Stepping back from an ecological abyss

Stepping back from an ecological abyss

For Mains

What are the causes of concern for environment in India

  • 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”.
  • According to the Indian Space Research Organisation, land degradation and desertification are taking place over 30% of Indian land. Average levels of land productivity are one-fourth or one-fifth of what they could be and the overuse of fertilisers are causing long term side effects in place of short-term gains.
  • The World Bank reported in 2013 that India was losing 5.7% of GDP due to environmental damage.

What is the cause of these issues

  • The obsession with economic growth at the cost of environmental damage and degradation. For instance, the 2022-23 Budget has an allocation for highways that alone is 40 times greater than the Budget of the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • The economic ‘reforms’ beginning in 1991 resulted in greater integration into the global economy, the entry of multinational (and big Indian) 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.
  • Development projects crept into previously safe areas including wildlife protected areas and Adivasi territories, the oceans have also become a target for major commercial extraction. Over 60 million people have been physically displaced by ‘development’ projects in the last few decades with very poor (if any) rehabilitation.

What can be done

  • Ensuring ecological sustainability while generating livelihood security and dignity for more than a billion people can be done through initiatives like the Vikalp Sangam process. One must remember that India’s crafts have sustained several hundred million people in the past, and can do so again if the incredible traditional and new skills in textiles, footwear, cleaning agents, vessels, pottery, furniture, architecture and construction, water-related technologies, and a range of household items are given priority.
  • Community-led ecotourism, such as homestays in Uttarakhand and Ladakh and Sikkim, has shown successes in combining increased earnings with ecologically sensitive visitation.
  • Giving direct decision-making powers to gram sabhas and urban area sabhas can create policies which entail respect for both human rights and the rights of nature.