Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sustainable Development in India

India marches onto the “Green/Sustainable development Bandwagon” with the words of Mr. Singh. Truth be told, we had started marching a long time back. As far back as 3000 years, when India had developed a unique irrigation system, which conserved and replenished surface and ground water. Back then as is today, everyone from the Sarpanch to the village idiot respected “Panchavati”; a name derived from the 5 essential medicinal trees in various forests in India.

Insatiable human wants

Before the Egyptians started using scented oils for “various” ceremonies, Indians used the juice extracted from the leaves of one of these trees (Bilwa tree) as it removed all foul odors from the body. The perfume industry probably contributes in a marginal way to global warming but the rationale for using perfumes is simple- It makes us feel good. A fast Google-search on how much energy and water it takes to make a wedding ring will make an environmentalist squeal.
This is not an attempt to prove that the perfume and jewelry industries are the bad-guys, but to unravel human psychology. In some cases, our “want” hasn’t transformed but the solution has- From the humble juice to sophisticated woody flavours. In other cases, a new “want” has been created in the form of an indispensable marriage memorabilia.

We have old wants and new ones, all being satisfied and created by brilliant innovators and marketers’ world over. Human wants are insatiable by today’s standards. If we satisfy all the wants of six billion people we will have a bigger problem at hand than we had bargained for. Most kids covet their friends’ toys. The same holds true for mature adults as well. Everyone will want a share of the “good life”.

Take away – Maybe it is time we make a difference at a personal level by moderating our wants and spreading the sustainable development message more strongly.

Home Advantage

Developing countries blame developed countries for global warming as they waste a lot of resources. I am sure Mr. Prime Minister will not face that issue in India because most Indians still have the “save today” mentality. Some Indians waste resources but that of course isn’t a “direct” expense for them. However, I am still talking about a minority who has access to these seemingly inexhaustible resources. India still has a considerable population that has to satisfy its basic needs on a day-to-day basis.

Take away – We are intuitively savers. This attitude will only aid the green movement as Governments can think of unique taxes for wasteful usage.

Policies aren't solutions

India is a heady mix of cultures and economies. Tackling global warming with generic policies is not a foolproof solution. For instance, a policy on having “Bharat-x” norms on every vehicle that is manufactured now onward, will prevent the upward-mobile population from polluting the air. However in cities, millions of these “Bharat-x” vehicles with engine specifications such as 0 to 100 in 9 seconds ply at an average speed of 20kmph. Did traffic management strike anyone apart from Mr. Rahul Dandekar?(The man behind the idea MESN) People in certain areas in UP still use Bharat minus hundred “Jugads”( unregistered indigenous vehicles). Policies cannot be made for each and every one of these situations and therein lies the limited reach of policies in making a difference.

Take away – Policies help to a limited extent. But it is very important to have the right policies implemented quickly. Testimony to policies not being ratified- The hybrid cars of the world have still not made headway in India due to 100% + duties on these cars.

Localized Solutions

What we need are micro solutions for a diverse India. This can be achieved by making people more accountable. There are officials in government organizations responsible for certain areas in every city and town in India. These officials have teams who monitor the area. The questions the PM should be asking are - Are these officials aware of sustainable development? Do they know what can be done in order to implement sustainable development? Can public transport be made fast and convenient? Is the waste management system of the area resourceful? And many more.

Take away – A city’s/town’s problems are many. However solutions can be best implemented by locals. The roadblock here is inadequate education and lapses in accountability.

Rural India Too

The questions above may not be relevant to a village with a population of 60 which relies on agriculture as their only means of survival. What may be relevant is how to sustain cultivated land without overusing fertilizers? The questions will differ as per geography, occupation, income and many other variables. When answered the government can make sure we make a collective difference to the environment in our country.

Take away – To achieve sustainable development in India in a meaningful way various pieces of the “green” puzzle have to come together. This can be achieved with adequate Government hand holding.

- Karthik

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