In his speech on Constitution Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi very interestingly linked social welfare to the issues governments face when developing infrastructure. Speaking from the podium which had the Supreme Court insignia, the Prime Minister explained in no uncertain terms how activism for environment protection is being weaponized to stall key development projects.
The Prime Minister narrated his personal experience of the Sardar Sarovar Dam from Gujarat. The dam, which was completed in September 2017 after a delay of several years, has enabled once desert-like Kutch district to become a leader in agriculture exports.
The dam was a dream of Sardar Patel who passed away in 1950. The foundation stone of this project was laid by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961. The construction started only in 1987. It took 56 years for the project to get completed—half a century marked by loud environmental protests, international activism, issues with multilateral agency funding due to the activism and consequent implementation delays. And yet, as various stages of the project kept getting commissioned, districts like Kutch benefitted. The Saurashtra region, once water-scarce and prone to the vagaries of weather, also benefitted from the project in a big way.
Prime Minister’s argument was quite clear—if Kutch becoming a green export leader isn’t the best example of pro-environment policies backed by signature infrastructure project, what else would be? He then proceeded to explain why the activism, borrowed from the West, is unable to see the real benefits of such projects for the deprived sections of the Indian society.
He zoomed in on a ‘colonial mindset’, which uses template western arguments and force-fits them to Indian milieu sans any context or understanding of the larger issues involved. This colonial hangover manifests in many ways but most visibly in the form of environmental activism. Template ideas, definition of problems and potential solutions taken from the West are applied to India, without any appreciation of their applicability or relevance.
What the Prime Minister didn’t say, but is apparent in the society, is that anyone who then tries to reason with the activists, ends up facing a barrage of labels—a descriptor warfare delivering sticker shock to those attempting to rationalize the debate. Ultimately, the genuine, fact-based sum and substance of the project at hand concedes a meek defeat to the noise of activism, often well-resourced and increasingly international.
The Prime Minister was spot on talking about India’s leadership on climate issues. Even before India declared a Net Zero ambition for 2070, India was the only G20 country doing enough from the global commitments made in Paris during COP21, to keep emissions under the threshold leading to sub-1.5 degree temperature rise by the turn of the century.
The Panchamrit plan declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during COP26 in Glasgow sets near-term high ambition. India plans to achieve non fossil fuel-based energy capacity of 500 Gigawatts by 2030. It is not just about installed capacity—India also plans to generate 50 per cent of the consumed power through non fossil fuel-based sources by 2030. The carbon intensity of the economy will be reduced by 45 per cent in the same time frame. Between now and 2030, India will reduce the projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes.
These are world-leading climate ambitions. For a country in the middle of a serious effort to reindustrialize, while supporting 16 per cent of the global population, these commitments demonstrate genuine concern for the environment. As Prime Minister remarked at Vigyan Bhavan, India has always proudly co-existed with nature.
India has brought world-leading ideas to the table in the context of environment. In 2015, India proposed the formation of the International Solar Alliance, which was the first treaty-based organization to be headquartered in India. The “One world, One sun, One grid” ambition articulated by the Prime Minister sets the tone for the global solar sector of tomorrow.
The National Hydrogen Mission is already catching on. Private as well as government firms are already taking steps for investing in green hydrogen. The state-owned oil companies have unveiled plans for green hydrogen use. HPCL in Vizag, BPCL in Bina in Madhya Pradesh and Indian Oil in Mathura are already investing in first steps towards the potential fuel of the future.
The Electric Vehicle revolution is beginning to gain momentum with a characteristic Indian touch. Firms like Hero Electric, Ather Energy, Ola Electric and a dozen other players are setting India’s hyperlocal personal mobility market on fire with new product launches in the two-wheeler space.
The signature Production Linked Incentives are being offered by the government in areas which will help affirmative environment actions. These programmes will bring in new investments in solar PV modules, advance chemistry cell batteries and clean automotive—each helping the cause of a greener and a cooler country.
All these data points are ignored by the environmentalists who want to stop the construction of roads, dams, factories, power plants and pretty much anything that will help uplift local economies and national destiny. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the colonial mindset parroting the demands of industrialized nations is indeed severely data averse. The developed countries have already emitted 15-times India’s carbon in the last two centuries be it in absolute terms or per capita ones.
The developed world is past its prime in using the global carbon space. The developing world also has a right to share this carbon space for its own industrialization. The developed world is however applying its benchmarks to countries that are yet to rightfully and morally use their share of the carbon space. In doing this, the developed world is essentially using environmental causes to prevent the developing countries from reindustrialization. Environment is increasingly being deployed as a non-tariff, technical barrier. The developing world cannot be left holding the can for the sins committed by the developed world historically. The stock of the problem cannot be solved using levers of the flow.
A colonial mind may not be able to appreciate that Indian steps towards environmental rejuvenation are second to none. India cannot stop its socially and environmentally responsible growth journey, waiting for policy validation from outside. The colonial hangover needs to abate, but it needs building many more roads and dams of mental rehydration.
Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization, Geneva. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.