2050’ is computed based on the average rate of change in emission of the last 10 years instead of modelling that considers a longer period, the extent of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks, energy efficiency, etc. of respective countries.
- Forests and wetlands of the country are crucial carbon sinks but have not been factored in.
- The index computes the extent of ecosystems but not their condition or productivity.
- The weight of the indicators in which India performed well has been reduced and the reasons for such change have not been explained in the report.
Counter-arguments: India’s declining policy stand on environment:
Favouring corporate access
- Despite public posturing about the SDGs, the natural elements without which we would all be dead — land, water, biodiversity, air — continue to be ignored or mauled.
- In fact, the Government is dismantling many environmental and social security policies to favour corporate access to land and natural resources, such as the latest proposals to amend forest and environment laws and the Environment Impact Assessment notification.
The socio-cultural cost of environment degradation:
- After the LPG Reforms of 1991, the entry of multinational corporations into every sector, and increasing exports of natural materials and imports of toxic waste, the issue of environmental sustainability was relegated to the background.
- Mining projects crept into previously safe areas including wildlife protected areas and Adivasi territories.
- Extreme events:
- The extreme temperatures in India are responsible for 7,40,000 excess deaths annually.
- The majority of these are likely to be labourers, farmers, and other vulnerable sections who must work, live, and commute in these temperatures without access to air-conditioning, appropriate clothing, etc.
Enabling sustainability – Important case studies
Ensuring ecological sustainability while generating livelihood security and dignity – Vikalp Sangam
- Five thousand Dalit women farmers of the Deccan Development Society have demonstrated how organic, rainfed farming with traditional seed diversity can provide full food security and sovereignty.
Community-led ecotourism – such as homestays in Uttarakhand and Ladakh and Sikkim, has
combined increased earnings with ecologically sensitive visitation. Linking programmes such as the MGNREGA with such activities, as happening in some States, also has huge potential.
- This needs fundamental restructuring of economy and governance.
- Shift away from large infrastructure and industrialisation, replacing mega-corporations with producer cooperatives, ensuring community rights over the ‘commons’ (land, water, forest, coasts, knowledge), and direct decision-making powers to gram sabhas and urban area sabhas while tackling gender and caste inequities. It will entail respect for both human rights and the rights of nature.
Only with the respect for both human rights and the rights of nature, India finish its century of Independence as a nation that has achieved genuine well-being — a real ‘Amrit kaal’.
Source: The Hindu