Myth of the Great Indian Growth

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), August 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Myth of the Great Indian Growth


NEW DELHI, Aug. 1 -- India's fabled growth story has just been exposed by an unlikely source - the World Bank (WB). Unlikely, because this institution is one of those most responsible for advocating economic growth as the pillar of development. In a report released on July 17, the WB states that the cost of environmental damage amounts to 5.7% of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This effectively means (though the report fights shy of saying it) that most of India's annual economic growth is being wiped out by environmental damage caused, or ignored, by this growth.

A year after ushering in the economic 'reforms' or globalisation in 1991, the then finance minister Manmohan Singh said that such reforms were necessary to generate money to put into environmental conservation. However, environmental funding has never kept pace with the kind of damage being caused and the ministry of environment and forests has never got more than 1% of the budget outlay. Almost 21 years later, the WB report's lead author says: "grow now and clean up later will not be environmentally sustainable for India in the long run".

The WB report assesses the damage caused by urban air pollution, inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene, indoor air pollution, agricultural damage by soil salinity, water-logging and soil erosion, rangeland (pasture) degradation, and deforestation. It admits not including other aspects, such as coastal erosion and pollution, municipal and hospital wastes, loss of fisheries, loss of non-use values of forests, and decline in biodiversity values. Add to this, the others it misses out on, such as chemical and toxic poisoning, or a range of worker illnesses related to unsafe labour conditions (eg mining), and the figure of overall GDP loss would possibly go higher than the economic growth rate even at the height of the growth period.

Astoundingly, the report shows that "23% of child mortality in the country could be attributed to environmental degradation". Nearly half of India's population is affected by water-related deaths and illnesses, and over 110,000 people die prematurely due to urban air pollution.

The WB report does not separately estimate the impact of environmental damage on the poor, but admits that they are likely to be higher than on the rich (eg with child mortality). …

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