Communities calling for ‘Gross Environment Product’
Looking at the rapidly changing skylines of Indian cities, it is easy to forget that India remains an agrarian society. For the vast majority of Indians, it is the land that provides them with their livelihoods, incomes and security. Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy – yet that same backbone is seemingly invisible to our national progress reports pursuing economic growth at all costs. Which is why, my organization, HESCO, is campaigning for a ‘Gross Environmental Product’ to go alongside Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Cycling to take stock
Recently, my organization bicycled across the country to raise awareness of the role that nature plays in our economic and societal prospects. We covered more than 8000 kilometres and covered all the major climatic zones from mountains to oceans. On our ride, we took stock of the state of our natural capital. We found that 57 major rivers are on the verge of drying and their catchment areas are shrinking. We also found that the forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Above all, it is the local communities who are suffering from a degraded environment.
The pursuit of economic growth has topped all political priorities in the last few decades – even when those priorities have been enshrined in legislation. In 1982 the Government of India brought in an act to ensure that 33% of land in each state would remain under forest cover. Today, most states have little more than 10%. Similarly, the quality of our air and our soil is has been degraded acutely over the last two decades. Despite the critical role these natural systems play in our development, they are totally overlooked by our development planners.
By overlooking the loss of natural capital or its status, the Government has built a development plan that fails to include our local ecology. This has been a constant feature of India after independence. This ultimately has disrupted our ecosystems and resulted in to various climatic problems.
What we are learning from our work with people in villages in the north of India is that environmental degradeation is damaging rural communities the most. Whether it is farm or non-farm products, reduced natural resources have hampered rural productivity. Yet, this rural issue is not much reflected in GDP because it is a metric aimed primarily at industrial production.
At the same time, the opportunist business community has begun to commercialize resources as new pursuit. It first begun with soil which came in form of chemical fertilizer and is today business of billions of dollars. This followed with mineral water bottle. Recent reports from Shanghai, China, suggest that ‘oxygen boxes’ have now hit the market as new business. This is likely to be a roaring venture in future in India which has been placed one of the worst air polluted cities in the world. The commercialization of our life resources will have several implications. It world create resource scarcity, and conflicts and will lead to ecological failure.
Making our planet visible
A balanced development approach where ecology has an equal space with other needs is imperative. Gross Environment Product is a concept that came to HESCO while it was working for equal economic opportunity for rural India. It found that resource depletion is jeopardizing rural livelihood and there is no ecological accounting in our annual development index. HESCO launched movement to demand Gross Environment Product to parallel GDP so that ecological and economical accounting can be brought in place in the interest of rural people and the country at large.
In simple terms, it demands that ecological growth parameters – specially forests, soils, water and air, which are the the essential life elements, are also measured annually. The state’s effort to increase these resources be assessed annually – like GDP. Addition and loss of resources due to development activities should be audited so that compensatory measures are also taken in place.
We are committed to a simple premise – that ‘Gross Environment Product’ is given an equal place next to ‘Gross Domestic Product’