economic and ecological concerns
development without environmental consideration can cause serious ecological
damage. Sustainable development attempts to strike a balance between the
demands of the economic development and the need for the protection of the
environment. It seeks to combine the elements of economic efficiency,
intergenerational equity, social concerns and environmental protection.
Although the term ‘sustainable development’ has many interpretations, it
generally refers to non-declining human well being over time. The 1987
Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as "the meeting of the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs". A rapidly changing population resource equation, in the
face of poverty, and lack of resources create formidable social and
environmental problems at national and global levels.
population has doubled during the last century, climbing from 2.5 billion in
1950 to over 6 billion in October 1999. The United Nations projects that human
population in 2050 will range between 7.7 billion to 11.2 billion people. The
mid-level projection has been pegged at 9.2 billion. Our stake in the game of
numbers is very high. India, the second largest populous country, is home to
over 16 percent of world’s population while accounting for only 2.42 per cent
of the total world area. By the year 2025 Indian population may cross 1.4
billion. Demographic growth of such dimension creates enormous pressure on
environmental resource base and ecosystems. It will cause serious
socioeconomic problems and will necessitate breaking from the
has a very diverse forest vegetation ranging from the most evergreen forests in
the northeast, along the West Coast and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to the
temperate and alpine vegetation in the
At present, the recorded forest area is 76.52 million ha - 23.3 per cent of the
total geographical area - while the actual forest cover is 63.3 million ha, -
only 19.3 per cent of the total land area. These figures are greatly contrasted
when compared with the National Forest Policy, 1988 stipulation of 33 per cent
target area. Out of the recorded area only 11.2 per cent of the area has forest
with a crown density of greater than 40%. Precise information on pristine,
untouched prime forests of the country is not available but such forests have
are estimated to be not more than 3% of the country’s land area, reflecting a
qualitative decline of the forests in the country. The forest wealth is
dwindling due to:
indiscriminate siting of development projects in the forest areas.
Biodiversity, an essential component of our life support system, is a
collective term that encompasses the variety of all-living organisms - plants,
animals, microorganisms on the earth who act in concert in the functioning of
nature and in maintaining ecological balance.
India is one
of the twelve mega-diversity centres in the world with 46,000 plant and 8,000
animal species. With only 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area, Indian
biodiversity contributes 8% of the known global biodiversity. India ranks tenth
globally and fourth in Asia in plant diversity. It also ranks seventh globally
for the number of species contributed to agriculture and animal husbandry while
tenth in terms of number of mammalian species and eleventh of the endemic
species of higher vertebrates. Our biodiversity is under increasing threat from
estimates over 1500 plant species, about 79 mammals, 44 birds, 15 reptiles, 3
amphibians and several insects are endangered species.
It is a fact
that the world’s high biodiversity areas overlap habitats of indigenous and
local communities which have built on their knowledge system of natural
resource use and conservation practices through continuous use and natural
selection process. It is thus clear that the conservation of biodiversity is
closely tied to the protection and continued use of traditional and local
community knowledge related to natural resources.
of biodiversity is generally justified on ethical, bio-ecological and economic
grounds. Global concern for biodiversity found its expression at the Earth
Summit in Rio in 1992, where a comprehensive level instrument "Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD)" was agreed by governments and it came into force in
December 1993. These efforts are praiseworthy but much more needs to be done to
protect our biotic wealth for posterity.
Out of the
total Indian geographical area of 329 million ha, 175 million ha are considered
degraded. Degradation is primarily caused through erosion by wind and water.
Increased silt load leads to speedier siltation of dams and reservoir.
Increased emphasis on intensive agriculture and over irrigation has resulted in
water logging and salination of the fertile and irrigated areas of the country.
Controlling such land/soil degradation is vital for food security, sustainable
forestry, and agricultural and rural development since it affects the
productive resource base of the economy.
populations grow and water use per person rises, demand for fresh water soars.
But the supply of fresh water is finite and threatened by pollution. Evidence
of water stress can be seen, as rivers are drained dry.
parts of the country, polluted water, improper waste disposal, and poor water
management causes serious public health problems. The Yamuna has almost no
water downstream of Tejewala as all of it has been abstracted for irrigation in
Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Water tables are falling in every state particularly
over large parts of Punjab and Haryana due to excessive abstraction for
irrigation. In the coastal belt of the country over exploitation of the ground
water aquifers are becoming progressively saline due to salt-water intrusion.
safe drinking water, thus remains an urgent need; 85 per cent of the population
in the urban areas and 79 per cent in rural areas do not have access to safe
To meet the
growing requirement for irrigation, country has made significant investment in
dams. Large dams have many environmental consequences and presently they are
the most controversial environmental issues in the country.
catastrophe over this in the long term, it is important to act now. We need to
conserve and manage fresh water supplies in the face of growing population,
increasing demand for irrigation, industry and domestic use. We have to pay
serious attention to balance the supply and demand and make every effort to
promote water use efficiency in every sector.
demand for energy has grown twice as fast as population over the last 50 years.
