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| Last Updated:17/03/2020

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India's remarkable growth story clouded by a degrading environment

JAIPUR: The past decade of rapid economic growth has brought many benefits to India, but on the flip side the environment has suffered the most, exposing the population to serious air and water pollution. India's remarkable growth record, however, has been clouded by a degrading environment and growing scarcity of natural resources. Mirroring the size and diversity of Indian economy, environmental risks are wide ranging and are driven by both prosperity and poverty.

A new report by the World Bank finds that environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 5.7% of its economy. For an environmentally sustainable future, India needs to value its natural resources, and ecosystem services to better inform policy and decision-making especially since India is a hotspot of unique biodiversity and ecosystems.

In a recent survey of 132 countries whose environments were surveyed, India ranked 126th overall and last in the 'Air Pollution (effects on human health)' ranking. The survey concluded that India has the worst air pollution in the entire world, beating China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Also, according to another recent WHO survey, across the G-20 economies, 13 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India. Simultaneously, poverty remains both a cause and consequence of resource degradation: agricultural yields are lower on degraded lands, and forests and grasslands are depleted as livelihood resources decline. To subsist, the poor are compelled to mine and overuse the limited resources available to them, creating a downward spiral of impoverishment and environmental degradation.

Over the last decade, India's strong growth has increased employment opportunities and allowed millions to emerge from poverty. Among the three striking findings of the report, environmental sustainability could become the next major challenge as India surges along its projected growth trajectory.

Besides, for an environmentally sustainable future, India needs to value its natural resources, and ecosystem services to better informed policy and decision-making. "But does growth so essential for development - have to come at the price of worsened air quality and other environmental impacts? Green growth is necessary. With cost of environmental degradation at 5.7% of GDP, environment could become a major constraint in sustaining future economic growth. Further, it may be impossible or prohibitively expensive to clean up later," reads the report.

"While the overall policies focus should be on meeting basic needs and expanding opportunities for growth, they should not be at the expense of unsustainable environmental degradation," said Muthukumara Mani, senior environmental economist at the World Bank.

The Times of India (12-08-2013)