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How The New Environment Minister Can Balance Ecology And Economics

This World Environment Day, the new Environment Minister in the Modi government is faced with a host of challenges.

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This World Environment Day, the new Environment Minister in the Modi government is faced with a host of challenges.

Says E Somanathan, Professor, Economics and Planning Unit, Indian Statistical Institute: “To curb the prevailing (environmental) issues, an independent regulatory body should be constituted.”

The recent Lok Sabha elections may not have debated environment and the looming crisis, but the challenges are there for all to see.

The fast-growing urban areas in our country are fast becoming unlivable. The unacceptably high levels of pollution in several cities, including in Delhi, shows a serious disconnect between the prevalent patterns of urbanization, consumption choices and the environmental concerns. 

“We need a correct balance of ecology and economics”, says Hem Pandey, Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). He further opines, “India as a highly populated country with a growing economy and per capita income requires not just implementation of environmental policies but also require scientific and technical support.”  

 Somanathan informs, “Whenever we burn coal or oil that causes pollution, we have to track all the pollutants involved. The government needs to have a regulatory body to track how much damage is done by various pollutants and put a fee on them appropriately. Due to this fee, people will find those things expensive to use. A pollutant fee for coal, petrol and other pollutants will help the government mitigate the environmental problems.”

Considering the current crisis of water, he adds, “The overarching problem of water scarcity is seeping into the urban cities with the recent case of Chennai etc. The main issue of extraction of groundwater is one of the major causes which is primarily used in agriculture. To curb this, farmers should be given Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) wherein they should pay for the electricity which is currently given free of cost and further conserve water”. 

Anand Sharma, Member of Rajya Sabha and  Chairman of Standing Committee Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), on the other hand, says:  “The prevailing gap between the poor and rich growing is one of the major causes of all these problems”.   

The state of the air we breathe

Seventy cities breathe excessively polluted air irrespective of major overarching schemes of various governments. Somanathan says, “We don’t really have a policy. There is no body that is doing a comprehensive assessment of the situation. Moreover, there are various sources adding to the problem of air pollution. We don’t have a technical body comprising of scientists and economists which can assess the situation. However, we need a pollution fee for all the pollutants which will automatically direct people to use cleaner ways of doing things which will decrease the pollution levels tremendously. Pandey adds, “The biggest challenge for India today is not the policies and legal framework for the Environment Ministry but a collative measure of all the sectors where mitigation actions of the growth and development are to be met by state-of-the-art technology.”

How prepared we are as a country: 

Climate change leading to more disasters including an increase in the frequency of droughts as well as floods are creating havoc not in India but in other parts of the globe as well. “We need much better planning of reservoirs, information system which should be available to the public and be transparent also. Lack in coordination between the IMD and the authorities which manage the dams and reservoirs also leads to various problems during disasters. We need people with specializations in scientific expertise.

"We need to replicate the institutional structure that is there in developed countries. We need an independent environmental agency that automatically funds and hires all the technical support in terms of manpower and other equipment independently. Currently, we lack all this in the system. Our ministry which is a political body is unsuitable for scientific and technical work. We need to separate scientific and technical decision making from political decision making," adds Somanathan. 

Further, Leena Shrivastava, Vice Chancellor of TERI School of Advanced  Studies adds, "India needs to prepare a strategy for a Green Economy incorporating concepts of a resource efficient, circular economy. Environmental issues in the industry have to be mainstreamed and not considered as a separate project clearance requirement. All industry activity must be driven towards a net-zero impact outcome in a defined time-frame of five years. In essence, environmental policy should get the same importance as the fiscal policy – after all the environment is rapidly becoming one of the most scarce and endangered factors of production."

With the current state of affairs, economics and environment go hand-in-hand.

The incumbent Environment Minister clearly has his task cut out.




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