PM Manmohan Singh with environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna
It seems as if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has transformed form a pro-market economist to an environmentalist. If anybody listened to him while he addressed the State environment ministers, he would believe so. The Prime Minister told the gathering that the time had come to make fundamental choices about our lifestyles in order to address the issue of ecological sustainability. He also talked about the 'multiple environmental crises in the country' and the 'challenge in arriving at a new equilibrium between man and nature'.
|It is difficult to believe that this speech was delivered by an economist obsessed with growth rate and market driven development. In the last six years we have not heard the PM speaking about "multiple ecological crises". The sudden change of mind at the highest level raises some pertinent questions. Or was it intended to pay lip service to please the environment lobby?
||In the last six years we have not heard the PM speaking about "multiple ecological crises". The sudden change of mind at the highest level raises some pertinent questions.
A deeper analysis of the timing and the tone of speech may help us to understand the PM's change of mind from being a staunch 'economist' to a supporter of ecological approach towards development.
The multiple environmental crises are not an overnight phenomenon in the country. The seeds for this crisis were sown in 1991, with the opening up of the Indian economy when the present PM was the finance minister. Following dictates of International Monetary Fund and World Bank, our political masters decided to follow the path of development that resulted in 'the change of lifestyles' disregarding the Indian values that respected the harmonious relationship between man and nature.
The craze of achieving double digit GDP growth led to decimation of our natural capital. The results of economic liberalisation are obvious, with our basic capital of land, water and air being polluted to an extent beyond repair. The government reports reveal that almost 95 per cent of our rivers are polluted and the water is not potable.
Trees being felled for development work
||Climate change might have been caused by the excessive consumptive lifestyle of the developed countries, but the blind copying of the western model of development has accelerated the climate related problems in our country too.
Similarly more than 60 per cent of the land is degraded, i.e. either poisoned or affected by soil erosion. The air in our cities is polluted to such an extent that the respiratory diseases have become common in urban areas. Thus, the path we have chosen has destroyed the basic capital of land, water, air and soil.
Agricultural crisis is unprecedented, with thousands of farmers committing suicides in various parts of the country. Corporate interests have taken control over our land and water, disempowering the farming community of their seeds and fertile soil. Unfortunately, to resolve this crisis in agriculture PM has been advocating more of the same chemical farming.
While lauding the knowledge of tribal communities in forest conservation, the prime minister called for incorporating those value systems to address the issue of environmental crisis. This rhetoric doesn't make sense if we look at the way tribal communities are denied access to their forests and uprooted from their natural habitat in the name of mining or large scale development projects. The appropriation of the community resources by corporate interests has reached its height under our leadership of Manmohan Singh.
Climate change might have been caused by the excessive consumptive lifestyle of the developed countries, but the blind copying of the western model of development has accelerated the climate related problems in our country too.
The government says in the Economic Survey 2008-09 that it is spending 2.6 per cent of the GDP to address the problems that has arisen out of the climate change. Thus the government has admitted to committing the mistake of ill planned industrial development that has resulted in negative impact on agriculture, water resources, health and sanitation, forests and the aquatic resources.
Having destroyed the natural capital, the PM is now talking about arriving at new equilibrium between man and nature. Instead of addressing the root causes that created the crisis, the government is keen on finding technological solutions to a basic problem. The government wants to use the climate change bogey to resolve this crisis.
The Prime Minister has said, "We need access from developed countries in the area of new environmental friendly technologies for enhancing of sustainable development policies."
Obviously, his speech is geared at addressing the forthcoming Copenhagen Convention on climate change. In his view, the destruction of natural capital is an opportunity for the economy. It can unleash a new era of green economics and green technology to help India 'maintain a high GDP growth rate'.
The irony is we belong to the civilization that has survived at least for the last 3,000 years and there exists an Indian way of life that since time immemorial has successfully addressed the issue of establishing the harmony between man and nature.
But having destroyed this harmony, we are waiting with a begging bowl to get green technologies from developed countries. This is bound to unleash technological imperialism in the name of green technologies.
Pandurang Hegde is an activist of Chipko-Appiko movement with three decades of grassroots' experience in the areas of environment and development.