(Premium) Gist of Yojana: September 2013

Premium Gist of Yojana: September 2013



India’s Attempts at integrating environmental sustainability into economic planning have so far been piecemeal and hesitant. They have done little to stem the rapid slide into ecological devastation and consequent livelihood, cultural, and economic disruption. At the root of this lies the stubborn adherence to a model of economic growth that is fundamentally unsustainable and inequitable, even more so in its ‘globalised’ form in the last two decades.

The 12th Plan process could have been an opportunity to change course, especially given its explicit commitment to sustainability, inclusiveness and equity. Indeed there are some glimpses of a different approach, e.g. making economic activities more responsible in their use of resources and in the wastes they produce, promoting urban water harvesting and public transport, providing organic inputs to agriculture use, encouraging recycling, making tourism more environmentally responsible and communitybased, moving towards low-carbon strategies, and protecting the’ commons’ (lands and waters that are used by the public), giving communities more secure rights to use and manage these. Yet the Plan falls far short of significant reorientation, mostly staying within the confines of assuming that more growth will help achieve these goals. It does not use any available framework of ‘sustainable development’, including the targets that India agreed to at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesberg). It does not contain indicators to gauge whether India is moving towards sustainability, e.g.improvement in per capita availability of natural forests, reduction in the levels of various kinds of pollution, improved access to nutritious food and clean water, or enhanced availability of public
transport. Environmental considerations do not yet permeate each economic sector.

There is in fact a palpable lack of urgency with regard to the ecological crisis we are already in. Natural ecosystems are under stress and decline across most of the country; some 10% of the country’s wildlife is threatened with extinction; agricultural biodiversity has declined by over 90% in many regions; well over half the available water bodies are polluted beyond drinking and often beyond even agricultural use; two-thirds of the land is degraded to various levels of sub-optimal productivity; air pollution in several cities is amongst the world’s worst; ‘modem’ wastes including electronic and chemical are bring produced at rates far exceeding our capacity to recycle or manage.

Annual Economic Surveys of Government of India, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s annual State of Environment” reports occasionally acknowledge the widespread environmental damage; more is found in independent reports such as the State of India’s Environment reports by Centre for Science and Environment. A 2008 report by the Global Footprint Network and Confederation of Indian Industries suggests that India has the world’s third biggest ecological footprint, that its resource use is already twice of its bio-capacity, and that this bio-capacity itself has declined by half In the last few decades.

Economic globalisation since 1991 has significantly increased rates of diversion of natural ecosystems for ‘developmental’ purposes, and rates of resource exploitation for domestic use and exports. Climate change impacts are being felt in terms of erratic weather and coastal erosion, and the country has little in the way of climate preparedness especially for the poor who will be worst affected.

Projections based on the historic trend of materials and energy use in India also point to serious levels of domestic and global impact on the environment, if India continues it current development trajectory modeled on already industrialized countries.

One opening provided by the 2013 Economic Survey towards redressing the situation is the following paragraph: “From India’s point of view, Sustainable Development Goals need to bring together development and environment into a single set of targets. The fault line, as ever in global conferences, is the inappropriate’ balance between environment and development. .. we could also view the SDGs and the post 2015 agenda as an opportunity for revisiting and fine-tuning the MDG framework and sustainably regaining focus on developmental issues.”

Framed in 2000, the MDGs set ambitious targets for tackling poverty, hunger, thirst, illiteracy, women’s exploitation, child mortality, disease, and environmental destruction. They are supposed to have guided the developmental and welfare policies and programmes of governments. Countries are individually, and collectively through the United Nations, reviewing progress made in achieving the MDGs. Simultaneously discussions have been initiated towards new ‘development’ frameworks that could more effectively lead to human well-being while ensuring ecological sustainability. India too needs to engage in a full-scale review of its achievements (or failures), which can become an opportunity to work out a new framework for the post-201S process, best suited to Indian conditions. Here are some ideas on what such a framework could look like.

