India's economic growth is shortsighted

Published: Thursday 15 February 2007

-- with the Indian economy growing at a breathtaking pace, the urban Indian consumer has never had it so good. There are more cars, more ipods, more mobile phones than what anybody could have imagined 15 years ago. Fuelled by rising advertising revenues, the media is focused only on phenomenal growth in consumption. It fails to see the underbelly of rapid industrialisation.

Which is why people seem unaware that every time there is an increase in fuel price, many fuel stations in Delhi record a drop in fuel purchase (see Fuel inefficient India heading towards energy crisis). The euphoria over rising growth discounts the price of economic growth. It helps take attention away from the fact that automobile manufacturers in India are not paying any attention to fuel efficiency. It is not that economic growth makes societies care less about the cost of that growth. Cars in the industrialised countries of Europe, for example, squeeze more out of every drop of fuel than their Indian counterparts.And yet the same carmakers refuse to drive efficiency in vehicles they sell in India.

This questions the idea of economic growth in India. For if economic growth has resulted from a change in India's politico-economic agenda in the early 1990s, the drive for greater efficiency will also have to come from government policy. This cannot be achieved through insipid advertisements put out by the Petroleum Conservation Research Association. The message ought to come from those who control the purse strings. Industry associations and chambers of commerce don't organise seminars and conferences on technological challenges and priorities in scientific research to attain greater efficiency--instead, they prefer to hold summits on sustainable development and management of natural resources, in which they hold little expertise.

They don't organise meetings to discuss disposal of the toxic byproducts of industrialisation, like discarded batteries. India today is dotted with sites where hazardous waste is carelessly dumped, as if it is compostable garbage. A woman died from the fumes of one such dump that caught fire in Ghaziabad (see Ghaziabad battles noxious fumes from burnt batteries). The criminals here are not just the regulators who haven't done their job. The industry associations and chambers of commerce that make empty claims of corporate social responsibility are also to blame.

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