1

Introduction


"Quality of environment is one of the major indicators of the level of development of a country"

Being a democratic welfare State, we have enshrined in our Constitution not merely the concepts of equity and social justice but also the responsibility for fulfilment of, at least, the basic minimum needs and to improve the quality of life of the people. Accordingly, a conscious decision was taken after independence to broaden the economic base, comprising of traditional agriculture and raw material exports, by accelerated industrialization so that resultant value addition could give a boost to the GNP. Maximum exploitation of natural resources thus became a desirable objective with the attendant pollution of air and water being accepted as unavoidable.

But, industrialization on the Western pattern has proven to be a mixed blessing - increasing GNP accompanied by a huge backlog of air and water pollution and land degradation.

Development model of the industrialized world was essentially based on the premise that raw materials would continue to be available in plenty and in perpetuity at a cheap cost either from their own reserves or from their colonies. Natural resource optimization was, therefore, not of much concern as long as profits kept piling. Adoption of this model in India, coupled with dependence on cheap but wasteful and outmoded imported technologies, has naturally created a backlog of pollution which is truly staggering. Adverse impact of air and water pollution on living beings and biomass is well documented. A study in 1995 estimated the economic loss due to air pollution alone in 36 cities of India at $2,102 million/year and consequent premature deaths at 40,351/yr. Major environmental costs from all sources have been estimated to be $9,715 million/year in India amounting to 4.53% of GDP. Details may be seen in Tables-1 &2.

 

 

TABLE - 1

 

Major Environmental Costs estimated for India (1995)

 

 

Problem

Impacts on Health and / or production

Low estimate

 

(Million US$)

High Estimate

 

(Million US$)

Average

 

(Million US$)

Urban air pollution

Urban health impacts

517

2,102

1,310

Water pollution (health impacts)

Urban and rural health impacts, esp diarrhoeal diseases

3,076

8,344

5,710

Solid degradation

Loss agricultural output

1,516

2,368

1,642

Range Land degradation

Loss of livestock carrying capacity

238

417

328

Deforestation

Loss of sustainable timber supply

183

244

214

Tourism

Decline in tourism revenues

142

283

213

Total costs of environmental degradation

 

5,672

13,758

9,715

Total cost, % of Gross domestic product

 

2.64%

6.41%

4.53%


 

 

 

TABLE - 2

 

Health Costs due to Ambient Air Pollution Levels exceeding WHO Guidelines in 36 Indian Cities (1995)

 

 

Physical Impacts

Cost Valuation

(Million US$)

Premature deaths

40,351

170-1, 615

Hospital admissions and sickness requiring medical treatment

19,800,000

25-50

Minor sickness (Including restricted activity days and respiratory symptom days)

1,201,300,000

332-437

 

-

517-2,102

Subsequent studies conducted show these estimates to be rather conservative and the actual loss is reported to be much more.

Pollution is nothing but a wasted resource and wastage of the scarce natural resources as pollutants in the gaseous, liquid or solid form bodes well neither for the economy nor for the environment. Indeed, prosperity of a nation depends upon how skilfully and optimally are its natural resources harnessed and utilized especially because we are in no position to manufacture them. Equally critical is the need to institutionalize the concept of Equity and Social Justice so that the control of natural resources and the outputs of development programmes do not get cornered by "vested interests" thereby depriving an ever increasing proportion of the population of its basic means of sustenance. Otherwise, the impoverished segment of the society is then likely to attack the natural resources in the crudest manner possible for mere survival thereby further destroying the resource base. Such a situation is obviously not tenable even in a resource rich country.

Maintenance of ecological balance is synonymous with natural resource conservation and optimization -a prescription equally valid for rapid economic development.