Elements of a New Global Framework

A fundamentally different framework of well-being has to be built on the tenets of ecological sustainability, as much as of equity. This is clearly pointed to in the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (‘Rio+20’) of 2012. A new set of global goals could include:

(1) Ensuring ecological conservation and resilience, and the basis of equitable access to nature and natural resources to all peoples and communities (respecting nature’s own rights) (an expansion of current MDG 7);

(2) Providing adequate and nutritious food for all, through production and distribution systems that are ecologically sustainable and equitable (currently part of MDG 1);

(3) Ensuring adequate and safe water for all, through harvesting and distribution systems that are ecologically sustainable and equitable (currently part of MDG 7);

(4) Safeguarding conditions for prevention of disease, and maintenance of good health, for all, in ways that are ecologically sustainable and equitable (currently partly in MDG 6)

(5) Providing equitable access to energy sources in ways that are ecologically sustainable (as much as technically and economically viable) (currently missing from the MDGs);

(6) Facilitating equitable access to learning and education for all, in ways that enhance ecological sensitivity and knowledge (as much as cultural, technical, technological, socio-economic, and other aspects) (an expansion of MDG 2);

(7) Ensuring secure, safe, sustainable, and equitable settlements for all, including adequate and appropriate shelter, sanitation, civic facilities, public transportation (currently partly in MDG 7, partly missing)

In all the above, the special needs of women and children will need to be secured, through rights-based and empowerment approaches (currently in MDGs 3,4,5).

Such a framework needs to be based on a set of universal principles, including:

  • The functional integrity and resilience of the ecological processes and biological diversity underlying all life on earth, respecting which entails a realization of the ecological limits of human activity, and enshrining the right of nature and all species to survive and thrive in the conditions in which they have evolved.

  • Equitable access of all people, in current and future generations, to the conditions needed for human well-being (sociocultural, economic, political, ecological, and in particular food, water, shelter, clothing, energy, healthy living, and sociocultural sustenance); equity between humans and other elements of nature; and social, economic, and environmental justice for all.

  • The right of each person and community to participate meaningfully In crucial decisions affecting her/his/its life, and to the conditions that provide the ability for such participation, as part of a radical, participatory democracy.

  • Linked to the above, governance based on subsidiarity and ecoregionalism, with local rural and urban communities (small enough for all members to take part in face-to-face decision-making) as the fundamental unit of governance, linked with each other at bioregional, ecoregional and cultural levels into landscape/seascape institutions that are answerable to these basic units.

  • The responsibility of each citizen and community to ensure meaningful decision-making that is based on the twin principles of ecological integrity and socio-economic equity.

  • Respect for the diversity of environments and ecologies, species and genes, cultures, ways of living, knowledge systems, values, economies and livelihoods, and polities, in so far as they are in consonance with the principles of sustainability and equity.

  • Collective and co-operative thinking and working founded on the socio-cultural, economic, and ecological commons, respecting both common custodianship and individual freedoms and innovations within such collectivities.

  • The ability of communities and humanity as a whole, to respond, adapt and sustain the resilience needed to maintain ecological sustainability and equity in the face of external and internal forces of change.

  • The inextricable inter-connectedness amongst various aspects of human civilisation, and therefore amongst any set of ‘development’ or ‘well-being’ goals: environmental, economic, social, cultural, and political.

A Framework for India

Following from the above, the following goals would comprise a new sustainability framework of planning for India: Macro-economic policy: The macroeconomic framework must be radically altered to put ecological sustainability, human well-being, and socioeconomic equity at the core. This would include development of macro-economic theories and concepts that put at their core the twin imperatives of ecological limits and socioeconomic equity. It would also entail reorienting financial measures such as taxation, subsidies, and other fiscal incentives/disincentives to support ecological sustainability and related human security and equity goals. A long-term national land and water use plan needs to be framed, based on decentralised and participatory processes. Also needed are human well-being indicators, through appropriate tools, to replace the current GDP and economic growth-related ones.