The way ahead
In an environment marked by mass poverty, it is not easy to adopt high-cost technological options that have often been the hallmark of the Western effort to deal with environmental problems. But answers can and will be found. And they will lie, most of all, in:
- Good democracy: debate and discussion which engenders a search for appropriate technological and management solutions as the region moves towards higher rates of economic growth and social development; and,
- Good governance: channelises environmental concerns into development programmes; ensures the development of a strong civil society; and encourages people's empowerment in the management of natural resources.
India has rich democratic and entrepreneurial traditions and has thrown up numerous examples of communities struggling to improve their environment. Some of these have shown that dealing with "ecological poverty" is, in fact, the starting point of dealing with "economic poverty". There is, therefore, no dearth of opportunities that can and should be seized to get rid of poverty and illiteracy, and maintain a balance between want and waste. We not only have to learn how to be a good "Gandhian in poverty" but also a good "Gandhian in wealth".
The success in rural natural resource management shows that we should never see people as inimical to the environment. We must always try to find answers that reconcile people's interests with environmental conservation.
- Good science. Pollution control will require investments in scientific and technological research as also in wildlife research, toxicology and epidemiology. Further, several instances of forest diseases show that scientific back-up for good forest management is very poor. The government invested heavily in science for India's food security and for industrial development, but it is not putting as much into science for ecological security.
- Concern for equity. Exploitation of the have-nots in the name of environmental improvement must stop. All environmental scams and corrupt practices must be considered heinous crimes.
- Good values. The following values are essential to make India a more humane country in the 21st century: respect for nature; respect for cultural diversity; respect for the poor, their knowledge and their extraordinary ability to manage their affairs in the worst of adversity; respect for equity, including its social, cultural, economic and gender dimensions; and, respect for democracy and the right of participation.
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