ENVIRONMENTAL governance in India has significantly improved under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with focus on objectivity, transparency, ease and speed of doing responsible business while ensuring development without destruction. The result of good governance speaks for itself.
Environment does not mean the same thing to everybody. There is a spectrum of positions and views on environment, but many find it hard to describe all that the environment encompasses. To me personally, environment means the air we breathe in; the water we drink; the rivers and the forests and the countless life forms which inhabit the land and the water and the air of the world. It also means cultures and customs, the very diversity of life, including humanity, and so on and so forth. The description is nearly endless, making the canvas of environment very broad.
India, with only 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area, 4 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources, using 6 per cent of world’s primary energy, is supporting around 18 per cent of the global human population and one of the largest cattle populations in the world. India is a mega diverse country, both culturally and biologically. We have four global biodiversity hotspots, 7-8 per cent of all recorded species, the world’s largest tiger and Asiatic elephant populations, ten bio-geographic and 15 agro-climatic zones, 37 UNESCO world heritage sites and 22 official languages with several local dialects.
India’s rising economy and young demography bubbling with energy, exuding confidence and teaming together for innovations, offers many bright, creative and fascinating opportunities for the 21st century in the world where stagnation of economies and ideas are prevalent. It is this budding young critical mass which offers hope not only for India but also for the world. Through them, India seeks to promote multi- faceted cooperation among the countries of the world for sustainable development. With this backdrop, India is aspiring to overcome poverty, conserve the environment and continue pursuing sustainable lifestyles based on lessons gleaned from our long and illustrious history and vibrant culture.
India has a long history and tradition of harmonious co-existence between man and nature. Respect for nature is an integral part of our value system. We represent a culture that calls our planet Mother Earth. India in many ways represents one of the few ancient civilizations and cultures that have unbroken yet dynamic traditions. Nature has taught us to understand how natural systems which are cyclical have sustained over the ages. The people of India developed lifestyles that matched the local conditions. Types of houses, food habits, clothing, livelihoods, forms of medicine all matched the climate of the region. The ascetic influence on our culture encourages an attitude of frugality as opposed to profligacy. It is important to note that it is not poverty; rather it is culture that makes people consume only as much as they want to eat or switch off lights when they go out. This is the very foundation of sustainable development, around which 17 Sustainable Development Goals have been designed. This cardinal principle also defines the broad contours of our national developmental framework.
Since the 1760s, as industries started flourishing and rumbling, and becoming the engines of development, forests were recklessly cut to meet the insatiable timber appetite, and the earth’s mineral and metal resources were tapped to their tipping point to keep the industrial revolution going and sustain the profligate lifestyles of rich nations. This form of development model is now outdated and out-fashioned. Today, nations have a choice to take a cleaner, greener and safer path of development without harming the Mother Earth. In fact, countries should endeavour to enhance their natural resources while growing sustainably. This is what India is striving to achieve.
INDIA speaks from a position of strength and experience when it comes to addressing global challenges, be it ozone layer depletion, biodiversity loss, land degradation, single-use plastics, use of hazardous chemicals, migratory feathered friends and marine species, environmental impact assessment and climate change. Now that developing nations want to liberate their population from the shackles of poverty, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy and wake up to the developmental challenges, India’s journey is a model which provides a good reference point to the world demonstrating that leapfrogging to a cleaner and greener future is possible.
India has done path-breaking groundwork in all fields which embody measures to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Sun and other renewable sources of energy have the potential of meeting our growing energy demands with low or no carbon emissions. India has shown and invested in the unlimited potential of harnessing solar energy between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn by setting up International Solar Alliance, an international treaty which became operational on December 6, 2017. Domestically, we are implementing one of the world’s largest renewable installed energy programme. In the last four years, our solar power capacity has grown by nearly eight times, with all renewable sources constituting more than 21 per cent of the country’s installed power generation capacity and over 10 per cent in the electricity mix.
