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Need To Deepen Democracy And Make Capitalism More Democratic: Arun Maira, Former Member, Planning Commission of India

“India is ranked 93 out of 140 countries in Social Progress. In the Indian context, no one wants to talk about what is going wrong. For every 1% change in GDP, there is 0.09% change in social progress", Dr. Amit Kapoor, Chair, Institute for Competitiveness speaking on economic prosperity vs social progress

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On 15th November, at the India and Sustainability Standards 2017 conference organized by Centre for Responsible Business, there was a High-Level Panel Discussion on ‘understanding the nature of Tragedies of the Commons stemming from tensions between development and growth, and implications for an inclusive and sustainable economy for India’. The session was convened by Arun Maira, Former Member, Planning Commission, Government of India.

In his introduction and context setting, Maira said, “Unless people own a property, they will not care for its sustainability. Institutions for collective which have existed for a long time, are perhaps the strategy for the solution for the tragedies of the commons. We have come to a time, where we need to evolve better institutions for collective action. In capitalism of governance, if you own a dollar, you have that much of a voice in governance. Democracy is an idea that is growing, democracy is not based on property rights by human rights. Right now in the world, we are having severe blow-ups about inequity and anger against institutions, we have to reconcile this.” He also added, “We have to deepen democracy and make capitalism more democratic. Capitalism too should be a business for the people, of the people, by the people. Our agenda is to create good institutions and build examples to say how this could be done. For an economy, GDP is not a fine measure to see whether it’s a sustainable and inclusive economy. The fastest growing and least used resource in our economy is older people.”

In his presentation on ‘Leaving no one behind’, Dr. Klaus Leisinger, President of Global Values Alliance, said, “We have the most important agenda ahead of us, the 2030 Sustainable Agenda, and it ends with ‘we pledge no one will be left behind’. We have to look at what leaving no one behind mean concretely for example, for government policies, and for corporate policies. With respect to business, much more is possible than what is done. It’s obvious that the solutions coming for sustainable development are not coming from one society silos, but different silos. Sustainable Development Goals will be achievable by 7.5 billion steps if everyone does their bit.”

Speaking about climate change and implications for the Indian economy, Dr. Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, TERI University said, “The Paris Agreement and the SDG Agenda of 2015 will redefine life as we know it. They both reorient ourselves, the pathways to development, and how we are building resilience. Last week in Bonn, the 23rd meeting of the Conference of Parties, it was noticed that despite efforts to keep temperatures by 1.5 degree Celsius, global greenhouse emissions increased by 3%. We are continuing to be on a path which is not the most ideal path we should be taking. By themselves, the mitigation options we have dealing with energy and carbon sequestration will never be able to get us to 2-degree level, unless we integrate the concept of circular economy, most importantly sustainable consumption. We have to look at climate change and sustainable development hand in hand. We have to look at inter-linkages, and how we can leverage one goal to also meet other goals.” She also added, “We need departments and ministries talking to each other, we don’t have the integration needed. There is a strong nexus between food, energy, and water, but where is the policy coherence? We have to have mechanisms where what we are agreeing to at the top level actually filters down and we are able to implement these solutions. I think we have a very little discussion on the circular economy. Institutions have to deliver on their strengths. Capacity building is also very integral, there is very little appreciation what can be done about it.”

“There is a very interesting challenge the world is facing today. There are two coalitions in the world, one is the coalition of restoration, and that is reflected in most of the major elections of the world. We need to go beyond a coalition of transformation. How do we define an alternate measure of how the quality of life can be looked at? Within the Indian context, there is a massive failure of institutional mechanism, which is the bureaucratic lobby. The biggest problem is bureaucracy which is extremely incestuous“, said Dr. Amit Kapoor, Chair, Institute for Competitiveness speaking on economic prosperity vs social progress. He also added, “India is ranked 93 out of 140 countries in Social Progress. In the Indian context, no one wants to talk about what is going wrong. For every 1% change in GDP, there is 0.09% change in social progress. As economic progress has happened, environmental degradation is actually supreme. India suffers from massive levels of information symmetry. CSR is a bad law, there should be a focus on creating sustainable business models and creating shared value.

Dr. Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India spoke on natural resources and social inequality, saying, “Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Odisha are the poorest in India, but the richest in terms of natural wealth. So that’s where we see a gap between social equality and natural resources. There is a population of 100 million tribal people who live in these areas and derive their livelihoods from forests. A tribal woman is the most deprived person in India. All listed companies should follow the guidelines of responsible business. When you do a business you should look at social and environmental impact, and design ways that the supply chain does not destroy the environment. I think we have a long way to go, at some point, we need to start translating these conversations into action.” Agrawal also went on to add, “We need to rebuild trust. There has to be collaboration. We need to go beyond conversations, as not much has translated on the ground for visible improvement in poor peoples’ lives. The bottom 10% are always left behind.”

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