In the next 50 years, the greatest growth in energy demand is projected to be
in Asia where economic activity will be the highest. Here the consumption is
expected to grow by 361%, though population will grow by just 5%. Thus by 2050,
developing countries will consume a great amount of energy since their
population will increase and become more affluent. As a result, pressure on
energy resources from forests to fossil fuel reserves and to waterways will be
significant. Increasing emphasis needs to be paid to promote energy efficiency
as well as to develop renewable energy resources for promoting sustainable
pollution has been growing since the economic development gained momentum.
Rapid industrialization, burgeoning cities and greater dependence on fossil
fuels have contributed to this growing menace. Vehicular traffic is the most
important source of pollution in all the mega cities. The most prevalent form
of air pollution is a high level of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM). High
concentration of Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and SPM occur in about 20 per
cent of the cities.
pollution in India is worsening by the day, as many urban areas are becoming
lethal gas chambers. Delhi, the capital city, is globally the fourth most
polluted city. The unprecedented spurt in the number of vehicles accounts for
approximately 64% of the total pollution load of Delhi. The situation in other
cities and towns is equally bad.
sources of water pollution are domestic sewage, industrial effluents,
agricultural and mining run-offs which contain organic pollutants, chemicals
and heavy metals. The major water polluting industries include fertilizers,
refineries, pulp & paper, leather, metal plating and other chemical industries.
Most of the
Indian water bodies are dangerously polluted with large stretches of most of
our rivers having water which is unsafe for drinking purpose. With rapid
urbanisation and industrialisation huge quantities of wastewater enters rivers.
A 1994 survey of groundwater quality at 138 sampling locations in 22
industrialized zones indicated that water was unfit for drinking due to high
bacteriological and heavy metal contamination.
facilities to treat wastewater are woefully inadequate. In class I cities, only
5% of the total wastewater is collected of which only 25% is treated. More than
half the cities have no sewage system. The causes of water pollution are:
withdrawal of water
economy and population explosion increase problems of disposal of garbage,
sewage, and industrial waste. With unregulated growth of urban areas, without
necessary infra-structural services, proper collection, transportation,
treatment and disposal of solid waste has resulted in increased health hazards
the current per capita waste generation is very low vis-a-vis advanced
countries, though the actual quantum of waste is large owing to enormous size
of our population. In actual quantum, plastic waste alone has increased
tremendously over the last few years.
The mode of
waste disposal predominantly remains through land filling, a conventional but
unhygienic method. Alternative modes like composting and other scientific
approaches are sparsely used. An inadequate collection and disposal of such
wastes, pollutes and degrades land and water resources besides being a health
always been the vanguard of development. By the year 2000, 2.2 billion people
will live in the cities of the third world. Their numbers are expected to
double by the year 2025. It is estimated that a generation from now, half the
human population will live in cities.
population in Indian cities is growing at twice the rate of the average growth
of the country’s population. India may be a rural country but it has one of the
world’s largest urban populations. The state of cities and towns is abysmal,
and is worsening at a rapid pace. Most basic services like clean drinking
water, sanitation, solid waste disposal, transport and health facilities are
crumbling under increasing population pressure besides inadequate housing.
strive to make cities and towns a better place through good governance,
involving local people in decision-making, paying attention to the
environmental hazards caused by congestion and improving the safety standards.
last half century, carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning expanded at nearly
twice the rate of population growth, boosting atmospheric concentrations of
carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, by 30% over preindustrial levels.
Fossil fuel use accounts for roughly 3/4th of world carbon emissions. Annual
emission of carbon dioxide from industrial countries is currently twice as high
as from developing ones. Emissions from developing countries will nearly
quadruple over the next half century, while those from industrial nations will
increase by 30%, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In
spite of the Climate Change Convention adopted at the Rio in 1992, the global
carbon dioxide emission has been rising steadily. This is in sharp contrast
with the Montreal Protocol, which has received considerable success in cutting
down the emission of CFCs and other ozone destroying substances.
often overlooked, factors in sustainable development are the social and
cultural aspects, ethical values, beliefs, and the institutional development
within socio-cultural systems to meet human needs.
commission on Environmental and Sustainable Development (1987), has recognized
this problem by stating "it is terrible irony that as formal development
reaches more deeply into rain forests, deserts, and the traditional societies,
it tends to destroy the only cultures that have proved able to thrive in these
diversity must be preserved and stakeholders’ participation in resource
management must be encouraged. The concept of sustainable development may
itself be seen as an expression of this new awareness. Our greatest need at the
present time is perhaps for a global ethic - transcending all other systems of
allegiance and beliefs - rooted in a consciousness of inter-relatedness and
sanctity of all life.
Professor C.K Varshney is the National Academic Director, LEAD-INDIA, Centre
for Research on Environment, Ecology and Development (CREED), 3rd Floor, J. P.
House 118, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi - 110049 (India).