The agricultural sector is vital to India’s economy and food and nutritional security. Over half of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture and allied activities while contributing around 15 per cent of the Gross Value Added (in 2017-18).
THE poor marginal farmers in developing countries cannot be burdened with mitigation policies and measures. Industrial agriculture is not prevalent in India. Our emissions in this sector are survival and not luxury emissions. The burden of mitigation has to be borne by developed countries who have the necessary financial and technical wherewithal, and who had through the Convention promised the world at Rio, Kyoto and Paris to combat climate change. The world can tackle the challenge of climate change, provided the developed countries deliver on their promises. In the agriculture sector, India’s focus is on adapting to the increasing climate variability for which a number of initiatives are being implemented including climate proofing of villages; distribution of soil health cards; manufacturing of neem-coated urea; promotion of high density plantation material and micro- irrigation; integrated cropping practices; online trading platform; crop insurance schemes etc. The mass scale implementation of these measures will make a difference in addressing the problem of climate change which requires enhanced and sustained financial support.
The waste sector accounts for only 3 per cent of the country’s GHG emissions. The country is taking ameliorative measures to handle all types of waste including, solid municipal, industrial, hazardous, biomedical, plastic, construction and demolition and e-waste. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a nation-wide cleanliness campaign has become a people’s movement. These measures are not only reducing our carbon footprint but also improving the overall health and well-being of 1.21 billion Indians.
POLLUTION is a matter of concern in cities and towns and is caused due to the introduction of contaminants into the environment viz. air, water and soil that may cause an adverse change in ambient conditions. India has taken a series of steps to address issues related to water pollution, air and vehicular pollution, industrial pollution, etc., in cities, towns and metropolises. It is done through the establishment of continuous ambient air quality monitoring system in 33 cities, and a manual system of monitoring air quality covering 300 cities. We also have in place a robust roadmap for mitigation of air pollution laid down with directions to all State Pollution Control Boards. For abatement of pollution in the Ganga river, online monitoring is established, to check discharge of industrial effluents. The country has also achieved significant progress in reducing pollution from industries like paper and pulp, sugar and distilleries in the Ganga basin.
Climate change adds to our already growing developmental pressures. Climate change has impacted the distribution, growth and timing of seasonal activities of many plant species while posing threats to mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and salt marshes. Degradation of biodiversity impacts ecosystem services, which directly and adversely affects local livelihoods as well as the national economy and security. However, India is committed to resolute action against climate change as a global champion. Climate change is a global action problem and has to be addressed through positive concerted actions on the ground by all countries working together based on their respective capabilities. India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are a rare combination of our traditional values and present-day aspirations. They are robust, practical and doable actions to promote low carbon growth.
Against the given backdrop and despite all-round outstanding success achieved during the last four years, there is a widespread feeling among the public at large of the missing connect with nature. It seems like society lacks awareness and does not generally translate learning into action. Learning by doing is found to be lacking among school and college students despite multiplicity of seminars, workshops, conferences and computer studies. Everyone talks about the environment, but no one does anything about it. We need to be find ways to combat the erosion of nature’s intrinsic potency and qualities to heal herself with the clear understanding that nature protects only if she is protected. We need to remember that in this age of plastics, computers, missiles and human society’s ambition to colonise the Moon and Mars; we still depend on green plants for oxygen and food. Therefore, there is a pressing need for reviving, in a common man, a sense of belonging towards and connect with nature.
INDIA’S over 5000-year-old culture enjoins us to look at the whole world and all that it sustains—living and non-living—as a family, co-existing in a symbiotic manner. Following this path, India is maintaining a ‘Samanvay’ between its rich traditional heritage and modernity while ensuring no negative impact on the environment. India is committed to the conservation of nature while meeting the basic as well as aspirational developmental needs of its population.
(The writer is Secretary, MoEFCC, Government of India) Courtesy: The Journal of Governance, Special Issue on Environment, IC Centre for Governance
-Governance / Environment / by CK Mishra