Environment

World Environment Day 2024: India needs new imagination in design of its development schemes, says Sunita Narain

Ground-level governance institutions must be strengthened, in addition to allowing increased feedback and accountability

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 05 June 2024

India, which elected a new Lower House of Parliament on June 4, needs a new imagination in the design of development schemes, Director-General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) as well as Editor of Down To Earth magazine, Sunita Narain stated on the occasion of World Environment Day 2024.

“It is that day of the year, once again. June 5 is here, a day when all of us renew our pledge to protect the environment. But this year, the day has come with more meaning for us in India. A new government is preparing to take charge in the country, and we believe it is a time to recommit to an agenda of development — one which is inclusive and affordable and hence, sustainable for all. And June 5 is the appropriate date to make that commitment once again,” Narain said in a new podcast and video released by CSE to mark the day.

She observed that while the outgoing government had schemes in place and budgets allocated for a host of issues including energy, sanitation, health and education, India is a vast country with a massive deficit of governance.

“The last mile for any government scheme is about making sure that it reaches people every time. This is now combined with the impact of climate change where every day, some or the other part of the country is being battered by at least one extreme weather event,” said Narain.

This has huge implications for development programmes—unseasonal and extreme weather lead to more droughts, floods and loss of livelihoods, putting additional strain on the resources of the government.

That is why any future agenda must recognise that the imperative of development is about scale, speed and imagination, which takes into account the need to do development differently, the eminent environmentalist added.

She then spelt out her vision on a host of issues that the incoming government should prioritise immediately.

In order to achieve ‘clean water for all’, India must rethink the way cities draw water from longer and longer distances. This causes water loss and is unaffordable.

The need of the hour is to recycle every drop of wastewater so that the country’s rivers are not destroyed. “This in turn means redesigning our sewage systems so that they are affordable and sustainable,” said Narain.

Much more also needs to be done on achieving clean air, she noted. The agenda of clean energy should be scaled up.

This is to be done by reducing pollution because of coal-based power plants; shifting to cleaner sources of fuel, including natural gas; and reducing the bulge of motorisation in Indian cities.

A scaling up of public transport is needed in order to integrate the right to walk and the right to cycle with the right to take a bus or metro. “It is an idea that requires reimagining cities so that people can move, not vehicles,” said Narain.

For clean energy, the incoming government should adopt a new approach which will provide clean energy to the poorest through a variety of options, including solar energy-based mini-grids and targeted subsidies.

“This is why we need to scale up our clean energy portfolio, not just in terms of investment in infrastructure but also generation. We know that renewable energy still supplies 9-11 per cent of the total electricity requirements in the country. This needs to be scaled up and quickly,” she stated.   

Narain also outlined a blueprint for the new government regarding food and nutrition. India needed investments in food that was nutritious, did not come at the cost of land and water degradation, and did not add to toxins in the soil or our bodies.

“But most importantly, food that will put money in the hands of farmers. This is where the agenda of investment in local water systems to local industry will be crucial,” she highlighted.

In order to achieve all this, the country urgently needs two next-generation reforms, according to Narain. One is to strengthen ground-level institutions, where local people take part. Institutions of governance need to be strengthened as most conventional institutions have been deliberately, or by sheer neglect, allowed to decay in the recent past.

She also pointed out that governance will need increased feedback and accountability. This, in turn, will need tolerance for voices that differ.

“It is important to understand that alternative information is not dissent or targeted criticism. The more we learn about what is working and what is not, the more governance improves,” noted Narain.

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