NEED FOR ALTERNATIVE AGENDA AND PERSPECTIVES

It is striking that in the after so many years of India’s independent existence, there is no change in the political parties agendas. With growing levels of literacy even among the political class, competition has not improved quality. In fact, it has only deteriorated; deterioration to the abysmal levels. Manifestos lack the perspective to address various problems afflicting the society and the vision
to lead us into the coming Century. Last sixty years of experience has shown that in the name of economic progress and development we did cross some major milestones but in the process we have also depleted and degraded our resources, both natural and human. Even the gains achieved at the cost of our resources have been disproportionately shared among various sections of society. In general, the gains are oriented towards the industrial, trading and urban sections as well as the educated sections of the society, in that order, thereby disfavoring the lower sections of the population, and/or the people of the `inaccessible’ regions. The discussion now centres on the development `achieved’, who gained from such a development, what are the gains, and how those gains were achieved. The time has come to question the direction of development itself.

Modern development in the name of liberalization and automation accentuated the fissures in the society in the name of caste and religion. No doubt modern development had improved the GNP of the country, but this GNP has not only been at the cost of the natural resources. It has also emaciated the poor sections of the society. Today, poverty is on the rise both in urban and rural
areas. And worst, poor people are being robbed of their right to existence by alienating them from their resources in various forms: by industrial pollution, depletion and degradation and by laws. All in the name of development, modernization, liberalization and globalization.

Political parties preoccupied as they are in their internal bickering, one-upmanship and race to grab power have ignored these `fundamentals’ of the economy, irrespective of their professed ideological leanings: extreme right to extreme left. Instead the political parties and individuals in these elections are asking votes either in the name of caste, creed, religion, individual charisma
or in the name of development which is meaningless to larger sections of society today and tomorrow. The approach of almost all the political parties is sectarian in the sense that they are addressing only the divisible blocks among the community of citizens. Secondly they operate with a shortsighted outlook hence their policies and programmes are focused to achieve political mileage with immediate effect. Thirdly all these parties and individuals without exception are operating broadly in the same development perspective which is increasingly proving to be a failure for a third world country like ours. Fourthly all the political parties are endorsing the policy of globalization and liberalization to suit the big industrial classes and MNC’s without introspection into the genuine requirements of the country. Almost all the political parties are endorsing the need for investment of transnational capital, which brings together far-flung and heterogeneous areas and people (foreign) into an integrated, hierarchical division of labor. The consequences of this course could be the continuation of neo-colonial relations, technocratic management of a `materialistic’ economy, and a permanently unemployed underclass.

Finally none of these individuals seem to be promising an agenda with a vision to herald a more humane, more prosperous and more peaceful development, which can only be sustainable development. The factors of environmental degradation are necessarily the factors of modern development. Issues of environment intertwined with those of economic growth, equity and welfare, arise mostly out of the pattern of `development’ followed.

Advanced industrial development, in Europe and North America, brought to the fore problems of over consumption (of resources and goods), enormous amounts of garbage, acid rains, pollution, etc., with concomitant effects on living species’ survival and on environment. The world over,development resulted in disparities in terms of socio-economic conditions between rich and poor
countries. Besides degrading the environment through pollution and deforestation, present economic trends had benefited a privileged minority and had done little to meet the basic needs of the vast majority.

The cost of progress achieved so far, in terms natural resources had been very adverse. We have either depleted or deteriorated every possible natural resource, which is within our reach. The air, water, and land along with its flora and fauna of our country had been damaged and continue to get damaged. The air in almost all the major cities and their adjoining regions has been polluted.
The quality of water both surface and ground has changed drastically either because of industrial discharges or because of the intensification of chemical based agriculture. Due to depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources from the land and the rapid changes in the land use patterns has resulted in dangerous alterations in the landscape. In the following we will examine some consequences of our actions in recent past over the nature.

In the 1950s, faced with the problems of achieving development, thrust of the government policy has been to increase agricultural production by intensifying cultivation. Green Revolution as a policy prescription marked a distinct change in the history of agriculture and management of resources. Launched in the 1960s, it was hailed as a means to overcome hunger and poverty. Consequent changes in farming system and application of specific technology had a negative impact on food consumption, nutrition and production. Encouragement of monoculture and hybrid seeds eroded the species and genetic diversity of crops. Chemical fertilizers caused hardening of the soil, pesticides killed natural preys, resulting in attacks by pests and diseases not known before. `Cash’ came to represent the over-riding factor in agriculture, at the cost of the wholesomeness of food and life. One major consequence of the Green Revolution has been its negative impact on nutritional levels as a result of the decline in production of pulses. Genetic
erosion is equally evident in cereals, fruits, vegetables and root crops.

Green Revolution demanded enhanced capital inputs and investments from the farmer whereby governmental intervention became a necessity. But it led to dependency of farmer on government at every stage of agricultural activity. This dependency is not only at the production stage but also while marketing the produce. Further, the market oriented economy is heavily influencing the farmers to shift to cash crops like cotton, tobacco, oil seeds, mulberry, etc. Cash crops demand heavy fertilizer and pesticide inputs and the rates of agricultural outputs are decided else where thus farmer is forced to incur heavy losses which sometimes results in suicides of farmers as witnessed recently in Andhra Pradesh.

 

Expansion of irrigation sources was an essential activity of developmental programmes. It was believed that irrigation plays a vital role in enhancing agricultural production and in minimizing adverse effects of vagaries of climate, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions where the rainfall being scanty, erratic and uneven. However, poor irrigation efficiency led to widespread water logging promoting excessive weed growth, impaired microbial activity, caused disorder in nutrient availability, affected soil health, exerting harmful effects on plant growth and had created unhygienic conditions for human beings. The yield of food grain crops in irrigated areas is less than the average yield level under well-managed irrigation systems. While the irrigated regions are facing galore problems the dry land region are continuously hit by drought conditions. Traditional water management systems are in a state of disrepair and mismanagement.

