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BW Businessworld

Green Is In, So Is Growth

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We are a rich country, with poor people. We need to bring people out of poverty and bring prosperity. Now while doing that a lot of damage is done to the environment which actually affects everybody. So, how do you manage and protect the environment when you grow?

We have to embed environment protection practices into growth. It is rubbish to say these two are opposed to each other — but it is  made to seem so. Many companies like ours have been following this in spite of laws or no laws. We need to create objective and measurable norms for sustainability. Once we create those — and it will not be easy and will take some time — and then we can start putting them into place. When people start practising it, you'll get a very good marriage between these two, which is quite possible.

Environment is ultimately about air, water and soil. Whenever you are doing something you need to have some standard. In the West, environment protection steps are based on carbon emissions. They created carbon emission standards. Based on that, they created products that are more efficient. And that is exactly how they contributed to reducing carbon emissions. As a result, you got cars that are far more fuel efficient in nature.

Progress cannot happen overnight. It has to happen over a period of time. So what they have been able to do is bring out enormous efficiency in the consumption of electricity. There are two aspects here — saving fuel so that you have less combustion as well as less pollution.

Another area of concern is water. Can we use less water? In Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), we recycle water. On our construction sites, we use 30 per cent less water than before. The interesting part is we gained a lot in this process. When there was a drought in Andhra Pradesh, they stopped water for construction. But we were able to continue because we were recycling.

If we recycle industrial water and a good part of our personal-use water, then there will be no shortage of water. And it has a great environmental impact. In fact, part of the climate change problem is created by water. Therefore, we at the Water Mandate believe that water is in more imminent danger and is more likely to happen in the next 10-20 years. Therefore, it is more important to bring water into the dialogue. India, for example, will be 50 per cent short of water in 20 years. The good news is if we spend $6 billion per year for the next 5-10 years, we are in a position to set this right. So, infrastructure is not only in conflict with environment, part of it is actually environment protecting and enhancing.

We must understand environment. Look at how filthy our rivers are. Look at how filthy our cities are. What environment are we discussing? Giving a clean environment for people to live in, giving clean water to drink itself is a huge environmental challenge in India.

First, we must confront that we have a large population in the country. It has to be brought out of poverty. We have the largest youth population. We will have to provide for them. From that point of view, these two are not at loggerheads with each other.

When we were confronted with Lavasa, that we have to build a city on a hill station, we began with simple things — that we will build only on 30-35 per cent of the total area and the rest will be kept green. The area was not so green, it was quite denuded. Lakes were built for creating water supply, for irrigation. There are soil engineers and experts who are engaged in ‘how do we build in this area'. Then we brought in experts on how to enhance this area. We brought in experts like Janine Benyus. She introduced the new idea of bio-mimicry which means you adapt with nature and learn how other species on the planet live.

So far, we have planted 600,000 trees. We have also done hydro seeding. This is the first time that this technology has been brought in to India from Australia and we are doing it. We are going to plant 3 million trees. We are also going to use bio-mimicry in the design of the homes. Then, there is a centralised water treatment plant. Though we are not going to use it for that, the water is fit for drinking.

It is a huge programme of restoration that we have been doing. I have been a part of the movement for a long time. HCC follows environment practices and it is a process for which we got AAA rating. The whole objective is that we must embed it. I think it is possible to do it, and we must do it. But we must bring in people to do this. We must teach this in schools. Industry must be engaged in this.

We have to come up with superior models. The environment ministry has so far not laid down a single objective and measurable standard to follow. And if that doesn't exist, what will people follow and how many places will you go to do case-by-case analysis.

We do not have a water policy in India. Planning Commission deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is now working on a water policy. There are so many things about environment that we are talking about, but do not understand what it means. And if you do it, you will find it is a huge industry by itself. We have just explored it. We are learning about it. I think we need to be patient and set a good 10-year programme that includes everybody. Gujarat is doing a great job on environment. The water minister in Karnataka has also been doing some excellent work on water. Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar has also shown some interest
in environment.

In this utopian perfection that we are seeking by saying ‘environment is important' what we are not realising is that the way we are implementing things is going to put off environment. Today, it seems to be clubbed with licence raj.
There are some really good achievements in this area that India can do. We must bring in a feeling of pride — even the slightest environment effort must be patted by the Prime Minister. Encourage people to come, and after they do, then you become strict. But closing down the whole of Bellary? What is the consequence of this on the people there, on the economy, on inflation and thus, on the poor?

It is because they do not know what it means. If you tell them that it is just doing things better, they will listen. Industry leaders want it and they are saying — if we can do it, why can't you?

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-08-2011)