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    Making economic growth sustainable: Why the end doesn't justify the means

    Making economic growth sustainable: Why the end doesn't justify the means

    Making economic growth sustainable: Why the end doesn't justify the means
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    By Vijay Gaba   IST (Updated)


    A harmonious and peaceful society enjoying a decent lifestyle should be the ultimate goal of economic growth and development. Otherwise, it has little meaning, regardless of the statistical achievements.

    Swami Jagadatmananda, in his famous work Learn to Live, wrote that the sincerity and honesty of the means to achieve a goal was equally important as the goal itself.
    If you observe the waves in the ocean carefully, you would notice that a wave that originates from the centre of the ocean travels the farthest and ends at the shore; whereas a wave that originates from the shores hardly travels a few metres and dies. Perhaps that is why Mahatma Gandhi said the Swaraj will be achieved when "the growth will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.”
    Economic growth which is not sustainable and equitable has little meaning. Such growth, whatever the authorities claim, brings only misery, discontent and despair. A harmonious and peaceful society enjoying a decent lifestyle should be the ultimate goal of economic growth and development. Otherwise, it has little meaning, regardless of the statistical achievements.
    The prudence says that the dimensions of development which are directly in conflict with the sustainability and core beliefs must be rejected outright. Unfortunately, we have not seen any policy drive to this effect from various governments. In fact the current political leadership in the country emphasises most on the indispensability of sustainability concerns. However, many of the government's action have been totally the contrary to this emphasis of thought. For example consider the following:
    In summer of 2013, the tribal villages of Niyamgiri in Odisha, unanimously rejected the proposal of Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and Vedanta group to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills. The decision was widely hailed as historic. Two years later, a similar situation emerged in the forests of Chhattisgarh. As many as 17 Gram Sabhas, falling under Hasdeo-Arand coalfield, passed a resolution opposing the re-allotment of coal mines. The struggle continues till date. I am not sure if the recently announced changes in rules for FDI in coal mining account for the dissent of the tribal people.
    The sustainable solution would be to afford the ownership of all public resources to ‘the public’. Instead of a few feudal ministers controlling the resources, the trusteeship of all the natural resources should be vested in the local communities. The local communities should determine how these resources should be exploited. Industries based on these resources should be developed on a co-operative model with equitable ownership for local people, the financiers and the entrepreneurs.
    Another instance of utter disregard for the sustainability concerns is the road-widening project in the Garhwal Himalaya. The project aims to connect the four sacred temples in upper reaches through a wider road network. The stated objective of the project is to make it more convenient and safer for the pilgrims to visit these sacred temples and develop the tourism infrastructure in the state.
    As a frequent visitor to the region, I can vouch that the ecology of the region is already facing serious threats. The Kedarnath tragedy of 2013 is just an illustration of the disasters we are going to face rather frequently. This widening of roads will not only cause cutting of numerous trees, but also result in massive increase in vehicular traffic and number of pilgrims visiting the region. Rise in pollution and garbage, pressure on infrastructure, massive construction of room capacities and other conveniences will thoroughly destroy the sanctity of the place itself; and severely damage the sacred rivers originating from the region that are already facing existential challenges.
    The sustainable effort would be to ban all private vehicles in 50km radius of these sacred temples; allow only disabled and senior citizens to travel by public buses to the temples; develop the traditional pedestrian route to the temples; provide tented accommodation with bio-toilets along the way; restrict the number of pilgrims visiting these temples, and make it compulsory for all pilgrims to plant one tree each and pay for their maintenance for one year.
    Recently, the MSME and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari advocated that it should be made mandatory to sell tea in kulhad (traditional earthen cup) at railway stations, state road transport bus stations and airports. The stated twin objectives are (i) reduction in the use of single use plastic; and (ii) enhancing the livelihood opportunities for traditional potters.
    It is pertinent to note that the same scheme was introduced by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav during UPA-1 regime, with the same objectives. It utterly failed in meeting its objective and was discontinued.
    Regardless of how much attractive this idea sounds, it could be potentially a major disaster both in terms of sustainability as well as economics.
    First, the earth that is used for making kulhad is the most fertile part of the land. The kind of volume we are talking, we risk losing the most fertile top of the agricultural land in the next 10 years. Moreover, kulhad is a single use product. Post use it would most likely be crushed and the dust may be used for construction purposes. However, the dust remaining unused would be more dangerous than the desert sand for the city pollution and agricultural fields.
    Secondly, these kulhad are processed in a wood-fired and/or coal-fired furnace with absolutely no control or check. This would be equally as harmful to the environment as the use of plastic.
    Thirdly, for the kind of volume being suggested by the minister in his proposal, the cottage industry may not be able to meet the supply. Obviously, it will be the larger producers or aggregators who would be making most of the money.
    Bio-degradable paper cups made out of recycled paper is the sustainable solution here, not kulhad .
    Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation.
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