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$5 trillion 'plan' to increase India's land, air, water pollution, solid, liquid, gaseous wastes

Counterview Desk
Well-known power policy analyst Shankar Sharma, based in Vijayanagar Sagara, Karnataka, in a representation to Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das has taken strong objection to the latter’s recent statements (click HERE and HERE), where he wants to pursue a higher rate of growth as the “highest priority.”
Sharma says, “By the word 'growth', I assume it as the growth of GDP and in particular a high GDP growth rate”, adding, if that assumption is correct, any "larger push" without taking into account the environmental factor has major implications for the country’s future.

Text:

It is shocking that economists and high profile individuals seem to be pitching in for a very high GDP growth rate year after year, when we objectively consider the fact that India is already one of the large size economies. In the past it was Raghurama Rajan, C Rangarajan, chief economic advisors (CEAs), prime ministers (PMs) and finance ministers before your recent statement.
Recently there has also been a talk about making India a $5 trillion economy by 2024. It is embarrassing for me to state that it is both unfortunate and against the long term interest of our society that such targets for a large size economy and high GDP growth rate are being pursued by the concerned authorities without adequately considering the overall impact on our communities (especially the poor and vulnerable communities) because of the invariably associated problems of pollution/contamination of air, water and soil which are only inevitable because of frenetic economic activities needed to achieve such targets .
In this context it is worthy of drawing your attention to what is stated on the topic by some of the credible reports:
A. The draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019 by MoEF&CC says:
"Driven by rapid economic and population growth, the demand for natural resources, especially materials have grown manifold over the last few decades. In the endeavor for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity. Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established.
“Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns.”
It goes on to say:
"India, as one of the fastest growing economies with GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tonnes in 1970 to 7 billion tonnes in 2015, however this economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on natural environment.  The material consumption is projected to more than double by 2030, in order to provide for increasing population, rapid urbanization and growing aspirations.
“The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environment degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and the quality of life.Further, material use is also closely associated with the problem of increasing wastes, which when suitably processed could deliver valuable secondary resources.”

On the current status, the draft lists many concerns:
“High import dependency of many critical raw materials; 30% of land undergoing degradation: Highest water withdrawal globally for agriculture; 3rd highest CO2 emitter, responsible for 6.9% of global CO2 emissions; Much lower recycling rate at 20-25% vis-à-vis of as high as 70% in developed countries (Europe); Low material productivity compared to global average; 3 rd largest material demand (year 2010); Resource extraction of 1,580 tonnes/acre is much higher than the world average of 450 tonnes/acre .”
B. A World Bank report of June 5, 2013 has highlighted how the environment has suffered in India consequent to the past decade of rapid economic growth. The report with the title “Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: What Are the Trade-offs?”, has many revelations of critical importance to the future of our communities.
Among other things, it says: although the past decade of rapid economic growth has brought many benefits to India, the environment has suffered, exposing the population to serious air and water pollution. The report finds that environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 5.7% of its economy.
A subsequent joint study by the World Bank and University of Washington released in 2016 has estimated that in 2013 the environmental degradation costs to India, including welfare costs and lost labour income due to air pollution, was of about 8.5 % of its economy.
These World Bank estimates may indicate that the net growth in our economy is probably negative when we take the environmental degradation and health costs into objective consideration.
In this context, how advisable is it to plan to double the size of our economy in the next 5 years, as the target of $5 trillion economy by 2014 should mean? The serious concerns to our communities will be multifarious from such a scenario.
The doubling of the economy in five years shall mean a CAGR of more than 10% for 5 years. Such a sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to:
  • setting up of more factories/manufacturing facilities; 
  • consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; 
  • increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, sand, minerals, timber etc.; 
  • acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural/forest lands; 
  • huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; 
  • clamor for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. 
Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests and soils to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.
If such a frenetic pace of growth in the economy leads to environmental degradation costs of more than 8.5% of GDP, and to the premature death of few million people (estimated to be about 1.2 million in 2017 ), how can the society be seen as the real beneficiary of such an economic policy?
And who will be the real beneficiaries of such an apparently unsustainable economic policy?
The advocates of such a high GDP growth rate paradigm claim that it is necessary to alleviate poverty in the country, which basically means creation of more jobs. If our natural resource base (forests, rivers, agricultural lands, minerals etc.) gets accelerated degradation, the employment opportunities in various sectors will have to come down sooner than later.
In this context, it is pertinent to know what Tamil Nadu State Action Plan on Climate Change (TNSAPCC) has said. It says: “Global development experience reveals that one percent growth in agriculture (and associated activities?) is at least two or three times more effective in reducing poverty than the type of same growth emanating from non-agricultural sector.”
The critical consideration in formulating our country’s economic policy should be the enormous impacts on our communities from the fast looming threats of climate change, for which India is projected to be a major victim.
World Bank indicates, net growth in our economy is probably negative when we take environmental degradation, health costs into objective consideration
Keeping in view the dire need to contain the total GHG emissions and the vastly increasing pollution loading, the relevance of a high GDP growth rate paradigm for the country needs to be effectively discussed at the societal level from the perspective of true welfare of every section of our society.
Are we rational enough to take a diligent view of all these and other associated issues in our development pathway as a truly welfare society?
Shall we not focus on those economic activities which will not lead to further diversion of forest/agricultural lands, which will not demand much of water and energy, which will not lead to pollution of land, air and water, and which will lead to sustainable harnessing of our natural resources?
Such activities may include sustainable agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry, forestry, health and educational services, IT&BT, eco & health tourism etc.
Can we hope that the tall claims by the government on the issue of Climate Change and on the much advertised campaign ‘sub ka saath, sub ka vikaas, sub ka vishwas’ will be matched by an effective action plan to minimize the pollution and contamination issues for our communities, by moving away from the high GDP growth rate paradigm urgently?
Can the people of this country expect satisfactory clarifications to all the issues raised herein at the earliest? 
 Without such clarifications people will continue to believe that the associated government policies are basically meant to benefit a tiny section of the society, who are wealthy and influential individuals and corporate entities, while exposing all other sections of our society to multiple disasters both in short term and long term.
A discussion paper (click HERE to read), highlighting various issue of concern to the common man in this regard, is attached for your perusal.
Since my communications in this context to different authorities such as CEA, finance minister, Niti Aayog, PMO etc. have not evoked any response, can I hope that the much needed clarifications will come from your office?
---
*Contacts: shankar.sharma2005@gmail.com, shankar.sharma2005@hotmail.com

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