Wake-up time

The government of India finally includes environmental assessment in the national economic survey

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: rajat baran)the green lettering on the cover of the Union government's Economic Survey 1998-99 is perhaps an indication of its contents. For the first time, it has devoted a special chapter titled, "Promoting Sustainable Development: Challenges for Environment Policy," which discusses the current state of the environment and identifies policy issues for promoting sustainable development.

The idiom is green. It talks about under-priced commodities such as fertilisers leading to land degradation. It acknowledges that industrial and economic policies have imposed great pressure on natural resources. The policy solution: market-based incentives ( mbi s) for eco-friendly products, processes and technologies, instead of "command-and-control" management. Tax the polluter and create a market for green technology, suggests the survey.

The beginning of the chapter reads like the introduction to an environmental journal: "All economic activities either affect or are affected by natural and environmental resources." Activities such as processing, manufacture, consumption and disposal alter the stock of natural resources and, in turn, the welfare of citizens, the survey notes. It recognises the aim of sustainable development as maximising the net benefits of economic activities.

Having stated its objective, the survey defines three economic roles of environmental resources: waste disposal related to the environment's assimilative capacity; resource inputs into production; and life support services. The rest is clean market talk. The survey clubs environmental concerns under two heads: problems of scarcity and problems of plenty. The former includes shortage of drinking water and lack of sanitary facilitates, and the latter, pollution of all types. The survey recognises the economic loss due to land degradation. Out of the total area of 329 million hectares (ha), 175 million ha have been identified as degraded. It assesses the cumulative cost of urban air pollution, water pollution, land degradation and deforestation at us $ 10-13.8 billion a year, or 4.5-6 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to 1992 estimates. The 290-page book devotes 16 pages exclusively to sustainable development. It is a logbook of losses, peppered with a few jottings on recovery measures. It quotes the forest survey to show the poor record: 76.52 million ha -- about 23.3 per cent of the total land area -- is the total forest area on record. The actual forest cover is only 63.3 million ha, or 19.3 per cent of the total land area.

The survey notes with concern the rise in air pollution. High levels of suspended particulate matter ( spm ) is the most prevalent form of air pollution, it notes. To illustrate the problem of water pollution, the survey quotes an analysis of water quality over 12 years (1986-97) by the Central Pollution Control Board ( cpcb ). Gujarat tops the chemical pollution of water sources, followed by Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

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