Green Growth: India's Environmental Challenge

By Prabhu, Suresh | Harvard International Review, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Green Growth: India's Environmental Challenge


Prabhu, Suresh, Harvard International Review


SURESH PRABHU is Minister for the Environment and Forestry of the Republic of India.

Around the world, leaders are struggling to meet the imperatives of development in an environmentally sustainable way. India, cognizant of the importance of environmental regulation, has faced the challenge with a set of new policy initiatives. After the parliamentary elections earlier this year, India's first task was to prescribe a National Agenda for Governance. A key element of this Agenda was the formulation of a comprehensive national policy to balance economic development with environmental protection. While economic liberalization and deregulation have injected vitality into production, manufacturing, and services, they have unleashed some environmental conundrums.

The continuing conflict between the environment and economic development consists of many issues. The National Agenda will address both India's long-term potential for growth in light of dramatic increases in economic activity and energy demand, as well as concerns relating to public health, industrial safety, and emergency preparedness. India's existing policy framework for protecting the environment is outlined in three documents: the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment & Development of 1992, the Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution of 1992, and the National Forest Policy of 1988. The National Conservation Strategy provides the basis for the integration of environmental considerations in the policies and programs of different sectors. It emphasizes sustainable life styles and the proper management and conservation of resources. The Pollution Abatement Policy stresses the prevention of pollution at the source. It encourages the development and application of the best available technical solutions. The policy embodies an approach by which polluters are held financially accountable for the pollution they generate and emphasizes the protection of heavily polluted areas and river regions. The Forest Policy stresses the maintenance of the environment through the preservation and restoration of India's ecology. This policy seeks to substantially increase the forest acreage in the country.

These policies alone, however, lack cohesiveness--a deficiency that has not escaped public attention. Indeed, the environmental problems are large and multifaceted. They include the growth of urban slums and shortcomings municipal and civic services. Developing and implementing solutions to these environmental quandaries will require cooperation between various branches of government and multiple areas of academia.

In articulating its policies, the Indian government has taken the initial step towards alleviating its environmental problems. While the government's position has been clearly expressed, there are still many barriers to the effective regulation of the environment. India is striving towards strengthening monitoring institutions such as state agencies and regional centers of the Central Pollution Control Board that monitor the environment. Despite these efforts, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are still in their infancy. Other new environmental policies seek to complement the existing monitoring arrangements by involving universities and other educational institutions in corresponding field activities.

The tension between the interests of Indian industry and environmental protection is apparent in India's regulatory measures. Chemical and petrochemical industries seek to detract attention from their environmentally harmful activities by focusing preventive efforts in other directions. These companies have been able to deflect the focus of governmental control through redefining problem areas; thus, some industries with high-intensity pollution remain exempt from regulation.

Industry vs. Society

Another common area of contention between the state and industry has been the consumption of energy and the disposal of waste generated by energy production.

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