We have invited critiques of the SOE Report-2009 for publication on d-sector.org, to provide you an in-depth assessment of various aspects of India's environment and development. In the first part, Rajiv Gupta shared his views (http://www.d-sector.org/article-det.asp?id=345) about the report. Here, we present a detailed analysis by Gopal Krishna. Ed.
Situating hunger in an ecological context, the SoE Report - 2009 aptly notes that progress in reducing hunger has stagnated since 1995-97. Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50% of child deaths in India. But, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Report that ranks India 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries finds no mention in the SoE Report. Nevertheless, the report has discovered the obvious link between food production, hunger and control over environmental resources. It is, however, a clumsy attempt that fails to think upstream by giving a flippant treatment to the industrial agriculture development taking place at the cost of the health of farmers and consumers.
The health of the natural environment is intricately linked to hunger but like the government, the authors of the SoE Report display an increasing disconnect between official poverty estimates, deprivation and glaring health inequality.
However, the SoE-2009 Report must be appreciated for reiterating the link between ecological security and food security that was emphasized in the earlier Citizen's Reports on Environment. India has an undernourished population of around 231 million (FAO, 2008). But the report refrains from admitting that the current industrial model of development does not appear to be appropriate for both the poor and the environment. Given the fact that India has about 700 million rural population directly dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, animal husbandry, forests and fisheries and natural resources for their livelihood, the acknowledged impact of industrial pollution on climate is obviously detrimental to food security.
|Repeating the mistakes committed in his 1995-96 Budget speech, Dr Manmohan Singh has again focused on a growth rate of 8 per cent in 2009 despite all indicators beneficial to that growth rate having disappeared. Clearly, rate of economic growth does not mean poverty alleviation else what can explain the abundant food stocks not reaching the starving citizens. Mismanagement of natural resources along with inequitable distribution of nutritional resources are mentioned routinely in the SoE Report but only to be ignored when it comes to persuasive recommendations.
||Mismanagement of natural resources along with inequitable distribution of nutritional resources are mentioned routinely in the SoE Report but only to be ignored when it comes to persuasive recommendations.
In the Report, be it land degradation, drainage crisis, desertification, soil pollution, industrial growth, power sector, air pollution or climate change, the Pressure, State, Impact and Response (PSIR) framework has been applied to ascertain the state of country's environment but it has failed to reveal the element of cause, effect, diagnosis and remedy because of the context of externalization of the cost of environmental impact.
PSIR framework is a commonly employed method in the development of indicators (European Environment Agency used it to develop its Environmental Indicator Set). It is used to illustrate how a framework can provide an overview of the different dimensions. Simply put, Pressure data allows predictions of what might happen in the future, State data besides reflecting 'where we are' also shows how things are changing, Impact data shows why changes matter - what are the positives or negatives of the current state on the qualities we are seeking to protect and Response data measures what policies are put in place and whether they are having their desired effect.
While structural changes are required in the political economy, one has to understand that if farm ecology and economics go wrong, nothing else will go right in agriculture. Utsa Patnaik's paper "Food Stocks and Hunger: Causes of Agrarian Distress" has rightly been cited in the SoE Report to underline how in 2001, the per capita availability of 151 kg food grains per annum was lower than the level in the late 1930s and around the average for the time period corresponding to Second World War, which included the Bengal famine of 1934. Political economy of poverty and deprivation co-exists with the political economy of environmental degradation and engineered landscape in a military industrial complex.
|The report draws on a study conducted by the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning and Indian Council of Agricultural Research to note that about 146.82 million hectare area of country's total geographical area of 328.60 million hectares is hit by various kinds of soil erosion and land degradation. This is about 45 per cent of the country's total geographical area. This land degradation is due to soil erosion at an average rate of 16.4 tonnes per hectare per annum although the permissible limit (of erosion) is 10 tonnes per hectare per annum. Land degradation of about 9.48 million hectare happens by wind erosion. The report refers to government programmes which respond to the crisis in a routine manner without elaborating on the efficacy in any manner.
||While structural changes are required in the political economy, one has to understand that if farm ecology and economics go wrong, nothing else will go right in agriculture.
