News Karnataka
Saturday, October 08 2022

India’s Green Growth Dilemma

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NewsKarnataka – Exclusive

By: Brian Fernandes

Sometime ago, whilst at college, I would cheerfully wake up to the  chirping of birds and the annoying cawing of crows in my back yard. These days I wake up to the sound of the alarm, or the wakefulness of my bio clock, and almost never hear the cawing of a crow.  In fact I’ve not seen one in a long time in Mangalore. I used to exit on to the main road with ease and cycle along mostly empty roads with less pot holes than there are today. Today, I have to wait for an average of 15 mins before I can exit my side road onto the main road. Nowadays, the rains catch you unawares with their frequency, intensity and timing, unlike in my school days, when we used to look forward to rain holidays – Rains were expected and welcome. The garbage seems to pile up in a jiffy all around the place… All the effect perhaps of progress or development, something that all governments strive for – for it puts money in the hand of voters and that means votes.

Today is World Environment – the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates – day.  A day that is celebrated with somber speeches and a couple of new initiatives everywhere in the world. Here too in India, it is celebrated, and lip sympathy is paid to the most unheralded aspect of India’s growth story. The environmental Impact of growth can be seen in the Pollution levels of our Air and Water Resources, the decreasing forest cover, the declining numbers and variety of  Flora and Fauna, so much so that there are some species close to extinction, even as drinking water and sanitation is at a premium, climate change is already in effect due to reduced plant and forest cover and the birds have disappeared from cities such as ours. Health too has been impacted, with chronic ailments taking centerstage.

Economic Growth vs Environment Sustainability.

India’s GDP has grown at an average of 6.5% over the last 10 years and is projected to go higher over the next decade.  It has lifted a plenty of  people out of poverty.  But this has done nothing for the environment – only degraded it to the extent that India is ranked 155 in the world among 178 countries with a total score of 31.23.  The Statistics are an eye opener




World Rank

Ten Year Change

Sub Criteria Considered

Compared to GDP Peer Set (Percentage)

Compared to Region Peer Set (Percentage)

Overall Score







Health Impacts




Child Mortality



Air Quality




Household Air Pollution, Air Pollution Avg. Exposure to PM2.5, Exceedancce of PM2.5



Water and Sanitation




Access to Drinking Water, Access to Sanitation



Water Resources




Waste Water Treatment







Agriculture Subsidies, Pesticide Regulation







Change in Forest Cover







Coastal Shelf Fishing Pressure, Fish Stocks



Biodiversity and Habitat




Critical Habitat Protection, Terrestrial Protected Areas, Marne Protected Areas



Climate and Energy




Trend in Carbon Intensity, Access to Electricity, CO2 Emissions per KwH








According to another recent WHO survey, across the G-20 economies, 13 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India. While India’s overall score based on 9 parameters has increased by 5.40% over a ten year cycle, its unprecedented growth has impacted its population in myriad ways. Major gains have been made in mitigating Health Impacts and in Agriculture where its assessment scores have touched 50%. India is an average of 18.42% behind Countries in its Per Capital GDP Set and 4.82% behind its regional competitors in its Environmental Profile. This figure is comparatively low because it matches its regional competitors on Water Resources.

In India, prosperity and poverty are woven together into a single colorful tapestry. They live side by side. Prosperity of one section often depends upon and feeds upon the poverty of the other. Both are aspirational classes though their aspirations may be different. Consequently perceptions about the use of the environment to meet aspirations vary, but, the fact remains, that both do not hesitate to use it in the short term to further their goals, and remain unworried about the long term impact.

The Green Growth Dilemma: Modern Development which is as far away as the bottom of the ocean is from Mount Everest, as from Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Development, pre supposes the expansion of cities, of industry of mechanized transport and agriculture, and electronic applications for household management.

These aids may be necessary for the ease of life and the generation of wealth, yet each of these methodologies have their negative impacts on the Environment. Governments over the world love the world development, because it puts money in the hands of the voter and votes in the hands of the government. Sadly the long term impact of short term growth is expected to be 5.7% of India’s GDP or approx 80$ Billion dollars annually. But in a reflection of the size and diversity of India’s economy, the environmental risks are wide ranging and are driven by both prosperity and poverty.

Environmental Sustainability, everyone knows is the next major challenge for India, Its citizens and its government. Environmental Activists have been espousing a a green growth strategy – however they have to fight this battle everyday, even taking matters upto the supreme court, who too have now stepped into debate, keenly monitoring specific aspects of the development story for its impact on the environment – Mining and genetically modified crops for instance. Does it indicate a conflict of interest or a lack of will on the part of the government?

These are issues that the new government must address and address quickly.

While the overall policy focus should be on meeting basic needs and expanding opportunities for growth, they should not be at the expense of unsustainable environmental degradation. Muthukumara Mani , Senior Environmental Economist All of us understand that green growth is necessary – the cost of ignoring the environment in the pursuit of growth is just too much, and it could be well nigh impossible to clean up later.

Green growth can be defined as “fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies”

The Question is whether green growth is feasible and more importantly affordable. Certainly its feasible – it does require a huge effort and adherence to enforcement of Laws and a spirit of sacrifice among its citizens and yes, environmental taxes can make it affordable and enforceable.

Its also important to measure the green growth – A green gross domestic Product is an important calculation as it factors in the environmental costs What can and should be done? While Green growth is a desirable objective, it laid siege to many a development project in the previous regime. The current regime has promised to revive green growth, but the hurdles, while not insurmountable, are numerous and in a democratic polity like ours, require tremendous persuasive skills to go forward. What can be done?

1. Policy must be by and large clear and non discretionary.

2. The legal framework must have clarity and time frames for clearances etc must be built in.

3. Litigations and appeals in this regard must be time bound and have a finality about it.

4. Clearances must be based on a consultative mechanism which must be transparent and definite.

5. The concept of Environmental taxes on polluting industries, services, house holds, vehicles or reliefs thereof for use of renewable energy and lower consumption of energy must be introduced.

6. Public transport must be encouraged over private transport, while solar, renewable and nuclear energy must be encouraged over thermal and fossil fuel based energy generation whatever be the initial set up costs.

7. Water resources must be preserved as best one can with stringent fines for polluting or wasting the resources and must be enforceable by law.

8. The use of biodegradable packing material must be encouraged through environmental taxes on environmentally inimical material.

9. Environmentally sustainable mining and industrial development must be made mandatory.

10. The Global Reporting Initiative which helps companies report on a environmentally sustainable production must be enforced strictly for all major manufacturing companies in India.

However while there is a need to strengthen and clarify the regulatory framework, inspection is not the answer, but a framework combined with self regulation is. Its a question of maximizing the synergy between economic development and environmental protection. Its important to strike a balance between the two dimensions that are equally important in the life of a nation. Green growth suggests that low cost environmental sustainability is possible even as governments sustain long term economic growth. I am hopeful that the green growth dilemma will be resolved, and soon I will once again see crows in back yard and wake up to the chirping of birds, rather than the alarm in my smart phone.


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