There’s No Point In Talking About ‘Development For All’ If These Concerns Are Ignored

Posted on March 22, 2016

By Ekam Singh:

An artisan paints folk art at a handicraft fair in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata February 28, 2008. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal (INDIA) - RTR1XOX9
Image credit: Reuters/Parth Sanyal.

I come from a non-science and non-technical background. When I think sustainable growth or development, what comes to mind instantly is the fact that for anything to grow sustainably, it needs to have an extremely solid foundation. At the cost of sounding overly simplistic, I would like to draw attention to the fact that we can discuss strategies for development and inclusion and sustainability but these would only be workable once we are sure that the basic structure of this nation lies on solid ground or, in other words, has the potential to support developmental and progress related initiatives.

There are numerous scientifically supported techniques, designs and even quick fixes that are helping and may continue to work for specific areas of work in particular regions. Compressed Natural Gas to operate auto-rickshaws, attaching motors to bicycles or carts to make them faster and more efficient and the like are all examples of creative thinking and frugal ways of operation. However, in my essay, I would like to emphasise those ideas that, in my opinion, may be rather long drawn out methods but will ultimately help to put India on the path from which we can see concrete growth and long-term benefits for the nation as a whole.

When I emphasise on the nation ‘as a whole’, I am conscious of the fact that India is a nation that is home to a multitude of religious, cultural and economic identities. It is understandable that a policy that may work for a certain one of these identities may not work for another. Also, owing to our variety of geographical landforms and related variations, policies need to be designed keeping in view the requirements and nature of the set of people that they target. Therefore, in this essay, I shall discuss some broad suggestions that I believe can be implemented uniformly throughout the nation without posing contradictions to the specific needs of the different parts of the country.

The first factor in order to make growth truly sustainable, I believe, is education. However, by education, I do not merely mean availability of basic elementary education to children as a fundamental right. Article 21A of the Constitution of India provides the right to free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years. However, I believe that the relevance of this ‘basic’ education in the growth of an individual and ultimately to that of the country is little, or can be enhanced manifold.

In a country where roughly 22% of the population lives below poverty line, it is not surprising that households subject to such a condition would give education less priority. Usually, by the time a child from such a household completes her basic elementary education guaranteed by the Constitutional framework, she is expected to become one of the wage earners in the household that can barely make ends meet. Such labour is usually unskilled and given the quality of education that most such children receive, one can easily predict her future. Almost similar to that of her parents with nothing to show for in terms of empowerment or growth.

To alter this plight of the children I suggest that the framework of education be made such in which there is a conspicuous thrust on skill development from the earliest possible stage. We cannot assure high-quality private school education but what does seem like a doable thing is to empower individuals with viable skills that would lead to early economic empowerment and independence, which is believed to be a major yardstick of growth for any nation or people. Therefore, I suggest that vocational training be made compulsory within the ambit of basic education and especially in areas that cater to low-income households. Locals can be recruited to give vocational training to children so as to create awareness about its necessity as well as more employment opportunities for the people.

As a tool to address all three main components of sustainable growth, i.e., environmental, social and economic, I would like to suggest an alteration in the way the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) works in our country. Presently, companies that have a net profit of Rs. 5 crores or more (along with some minimum limits for net worth and turnover) are required to spend at least 2% of their average net profit from the preceding three financial years on CSR activities. Activities that these companies can undertake in order to fulfill their CSR obligations are eradication of hunger and poverty, promotion of education and gender equality, ensuring environmental sustainability, contributing to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, etc. I believe that CSR can be made more effective if it were made more specific.

For example, these companies could be asked to identify a remote area or village close to where they operate and can be assigned the task of spending the money put aside for their CSR obligations on the upliftment and regeneration of these areas. Specific tasks such as small scale revamping of the few primary schools in the area, setting up vocational training centres, undertaking campaigns to spread awareness on social issues and introducing concepts of indigenous social entrepreneurship and setting up sustainable environment-friendly mechanisms are among the host of other activities that can be taken up.

In this way, remote areas that are often ignored or are at the very bottom of the development pyramid can be put on the path of integrated growth with the rest of the country. The residents of such areas can be made aware of opportunities that lie beyond what they can imagine. This may also help to considerably mitigate the burgeoning migratory trend from rural to urban areas which puts immense pressure on resources and leads to over-crowding of cities, a possible spurt in crime, degradation of the quality of services provided, etc.

Another way that CSR can be carried out is by making sector-wise allocations, especially in the textile and fashion industries. It is no secret that our indigenous handicrafts and handlooms, albeit superior in quality and design, are dying a slow death. Their authenticity and profound Indian character are slowly getting dissolved in the wave of instant, modern works. Hence, in order to preserve and sustain these crafts and hence a significant part of India’s identity, large fashion, artwork and textile companies can be made to deliver on their CSR obligations by extending some kind of patronage to area specific native artisans and can even promote their work through their large and effective marketing networks. The idea is to give contemporary relevance to these authentic and historically relevant and irreplaceable crafts.

Over to climate change and environmental pollution. It is a fact that there simply are too many vehicles in India. People in urban, as well as rural, areas are increasingly taking to car ownership and it is not uncommon to see more cars in a house than there are members or even space to park. My hometown, Chandigarh, has the highest vehicle-people ratio in India. Needless to say, emissions from vehicles collectively lead to grave environmental consequences. However, when one delves into the reasons for such an increase in vehicle, some other points come to light as well.

Besides the increasing purchasing power of the upper and middle segments of the society, the fact that there doesn’t exist an efficient and effective public transportation system in most Indian cities, barring a few, also pushes people to own a private vehicle. Also, there are no legislations or incentives that may help in curbing the use of private transportation and using either public transportation or carpool facilities. Similarly, industrial establishments can be offered incentives such as tax rebates on consuming less than a specified target of energy and can be penalised for consuming beyond a pre-determined consumption limit for power and water. Similar consumption limits can be set for residential and commercial areas so that the rampant wastage can be checked and resources can be used economically.

Another aspect of growth that I feel strongly about is growth the ‘Indian way’. History has presented us with an incredible multi-cultural yet strongly united background. However, this distinct culture which forms the very essence of the Indian identity is increasingly getting left behind in our attempt to merge with the integrated global culture. My point is that Brand India should be as much about our eclectic mix of communities, practices and cultures as it should be about our credible production, our dedication to environmentally desirable growth and our significant contribution to the world economy.

I believe that sustainable growth is not a quick or instant process. In this case, we may have to make ourselves content with the idea of delayed gratification as the results of these processes will be visible only over a span of time. But the fact is that once results begin to be felt from policy changes aimed at long-term permanent solutions to age-old stifling problems, they will surely be here to stay. Once a people are set on a path which urges them to create solutions as opposed to merely treading along a beaten path, we can be sure that we are on the path of sustainability in the true sense.

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