The longer it takes to take care of issues relating to the deteriorating environment, the more expensive and complicated it is going to be
You have to only look around to acknowledge that the situation relating to environment and ecology in India is only deteriorating, be it air quality, declining water resources or the increasing impact of climate change. The figures concerning land degradation are not good either; also, we are losing biodiversity.
The soil quality in agriculture is eroding. As a result we are constantly dependent upon fertiliser inputs that run off into the rivers and in turn affect public health. Similarly, when we look at water – our rivers are deteriorating in quality, in many cases drying up or polluted.
This is not confined only to the cities. Even in pristine and natural environments, where the rivers originate and flow through natural systems, pollution is present. The indiscriminate damming of rivers throughout the Himalayas is affecting hydrology and water quality.
If you look at four or five major environmental issues, instead of making progress we have been going down the slope. On top of that, we do not have enough human resources or institutions to deal with the crisis that we are facing.
I am in the camp that believes that development is possible, along with growth and with the protection of the environment. By maintaining the integrity of our ecosystems, in the long run we will be much better off.
Not enough thinking
The government agencies are aware of the problem, and there are good programmes associated with various missions set up to deal with climate change. But there is not enough thinking that goes into these programmes, right from design to implementation to outcome. The programmes are disconnected and the money being spent will only have limited return on investment.
Money should be spent by government with a strategic plan in mind to which inputs are provided by scientists. Instead of nepotism or favouritism, the outcome should be determined by a panel of experts that does not have a personal interest in the matter.
In India, we hear about corporate social responsibility (csr), but that is still small bits of money. Again, without a strategic plan, I don’t think corporations in their csr portfolios take scientific inputs into account. They don’t take the opinion of experts. They have staff members who know little about the issues that they are dealing with.
In the US, there are funding agencies, government-sponsored foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals, which cumulatively have a large number of private foundations, with a professional, open and transparent approach to grant making. There are notable exceptions in India that sympolise a professional approach to grant making for public good, like the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives and Rohini Nilekani as an individual philanthropist as well as through her foundation. A fine tradition has been set up by the Tata Trusts.
But I don’t think in general this is being followed by many other Indian philantropists. The number of foundations and individual philanthropists is increasing in India – a very good sign. These new philanthropies hopefully will go beyond the primary interests of the founders and donors and will have a professional approach based on strategic planning with inputs from experts and decide where their investments should be made and how the institutions serving the public good should be strengthened.
Through large strategic investments, new philanthropies can transform the institutional landscape for dealing with our most pressing environmental challenges. In India non-governmental organisations (ngos) may carry a poor tag, though it is recognised that the serious environmental work in India is also being done by ngos – be it Teri, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation or atree.
Compare the investments in government organisations designed to deal with the environment, with the work done by these ngos in relation to their investments. There is a huge disparity betwen the well-known ngos and government institutions in terms of the impact and also in terms of investments.
If you look at the West, corporations are the ones that are most concerned about sustainability because they realise that they will not be in business within 10-15 years, if they don’t do something about environmental and
We have to recognise that many of our problems in agriculture, water, bio-diveristy and even public health have origins in a deteriorating environment. The longer we take to care for these issues, the more expensive it is going to become to deal with these issues.