After reading this article you will learn about the environmental planning and management in rural and urban India.
Environmental Planning and Management: Rural India
According to the latest estimates, 26.1 per cent of India’s population lives below the poverty line as per NSSO (1999-2000). Several forms of human deprivation are observed such as poor survival chances, landlessness, employment of children, bonded labour, environmental pollution and social exclusion arising out of caste and gender discrimination and not necessarily linked to income in a predictable manner.
Further, large disparities also exist across regions and social groups. The disadvantaged groups are members of the Scheduled Castes (SC’s), Scheduled Tribes (ST’s), and Other Backward Classes and also include women, children, the physically handicapped and the disabled.
Recognizing that the poor and the under-privileged have not gained substantially from the development process, the Approach Paper to the Ninth Five-Year Plan, 1997-2002 underscores participatory planning as an essential precondition for ensuring growth with equity.
Some major objectives are:
Priority to agriculture and rural development with a view to generating adequate productive employment and eradication of poverty and accelerating the growth rate of the economy with stable prices; Ensuring environmental sustainability of the development process through social mobilization and participation of people at all levels; Empowerment of women and the socially disadvantaged groups and strengthening efforts to build self-reliance and, Promoting and developing people’s participatory institutions, such as Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI’s), co-operatives and self-help groups. These approaches will promote Sustainable Human Development (SHD) that focuses on employment expanding choices of the poor and gender-sensitivity.
The participation of poor people- especially women amongst them – in their own development has been critically hampered by the absence of strong organizations of the poor. This principle of people’s organization equally affects specific interest groups: agricultural labourers, small and marginal farmers, water users, mine and quarry workers, handloom weavers and other rural artisans, to give a few examples.
In some cases – such as those of rural artisans – getting organized could help in securing the backward and forward linkages of raw materials and markets.
The Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), the largest anti-poverty governmental effort, is meant to benefit small and marginal farmers. In all the above instances, the absence of people’s organization stands in the way of deriving optimal results.
Even where specific interest groups are able to access development schemes, experience suggests that centrally designed programmes do not improve the lot of the poor.
Howsoever limited in quantitative terms and in qualitative scope many developmental interventions might be, even these restricted benefits do not appear to reach the poor.
The absence of people’s organization implies the absence of participation in articulating needs, in devising solutions and in implementing them. Without the building blocks of people’s organizations, creating a network and federation of these bodies to give them size and strength to negotiate with local government officials becomes difficult.
Another core problem has to do with inability of poor communities to access technical knowledge in different areas like agriculture, livestock-rearing, forestry, sericulture, water management, health and so on. The functioning of local-level institutions and governmental personnel with their departmental hierarchies often does not make them responsive accountable to local communities.
In consequence, the poor do not get relevant information or new knowledge or skills. Even if successful social mobilization strategies are put in place, it is necessary simultaneously to identify legal and regulatory frameworks that protect the interests of the poor – whether in relation to compulsory education or inheritance rights for women or forest management – to promote an enabling environment.
As developing countries, including India, demand increasing amounts of electricity to sustain their economies, long-term planning is needed to balance this growing need for power and environmental concerns. Practical strategies are needed to minimize the impact of growth on the environment and, through the environment, on human health.
The concern for environmental planning and management for the rural sector in India arises out of the fear that while the propertied elite pockets the gains of development projects, the ecological costs are borne by the unorganized poor. Guided by the profit motive, a reckless usage of resources – air, water, forests and land ruins the very life support systems of the poor.
Though, it might appear that environmental degradation in the major forms of air and water pollution hurts all, even here it is the poor who suffer more. Air pollution pushes the poor into the polluted low rent areas resulting in the swelling of unhygienic slums all over India, while the rich move out for locations of cleaner air.
The discussion in this section bring us to the conclusion that we cannot take for granted that we can ignore ecological degradation in the interest of poverty alleviation. Any project evaluation for implementation of new development plans must include not only ecological costs, but also these costs should also be given further weightage in terms of distributional implications.
It is a challenging task for any project authority, i.e., the government and other NGO’s to do justice to this environmental need, and at the same time be careful enough not to miss a development opportunity.
The dilemma could particularly become difficult, where gains of a development strategy or project are expected to make a significant impact in terms of removing hunger and reducing poverty in the larger economy, whereas its losses are either borne by the local poor or is passed on the future generations.
Since agricultural production is expected to remove hunger and reduce poverty, such a dilemma could be relevant to certain development strategies adopted by the government and therefore, needs to further be probed.
Rural population pressures are outstripping gains from agricultural intensification such that the natural resource base is deteriorating in many places. Out- migration from such areas either to cities or regions with higher agricultural productivity is generating another set of environmental and natural resources challenges.
