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India needs a different answer: Sunita Narain

Today I was listening in to this NPR program where Sunita Narain was discussing the environment dilemmas in India and how the different protagonists was addressing it within the country and how the world was behaving to the issue at large.

I have heard a lot of activists in India speak on this issue and I believe that Sunita’s talk was very refreshing.  Most of the people are cliched.. and fall quickly into a category.  They espouse “an” ideology without any regard for merit or otherwise.  Sunita’s discussion, on the other hand, was very logical and balanced.  It was straight!

Some of the salient points:

1. West has gone through the cycle of Rich & Wasteful > pollution > clean up – so it has been a role of “Waste Managers”…. its been behind the problem.. as opposed to ahead of the problem.  Environmentalists are not that but Waste Managers.
2. India has been Frugal and efficient.  For India, it would be foolish to be wasteful and then clean up.  It is far better to think up ways which will make us efficient despite being frugal.
3. Over the years, the democratic quotient in US has gone down.  Activists are more corporate bed fellows than independent thinkers.  
4. India needs a completely NEW approach to tackle future (this was her recurring theme).  The ways of West and the solutions from West are of no use. “What has failed in the US has little chance of succeeding in India”.  Very well said!!
5. She was tired of foreigners talking incessantantly of Growth as opposed to Development when they come to India.  Development is more comprehensive an action as opposed to Growth.
6. Whether we like it or not, India will remain majority rural country.  The pattern of US where most rural areas became urban, is not happening.  I found this as a self-limiting belief.  I think our entire existence needs a rethink if we are to “progress”, lower/eradicate poverty and develop.

I believe (and Sunita said the same thing) that we have not really defined what development means to us honestly.  We have been given a definition and asked to run with it.  We have faithfully done that.  The answer is NOT the US… its NOT the China.. its NOT the Venezuela or Cuba… the answer HAS to be Indian!  It has to be a real Indian answer.  And that courage of conviction to define that word has not surfaced yet in the common man as well as intellectuals.  We need to be confident and at peace with our selves and say that this is what makes most sense for India… and so we will go ahead with it.

Every path.. every step on that path will present choices and implications.  It is important to be cognizant of the larger implications as we go on and not get into a trap that we cannot come out of.

India is making everything anew.  It has the opportunity to redefine its infrastructure.  It can make it in a way that will help our future.  Or simply copy.  For example, would it be better to make highways with Petrol pumps having Hydrogen pumps that can fuel Hydrogen based cars… instead of Petrol?  So we get on to the highway with no pollution?  The greatest issue blocking widespread usage of such technologies is the cost of changing the  infrastructure to cater to the maintaining its delivery in the West!!

In centuries gone by, the Kings used to create Baulis in Rajasthan and other hot areas.  Should the low budget hotels take their cue from that practice?  An underground source of water which is fed by rain water and recycles the waste water and has rooms around that water body below the ground surface – making it cool AND self-efficient?

Is it better to look at the sanitation and sewage designs of Europe or Mohenjo Daro?  What was the basic intelligence and self sufficient assumptions that went behind those designs?  There are lessons to be learnt.  Lessons that indigenous design and work is constantly reminding us of.

What do you think?