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Sustainable Development is a myth

Thirty-four years have passed since the publication of the ‘Our Common Future – the Brundtland Report chaired by the then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1987. The sustainable development subsumed emphasis on synergies among social equity, economic growth, environmental problems and  providing policy solutions. What has been the extent to which development has treaded the path of Sustainable Development is critical. Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Unsustainable extraction of groundwater for irrigation

Considering India’s green revolution of the 1960-1986 as well as post green revolution, both are characterized by groundwater over exploitation. The epicentre of green revolution is Punjab where 98% of area is irrigated and 73% of area is irrigated by groundwater, the highest in the world. Rice was never popular in Punjab earlier. Between 1970 and 2013, rice area increased by 26% per year (from 0.23 ml ha to 2.82 ml ha) and currently 36% of net sown area is under rice contributing 35-40 per cent of rice to the central pool at the social cost of unsustainable groundwater extraction. With the net dynamic ground water resource of 21.443 MCM, and net draft of 31.162 MCM, the overdraft is 9.719 MCM with a draft – recharge of 145 per cent. Punjab is “over- exploited” and reached unsustainable levels of groundwater use due to cultivation of paddy which consumes around 5000 litres per kg. Now, 80 % of blocks in Punjab are in Dark category even though five rivers flow. Situation in Kolar, Chikkaballapur in Karnataka, Indo-Gangetic plains, West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and in many parts of India is no different from Punjab, Haryana. Is this sustainable development of groundwater ?

Agricultural growth

Pumping 25% of world’s groundwater from around 25 million irrigation wells, India is the largest pumper of groundwater in the world with the lowest water use efficiency in crop cultivation. As micro irrigation is hardly in 13% of net irrigated area, Indian farmers obviously use 3 to 5 times more water to cultivate a crop than other countries. India is also the largest exporter of rice and more than 10 trillion tonnes of water is exported with the export of basmati rice. Study conducted by Prof Radhakrishna of CESS indicates that the growth rate of agriculture (agriculture and allied activities) was 1.3% (1.7%) for 1970-80; 4.5% (4.5%) for 1980-90; 3%, (3.1%) for 1990-2000; 1.8% (2.5%) for 2000-2010 and 1.5% (2.7%) for 2011-2017. Well, with the current population growth rate of 0.99%, these agricultural growth rates are well above the population growth rate of 0.99%, disproving the Malthusian theory of population. Even with these modest growth rates, India is ranked second in the world in the production of most of the crops including horticultural crops and first in production of milk. Is this a sustainable development?

Urban development

At present, 31.6% of the population is urban in India, with a growth rate of 3.18%, while 68.84% of the population is rural, with a growth rate of 1.22%. About 25.7% of rural population is below poverty line, while 13.7% of the urban population is below poverty line. The per capita income in urban areas is Rs. 98,435, while that in rural areas is Rs. 40,925. About 63% of the GDP is contributed by urban areas while 37% is from rural areas. Similarly, around 75% of tax revenues are from urban areas, while 25% of tax revenues are from rural areas. How sustainable is this pattern of lopsided development? 

Avaricious investments in urban areas

Real estate investments are one of the prominent securities responsible for urban-rural divide in respect of asset, wealth, income holding. The real estate industry is growth at the rate of 2.24 %. Large scale violations in civil constructions, including self-assessment tax payments are leading to economic losses in property tax collections. In addition, around 50% of urban properties are exempt from property tax in many States. 

Discrimination in information on landed property in rural and urban areas

While all the details of landed properties of farmers are recorded in software (for Eg Bhumi in Karnataka), such details are yet unavailable for urban properties. This discrimination is continuing. Unless urban properties are also documented, tabulated, information is made  public in websites and accordingly taxed, avaricious investments in urban areas will continue to grow unabated adding to widening the gap in income, wealth per capita between urban and rural areas. This is also adding to unsustainable development.

Usage of vehicles in Urban and rural areas

The usage of vehicles is growing unabated. According to Amitabh Kanth, Niti Ayog, there are 22 cars per thousand persons in India, while US has 980 cars per thousand persons, UK has 850, New Zealand has 774, Australia 740, Canada 662, Japan 591, China 164. While India may be relatively comfortable with lower number of vehicles, given the density of population and road infrastructure, the traffic jams and associated pollution is the cause of major environmental menace in India. Is this sustainable development?

We are living a decade of ill health years! 

The percapita income at present is Rs. 99,155 in 2020-21, a fall from Rs. 1,08,620 in 2019 -20 largely due to Covid. On the other hand, the life expectancy at birth has increased to 70 years in India, and simultaneously the Disabilty adjusted life years (DALY) is around 10 years. Thus, on the one hand per capita incomes are increasing, while on the other, the health care cost as well as DALY (=years of life lost due to premature death + years of life lost due to disease, disability) are increasing. Is this sustainable development?

Considering some of these above aspects, are we on the path of sustainable development or on the path of unsustainable development? 



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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