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Biodiversity & Environment

Environment vs Development Debate

  • 23 Jan 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in the Karnataka High Court claimed that the Environment Protection Act, 1986 was passed by Parliament not only for protection of environment but also at the instance of foreign powers.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • A writ petition filed by the NGO, United Conservation Movement, against a 2013 notification of the Union Environment Ministry doing away with environment impact assessment reports for widening national highways of over 100 km by more than 40 metres.
      • The United Conservation Movement is a conglomeration of environmental groups, and has over the last couple of years challenged NHAI projects in the Western Ghats, a tiger reserve as well as construction activity in a wildlife reserve.
  • NHAI’s Claim:
    • NHAI also alleged that many NGOs file petitions for upholding the norms of the Act at the instance of foreign powers.
      • Foreign entities such as Amnesty International and Peoples Union for Civil liberties through its Indian counterparts have filed Writ Petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
        • Article 32 of the Constitution (Right to Constitutional Remedies): It is a fundamental right, which states that individuals have the right to approach the Supreme Court (SC) seeking enforcement of other fundamental rights recognised by the Constitution.
    • The submission alleges that many organisations in India, which function as environmental action and human rights, are actively involved in attacking development projects, and challenging the government. policies & notifications and doing anti national activities.
    • The Environment Protection Act, 1986 is an Act that was influenced by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972 (Stockholm Conference)
      • Hence, the Act has been passed by Parliament not only for protection of the environment but also at the instance of foreign powers.
  • Court’s Ruling:
    • The High Court has directed the NHAI chairman to nominate a very senior officer to look into and inquire into the manner in which the statement of objections was filed.
    • The High Court has also asked the NGO, United Conservation Movement, to provide details of its constitution and activities carried out in environment and conservation.

Development vs Environment

  • Importance of Environment:
    • The economic significance of the environment is evident with the range of ecosystem services that it offers. These include:
      • Provisioning services (food, irrigation, drinking water).
      • Regulating services (climate regulation, water quality regulation).
      • Cultural services (recreational and religious services).
      • Supporting services (nutrient recycling, soil formation).
    • Millions of households and developmental activities utilise these ecosystem services for production and consumption.
  • Relation of Environment with Development:
    • Rapid industrialisation and urbanisation are inevitable to bring in desired levels of economic development.
    • This is also believed to be essential to substantially increase the per capita income.
    • However, these income-generating activities are sure to have negative environmental consequences such as pollution.
    • Noticeably, environmental quality is being compromised for the goals of mass employment generation and poverty reduction.
    • It is believed that with gradual increase in income levels along with growth in financial and technological capabilities, environmental quality could be restored.
    • But the reality is that the continued growth generating activities only increasingly deteriorates the environmental quality.
  • Developmental Factors Affecting Environmental Sustainability:
    • Lack of Environmental Compliance:
      • Neglect of environmental principles is a key reason why natural hazards end up causing a significant number of avoidable casualties.
      • Any exercise to scientifically ascertain the risk from natural hazards to a region are barely implemented in the right spirit.
      • Unregulated quarrying and the unscientific cutting of slopes into hills aggravates the risk of soil erosion and subsequently increases the risk of landslides.
    • Ill-effects of Subsidies:
      • In pursuit of providing welfare to vulnerable sections of society, the government has provided a bulk of subsidies.
      • However, subsidised nature of services like energy and electricity leads to their overuse and undermines environmental sustainability.
      • Further, subsidies also undermine the revenue base and limit the government’s capacity to invest in new, cleaner technologies.
    • No Cost to Environmental Resources:
      • Access to natural resources is entirely open and no individual user bears the full cost of environmental degradation and resources are consequently overused.
    • Complexity of Population Dynamics:
      • Increasing population tends to exacerbate the linkages between underdevelopment and environmental degradation.
      • Further, poverty generates significant incentives to raise large families and stimulate migrations, which makes urban areas environmentally unsustainable.
      • Both outcomes increase pressure on resources and consequently worsen environmental quality, diminish productivity and reinforce poverty.

Way Forward

  • Development remains the greatest pursuit as well as a challenge, faced by humanity. However, despite the unprecedented economic and social progress that has been made over the last century, poverty, famine and environmental degradation still persist on a global scale.
  • Moreover, environmental deterioration and climate change have started to show irrevocable damages to the developmental progress made so far.
  • Thus, development goals must be pursued without breaching environment regulations.


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