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Good governance must go green and explore sustainability paradigm

Year 2016 has been welcomed by the odd-even number policy for private cars in Delhi NCR. The decision has given rise to both optimism and skepticism among citizens.

A number of questions are being asked about the actual contribution of private vehicles to air pollution, about the delayed policy action on sale of diesel vehicles, about concentrated land-use and the impacts of pollution levels on human health, energy needs etc.

These debates can be mapped against the backdrop of several historic international agreements, starting from the 1972 Brundtland Commission that defined sustainable development as a kind of development that meets the present needs of society without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Since then, the three Rio Conventions (UNCBD, UNFCCC, UNCCD) in 1992, to the recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, have reiterated the need to adhere to the commitment of sustainable development.These debates and commitments continue to shape the paradigm of environmental governance all over the world.

But these policy-level commitments need to be demonstrated, adapted and upscaled through practical examples. A large number of provisions under the ambit of environmental governance in India remain at a very theoretical or procedural level, posing a great challenge in achieving sustainable development.

A few examples are useful in illustrating this point.The process of economic development has pushed urbanisation to an unprecedented scale, where the basic concept of a city's "carrying capacity", or its ability to accommodate new houses, population, cars etc. has lost its relevance in reality. In Delhi NCR in spite of having entities like NCR Planning Board, basic amenities like access to safe drinking water, seamless connectivity to work places remain largely unattended.

Even though there is general acceptance about the mistakes that have violated the city's "carrying capacity", there are no robust responses towards resolving these issues with scientific knowledge. Instead, there are knee jerk reactions in the name of controlling damage to the environment, without adequate follow up actions.

Similarly, in case of procedures such as environmental impact assessments, social impact assessments, a number of issues crop up after the setting up of new industry or infrastructure. This is largely due to the inadequate resources, time and expertise invested by the developer, or plain callousness to minimise the damage to environment and society.

At the same time there remains inadequate governance mechanism to compel the defaulter to correct the damage or control the subsequent losses. The price of such damages is paid by the common man, and is passed on to posterity. The contaminated ground water in Delhi NCR, and many villages in Greater Noida getting recognised as "Cancer Belt" are living examples of such procedures. Their legal sanction is a mockery of principles on the basis of which such procedures are instituted.

In case of biodiversity conservation, the approaches remain compartmentalised without realising the fact that the maintaining local flora and fauna to the extent possible is critical to maintain flow of ecosystem services. The so-called pockets of biodiversity in form of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are losing the surrounding rural landscapes which allow the free mobility to the species.

Globally, India is a mega-diverse country with a great variation in agro-ecological conditions across the length and breadth of the country. But all across the so called developed pockets in the country, there seems to be a similar pattern, which fails to recognise the potential of biodiversity to find solutions to the local issues of natural resource management.

Lack of any serious documentation of status of ecosystem services and species diversity leaves us with no opportunity to mitigate the adverse impacts of developmental projects.

Thus, in a sense, having futuristic policy provisions for sustainable development do not assure any concrete benefits on the ground. What is urgently needed is a serious mechanism of implementation, backed with adequate investments.

Never in the history of mankind possibly, have scientific data and analysis been of such paramount importance. Because every move to achieve sustainable development has to be defended objectively in front of stakeholders, ranging from the judiciary to the common people.

The global meaning of sustainable development has to be decoded and practised at the local level. Time is of essence, as we are already running late in expanding the initiatives that will yield the desired results towards saving Mother Earth.

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