Over the last few years, the discourse on environmental degradation has gained significant momentum. Governments, civil societies, and international organizations are all attempting to reduce the environmental costs of economic growth and development. Such reforms have also bought to attention the concept of environmental governance which refers to political reformations aimed at influencing environmental actions and outcomes.
It is under this backdrop that the IMPRI Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a talk on Environmental Governance in India as a part of The State of Environment- #PlanetTalks series on 15 December 2021.
The talk was chaired by Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI and the speaker for the event was Prof. Krishna Raj, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy(CSEP), Institute for Social and Economic Change(ISEC), Bengaluru.
Dr. Simi Mehta commenced the session by stressing the excessive talks and debates that we have been surrounded within the recent past concerning environmental degradation. The 6th Assessment Report of the IPCC vividly highlighted the dilemma arising from climate change, global warming, etc. Additionally, the Glasgow Summit 2021 and the Paris Agreement 2015 have made us all wary of the global developmental path. Perhaps, it is this reason why governance of the natural environment has emerged as one of the major challenges faced by humanity today.
She further added that with regards to the subject, there are several questions that ought to be answered and understood. For instance, in what manner does the state become a factor in environmental politics, what role has the Indian government, judiciary, and civil society played in sustainable policies, what has been the role of international society and other countries in implementing environmental governance, to what extent are these international treaties equitable, how can these aspirations be realized, and many more. This talk seeks to gain answers to these questions in order to understand environmental governance in India.
Prof. Krishna Raj started his presentation with a basic introduction to environmental governance in India. He mentioned that the essence of the issue of environmental governance is the way the government and societies deal with environmental problems. Additionally, environmental governance, particularly in India, is highly reflective of its environmental governance systems such as the judiciary, the center, civil societies, corporations, etc. It shows how institutions demand certain policies for the welfare of the people and at the same time how these policies affect the welfare of the people in the present as well as future.
Moving forward, Prof Raj stressed extensively the interaction between the economy and the environment. In the 21st century, characterized by liberalization, industrialization, and digitalization, it is indeed difficult to view the environment in isolation. It is a common belief that the economy is the root cause of the environmental problems and therefore the essence of the environmental problem is the economy. However, since we cannot do away with economic activities, it is noteworthy that economics has appropriate solutions to many environmental problems. In such a case, it is imperative to ask what kind of policies and measures must the government implement to protect the environment.
This brings us back to the initial question: what is the state of environmental governance in India? Since the 1990s, India has walked on the path of capitalism and neo-liberalism. Research suggests that such policies have widened inequality as well as environmental degradation. Capitalism has become the universal economic system, that is considered extremely sacrosanct for any faults. In such an economy, where the state has less control over economic activities, has resulted in excessive environmental degradation.
Economic Development vs Environmental Sustainability
Researchers argue that economic policies encourage economic growth impinging on environmental degradation whereas, environmental policies shelter the environment hindering and economic development. Thus, in simpler words, both economic and environmental policies have different objectives, hence they always diverge and do not converge.
However, in reality, their convergence highly benefits society and lays down a path of sustainable development. Despite acknowledging this, we continue to appreciate economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation.
Historically, forests have always been under the control of the government and its institutions through various acts and regulations. Prof Raj states that the objectives of the national economic policy have been on the path of sustainability and good design. If they would have been implemented in their complete sense then economic development would have been sustainable. But this has not been the case. What went wrong?
The measures of the EIA notification (M0EFCC 2020) do not align with some of the fundamental principles of environmental governance. This notification is very liberal and does not undertake the long-term, direct and indirect impacts of economic activities on a complex ecosystem.
India’s Pursuit of Economic Development
Prof. Raj asserted that the popular narrative on India’s economic development continues to focus on trends in GDP growth. Its consequences on long-term economic development are scantly discussed in contemporary literature. This calls for questions such as, whether India’s remarkable achievement in economic growth has reflected in its environmental outcomes. Interestingly, an analysis of India’s development policies post and pre liberalization in the 1990s shows that despite slow growth, India was on the path of sustainable development before 1990. In contrast, post the LPG reforms, the economy moved on the path of weak sustainability with high growth rates.
India’s Position on Global Index
India’s position on the EPI 2020 index deteriorate from 132 in 2006 to 168 in 2020. Additionally, its score also worsened from 47.7 in 2006 to only 27.6 in 2020. These rankings further strengthen the cause for better environmental governance in the country.
Keeping these points in mind, the speaker avowed that it is time to restructure the economy and tread on a more sustainable path. The social cost of capitalist policies is rising enormously and environmental costs are being paid by poor and middle-class citizens in terms of health, education, additional costs, etc. The policies so far have been inadequate and environmental governance is indeed a concern for India.
Questions and Answers
Environment destruction is having an adverse impact on the education and health of children. What do you think is the way out?
Pollution caused schools to close in Delhi. While on the one hand, the government tries to overcome the problem with solutions such as smoke screens, on the other hand, we witness that these solutions are not enough to tackle the magnanimity of the problem. We need a long-term plan that is restructuring the economy, recognizing the polluting companies, and relocating them. Costs are always imposed on society, with social costs being too large. While at the state level, better policy-making is the need of the hour, at an individual level we need to restrict the consumption of products by the highly polluting companies.
How do we make the transition from weak sustainability to a strong sustainable development path? Where do we stand?
Environment and economy should go hand in hand. The economy had started affecting the environment and now we have reached a stage where economies are being affected by the environment. The economic cost of environment is increasing day by day. We need to drastically change the economic structure, reduce carbon footprints, formulate better policies, and in this way, one can think of non-fossil fuel and renewable energy-driven economy.
India needs to have a balanced approach and prioritize its actions. Governments should also not view the environment in isolation and have a more holistic approach towards policy-making. Additionally, we need to raise important questions. The environment is affecting everybody but we are not questioning all the actors contributing to the damage. Hence, we need better awareness and policies.
Further, the democracy in which we are living has provided us with the opportunity to raise our voices regarding what we need and what we want to see in society. The poor are being affected by the actions of the rich and the latter is indeed exploiting the former. The government needs to listen to the peoples’ voices and what type of growth and development they need. Most of the policies are not being discussed in the larger forum, and here the government is failing. Participatory approach is the need of the hour. We need economic development policies exclusively for India and not adopt the western policies of liberalism and capitalism.
Acknowledgment: Khushi Somani is a Research Intern at IMPRI