The manner in which the report deals with our hydrological system seems to underline how not to deal with our living system. Its mechanical bifurcation of our water resources as ground water and surface water lands the report in a booby trap where it ends up ignoring virtual water (food & hydropower) for good.
While referring to the need for establishment of water markets that encourage water trading among farmers and also with urban and industrial users, it remains oblivious of the economic value of free flowing water and how market has destroyed the flood plains, polluted the water sources. The report fails to observe that about 93.68 million hectare soil of the total degraded area of 146.82 million hectare was eroded due to water. This constitutes about 63 per cent of the total degraded area. About 16.03 million hectare land has been degraded by soil acidity and about 14.30 million hectare by water logging. Its inability to note the democracy deficit in the water management is quite telling.
The SoE Report categorically observes, "There is evidence that the health of over 900 million urban people around the world is deteriorating daily because of high levels of ambient air pollutants". In India urban air pollution is estimated to cause over 2,50,000 deaths and billions of respiratory illnesses every year. It says India's total slum population is 40.3 million which is 22.6 per cent of the total urban population. In India, 607 towns have reported slums. Notably, slum is defined as "any predominantly residential area, in which light or sanitary facilities or any combination of these factors are detrimental to the safety, health and morals". By implication, clearly these 40.3 million people who live in slums are living in unhealthy and disease prone conditions. Urbanization seems to be suffering from design crisis but the report fails to engage with it.
The report feigns ignorance about the ecological devastation caused by the so called non-polluting industries like hydropower, flood embankment builders, etc. It ignores the ongoing blood contamination, congenital disorders, preventable but incurable cancer or extinction of known and unknown living species due to environmental pollution.
The report makes no mention of an environmental health audit along with the ministry of health to ascertain the body burden through investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood. In one such study in the US, of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 were known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 were toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 caused birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. In India too, we need to diagnose the unacknowledged crisis so that the regulatory bodies can predict, prevent and provide remedy.
While explicating on the serious water quality crisis afflicting the country, the report underlines how as per Union Ministry of Water Resources "almost 70 per cent of its surface water resources…are contaminated by biological, toxic, organic and inorganic pollution". It provides a similar estimate for groundwater contamination and ends up simply repeating that "a growing percentage of groundwater resources are contaminated" and "as many as 19 states including Delhi" have been affected by it. Over 200 districts out of the 593 districts of India are affected by geogenic contaminants including salinity, iron, fluoride and arsenic. It would have been quite relevant to identify these districts. Even such statistics for chemical and biological pollution of water resources is starkly missing from the report.
Amid all round ecological collapse underway, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests initiated efforts to uncover the current state of land, air, water, biodiversity and issues like climate change, food security, water security, energy security, and managing urbanization. It is claimed that the State of Environment reporting process engaged with all state governments and Union Territories (UTs) through a plan scheme in the Tenth Five Year Plan.
|The process was initiated in October 2002. For a report which is an output of some seven years of hard work, it is not satisfactory enough both in its scope and depth.
||It is anticipated that through the SoE Reports, State Governments and Union Territory Administrations would be able to integrate environmental dimensions in their socio-economic planning for sustainable development.
SoE Report was meant to provide an overview of the environmental scenario of the States/UTs for mainstreaming environment in policy and decision-making to bring out an overview of the environmental scenario of India that serves as a baseline document and assists in logical and information-based decision-making. It is anticipated that through the SoE Reports, State Governments and Union Territory Administrations would be able to integrate environmental dimensions in their socio-economic planning for sustainable development. The present SoE Report of India-2009 is one of the several reports emanating from the above process.
It is claimed by Vijai Sharma, Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests that, "A robust participatory process of consulting a range of stakeholders has been followed." Interestingly, the report provides a list of two consultation workshops that was held at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi and Qutab Hotel, New Delhi on 19th March, 2008 and 19th December, 2008 in which 37 and 29 participants respectively were present.