Although we do not have any prejudices towards the rural or the urban areas in terms of whichever government has come to power after independence, it is felt that the rich have more access to financial resources which enables them to discover loopholes in regulations and thereby, the burden of environmental disturbances is borne by the rural poor.
Therefore, the government and the planners must look into ways and means of environmental education and forming of associations that protect the rights of the rural poor. Measures adopted to improve their standard of living and way of life through implementation of sound policies would be one strategy that can be adopted towards environmental planning, management and development of rural India.
Environmental Planning and Management: Urban India:
As the second most populated and seventh largest country in the world, India faces an entirely different scale of environmental challenges than its neighbours. The combination of these characteristics, and its decentralized form of government, means that the neighbouring countries often have closer working relationships with adjacent state governments than with central government agencies.
However, the size of the country’s tax base and budget and the relatively high availability of well-trained environmental and economic experts mean that more resources are available to these central government bodies in terms of staff and access to information. The country is also able to command an influential place on the world stage.
As India is currently preparing a new assistance strategy, this assessment offers an opportunity to provide useful input on environmental and natural resources management issues in the country and within the regional context. The quality of urban environments is deteriorating throughout India, with rising levels of air and water pollution, and weak provision of sanitation services.
These factors contribute to high human costs through negative impacts on human health and morbidity. Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai rank among the top ten most polluted cities in the world, and several others are close behind. The table below indicates the degree to which these costs can directly affect marcro-economic development prospects, even in a large economy such as India.
The urbanization trend is a direct result of national policies promoting industrialization as the principal path to economic development. The subject of urbanization in India-its underlying causes, relationships with unsustainable rural resources management and the associated and growing pollution problems connected to both settlements and industrialization-are the subject of some analysis by USAID/India and the US-Asia Environmental Partnership (US-AEP) as part of the current strategic planning exercise at the country level.
India has identified consequences of urbanization as a focus area for assistance in the country. Program responses have included the introduction of innovative financing approaches for the provision of urban environmental infrastructure and a range of efforts in collaboration with chambers of commerce to promote cleaner production practices in the private sector.
In recent years, this assistance also has included a strong emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (due, in part, to sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear weapons test).
The addition of the South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/E) will complement India’s on-going support for power sector restructuring and the promotion of cleaner and more energy-efficient industrial production that will help pull back environmental problems that haunt the urban areas of our country.
Three main topics were identified as potentially of high significance beyond the urban, industrial, and energy problem areas already being addressed by India’s programs:
i. Competition Over Scarce Water Resources:
Whether in the wet or dry areas of the country, or in urban or rural settings, competition over the allocation and management of water resources is emerging as a top environmental issue. With wide biogeographic, socioeconomic and cultural variation, it is difficult to generalize about the nature of these issues of India-each area of the country seems to have a unique set of water management challenges.
The decentralized form of government also means that the management of watercourses shared by multiple states within India’s boundaries may present some of the same challenges inherent in “trans boundary” river basin management involving multiple nations. Water management in India is a rising crisis that already affects national and regional economic and political stability.
ii. Environmental Determinants of Human Health in Urban Areas:
India’s rapid urban growth is leading to enormous health problems derived from environmental causes. Rigorous studies have recently underscored previous conclusions based on anecdotal evidence that environmental factors-ranging from indoor and outdoor air pollution to a scarcity of clean water supplies-are creating staggering social costs through increased disease and morbidity.
The poor and socially weak suffer the most. Regional activities of USAID on urban development (through the Delhi-based South Asia RUDO) and on urban and industrial environmental management (through US-AEP) are addressing certain aspects of these problems.
However, there would appear to remain scope for improved coordination by the government towards health, child survival, and environmental programs in understanding and responding to the environmental determinants of human health in urban and rural areas.
iii. Disaster Preparedness, Response and Links to Natural Resources Management:
India is a disaster-prone country. It is subject to droughts, floods, wind damage, and earthquakes (as so tragically illustrated in Gujarat not long ago). The legacy of Bhopal also has left sensitivity to the threat of man-made disasters. Many leading scientists involved with climate change research believe that, at least for typhoons, the combined effects of more intense storms and sea level rise will lead to even higher damage.
There is a call for greater attention to be given to disaster forecasting and advance warning systems in India, and to both physical and institutional preparations and responses. As elsewhere in the region, there are clear opportunities for complementarities between disaster preparedness and improved rural and urban development planning.
As noted, India’s neighbours believe that attention to the topic of weather and flood data sharing could provide a non-contentious vehicle for improved regional cooperation on broader natural resources management issues- especially those dealing with trans-boundary water resources.
It is clear from the above that urban environmental planning and development is as necessary as in rural areas of our country and the government must concentrate more on regulations and it’s policies to reel in the country’s fate back into it’s hands.
These are just a few areas out of the many that the planners can concentrate on at the time as development of an area must not affect the ecological harmony and balance prevalent anywhere in the country.