In fact, it was found that many villages, which had not yet benefited from government water schemes, had some water to drink as they still had their traditional systems intact. The `developed’ villages, however, are starved of water – tube wells had either no water or no electricity to pump it.

 

Forests, minerals, water, air and land have been meeting the needs of humans since time immemorial. While depending on these resources, somewhere in the history, humans have crossed the capacity of natural regeneration. Modern developmental processes enabled humans to exploit natural resources indiscriminately. Increasing rates of consumption led to faster depletion of resources. Even there is human interference in natural recycling processes affecting the continuous availability of resources. Illustratively, there is extensive deforestation of mangroves affecting the biosphere and depleting marine resources. Consequently, many fisherman families dependent on these are facing problems of survival. Extinction of mangrove forests, a natural barrier against sea erosion and cyclones, has exposed the land to devastation and degradation.

Presently, traditional systems are being recognized as extremely important even in this world of modern science and technology. Their ecological rationality remains valid in the modern context. A fresh evaluation of the traditional systems can also have major political and cultural repercussions. Indian Universities and numerous social science and scientific research institutions have totally neglected traditional knowledge systems.Effluents from industries of various categories are improperly treated or not treated at all, thus contaminating a large number of neighboring wells, lakes and streams. Major rivers of the country are polluted by sullage and sewage from towns situated along their banks. Even small streams are not free from pollution. There are numerous lakes which are polluted, occupied, reclaimed and are generally abused, and decimated. Sea is also being increasingly used to dump municipal wastes, refuse and industrial wastage. Industrialization along the coastline has serious connotations for the survival of marine resources and coastal environment. Air in the urban and industrial areas is laden with dust and other tiny particles. Particle pollution is particularly serious considering its effect on the lungs of children, women and old people. Liquid and gaseous materials of industrial processes have made the lives of residents miserable – asthma, bronchitis, and lung-related problems are rampant. In areas of excessive pollution, there have been reports of miscarriages of pregnant women, and delivery of stillborn children.

Ground water is polluted in various part of the country due to unplanned industrial growth. In fact, the present usage of mineral water increasingly indicates the extent to which the drinking water supplies are polluted in entire India. This is continuing and problem continues to grow. Automobile pollution is one of the accompanying problems associated with unplanned urbanization. Growth of cities has put tremendous pressure on urban transport services leading to proliferation of motor vehicles, and thus, air pollution. Yet the government and parties encourage increased usage of personalized transport and exotic automobiles.

 

The cost in terms of human resources is even greater in magnitude. There is near total erosion of values and ethics both in the public as well as private domain. The cherished virtues like honesty; humbleness tolerance and simplicity of lifestyle have paved way for dishonesty, intolerance, and arrogance born out of material possession and consumerist lifestyles. This resulted in all kinds of unethical means of amassing wealth, as visible in various scams being unearthed today. The self of the individual got corrupted irrespective of the fact that whether they are operating in the public or private domains. As a result, there is an ever-increasing level
of violence in the country today.

Environmental Movements

 

Several environmental movements, with the initiative of individuals, communities and institutions have tried to respond to the crisis of environment and the perils of modern development in different ways. Government has also initiated certain steps to correct the
situation. Environmental movements exposed the dichotomy between agriculture and industrialization, people’s participation and state control, laws and traditional practices, economic growth and ecological balance, inter state water disputes, etc., asking for a fundamental change in the patterns of governance. Freedom of information has become the basic slogan for every environmental action and movement. The main concern of most movements is about the use of the natural resources: how should they be used and who should use them and benefit. For sustainable development, it is very important that the voices of local people are strengthened and brought forward.

 

The need of the hour is to evolve alternate perspectives, which require a total shift in the policies and programmes and an introspection to understand the genuine needs of the larger sections of society of today and tomorrow.

 

Concept of Sustainable Development

 

Environmental problems arise both from the lack of development and from the unintended consequences of some forms of economic growth. An ecosystem is a concept from nature wherein there are patterns of interdependency, and a network of flow of energy. In human-made environment, this dependency is more to be seen in economic terms.

 

Environment and development are not separate challenges, but linked together in a complex system of cause and effect. Environmental stresses and patterns of development are linked to one another. Thus agricultural development policies are the causal factors of land, water and forest degradation.

 

Crisis in the development policies implemented during the last five decades coupled with the present recognition of environmental problems prompts a fundamental reconsideration of the policies in general and of planning in particular. Environmental policies are important for facing the ecological challenge. Local, national and international measures must be formulated and implemented; finding the most appropriate level of action necessary to cope with the various environmental threats is also important.

 

Policy Options for the Future – Requirements of A New Vision

 

Today, both the opportunities and the needs are greater than ever to make social, economic,environmental and other systems more compatible. We should address the need to achieve a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision-making.
Incentives to develop and promote new, cleaner technologies can also contribute to sustainable development. There is also a need for society’s institutions to redefine their work to solve the problems of other institutions as well as their own. The best opportunities for improvement lie with people whose activities are at the source of the “development”, who have access to particular technologies, or who control a point of linkage among other activities.

Ultimately, Green politics provides the basis to the project of modernization that involves the buildup of India as a economic, political and technological model for the rest of the third world which are reeling under similar problems, and it can be the political alternative – both conceptually and in day-to-day politics – much beyond the current “vote bank” politics.

 

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