The SoE Report was aimed at providing policy guidelines and strategies for resource allocation for the coming decades, based on analysis of the state and trends of the environment and to provide guidance for national environmental action planning. With such parochial approach towards public participation, the output leaves a lot to be desired.
|The Report could have created a compelling logic to get policies on industries, agriculture, water, power, land use and urban development besides the environment policy rewritten to make a development policy that ensures intergenerational equity over natural resources. It should have dealt with the ecological footprints of all the industrial projects that are cleared by Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. It could have revisited the issue of institutional accountability for Bhopal gas leak disaster, because today the country is faced with too many Bhopal-like situations.
||The Report could have created a compelling logic to get policies on industries, agriculture, water, power, land use and urban development besides the environment policy rewritten to make a development policy that ensures intergenerational equity over natural resources.
Sadly, the SOE Report steers clears of the role of the environmental criminals and fugitives. It could have argued for enhanced budgetary allocation for rejuvenating the decaying institutional infrastructure including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) especially in the light of the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, which said that the CPCB is being 'reduced to a near-defunct body'.
The SoE Report fails to take the next step pursuant to the 141-page report of the steering committee on the environment and forests sector for the eleventh Five Year Plan prepared by the Planning Commission that deals with environment and development. It refers to 'the regulatory challenge' and states: "In the past some years, intensive economic growth, which has increased economic wealth, has led to massive pollution and degradation of the natural environment. One of the main reasons for this is that the regulatory and institutional framework to control pollution and degradation of natural resources is unable to keep pace with the rapidly changing economic, social and environmental situation in the country.' It notes, "The number of polluting activities -- and the quantum of pollution generated -- has increased in the last several years. Furthermore, newer and newer environmental challenges are thrown up -- from solid waste disposal, to disposal and recycling of hazardous waste, to toxins like mercury, dioxins and activities like ship-breaking to management of vehicular pollution." It is surprising how the Report sidelines a global toxic hotspot like Alang coastal zone in Gujarat despite the fact that it attracts regular attention of the national and international media.
|The SoE report refers to about 4.4 million tonnes of total quantity of hazardous waste generated in the country but fails to take note of the absence of landfills for their disposal and contemptuous non-compliance of the Supreme Court order asking Ministry of Environment and Forests for a national landfill policy. With regard to municipal waste management, the report makes a passing reference and reproduces a table of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy where "Waste to Energy" is deemed to have the potential of 2500 MW with touching innocence. It does not take into account the repeated failures of such initiatives, how it is against the cardinal principles of municipal waste management and how Indian waste is not suitable for energy generation because of its low calorific value.
||Among numerous shocking acts of omission in the SOE Report lies its failure to deal with our environmental borders and trans-boundary movement of polluting technologies, hazardous wastes, toxic chemicals and minerals like asbestos.
Among numerous shocking acts of omission in the SOE Report lies its failure to deal with our environmental borders and trans-boundary movement of polluting technologies, hazardous wastes, toxic chemicals and minerals like asbestos. It reveals its ignorance of Green Customs Initiative of the World Customs Organization that deals with six international environmental treaties of which India is a signatory. Besides it does not talk of the shameful absence of an inventory of hazardous chemicals and wastes in our country and its urgent need for the same.
Its meek acceptance of carbon trade, nuclear energy, and bio-fuels while dealing with energy security illustrates quite vividly that the citizens' voice is missing in the report. It notes without taking note of its long-term ramifications that an autonomous National Biodiesel Board is being created to promote, finance, and support organizations that are engaged in the field of oilseed cultivation and oil seed processing leading to biodiesel production. Government of India adopted the Biodisel Purchase Policy and some public sector oil companies are already experimenting with various mixes of biodiesel with diesel in state transport buses, and are engaged in ongoing discussions with the automobile industry to share results. Indian government is promoting the use of ethanol made from sugarcane and bio-diesel. It is unpardonable for the SOE Report to act as if the authors are oblivious of rising international prices of major food grains due to the use of grain for ethanol production and land for food versus fuel has become a burning issue by suggesting biofuel. It missed an opportunity to argue for food instead of fuel to address impending food crisis.
In the context of industrial pollution induced climate change, the Report fails to argue for the application of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities within our own country so that upper classes, upper middle classes and corporations are not allowed to hide behind the poor.
Sadly, no developmental alternatives are offered although by now it is clear that the current state of our depleting environmental capital is a consequence of the impact of a toxic model of development.