Gujarat National Law University
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Director(Vice-Chancellor) Speeches & Important Messages

"Peaceful Coexistence through Sustainable Development—Need to Minimize Ecological Imbalance, Pollution and Uncontrolled Exploitation of Natural Resources.", Three Day Round Table Conference, MAEER’s MIT, Pune, Sunday, 31 January 2010.

Dear friends,
Let me start by using some quotes:
Man is a social animal. He cannot survive alone. The man who lives alone is either God or a beast. Aristotle
We cannot have an Ecological Movement designed to prevent violence against nature, unless the principle of non-violence becomes central to the ethics of human culture. Mahatma Gandhi
The clearest evidence that we are living beyond environmental means is the threat of dangerous climate change. The scale of this threat, to human life and to the natural resources and assets on which it depends, for everything from oxygen and clean water to healthy soils and flood defence, means that this simply must be our top priority. David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair
These three quotes, one from very ancient time, another from the last century and the last one from this very century.
I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address the Panel about the importance of the cause that is of such high relevance, especially today. We are all well aware of Gandhiji’s maxim of Simple living and high thinking, which is still a major driving force in making sustainable development and controlled exploitation of natural resources a distinct possibility.
The core issue at stake today is the environment. Every time we make a decision in relation to expanding businesses or corporate mergers, we need to prioritise our necessities. The impact that the outcomes of these decisions have on the environment makes its imperative for us to act responsibly and renders us liable. Therefore, preservation of Nature falls amongst one of those fundamental values which cannot be overstated. It is for that reason that I appear before you today, not only in the capacity as the Director of Gujarat National Law University, but also due to my personal commitment to the environmental cause. I am here to offer my personal testimony about the problems related to development and to environmental management in our part of the world, as well as to reaffirm some of the measures which are essential to effectively deal with the many problems caused by the generation and accumulation of waste, sustainable development programmes and the need for proper and efficient implementation of legislations.
One of the most prominent problems that India faces today is e-waste disposal.
In the last millennium, world population rose 22–fold, and world GDP nearly 300–fold. This contrasts sharply with the preceding millennium, when world population grew by only a sixth. Between the United States (the present world leader) and Africa (the poorest region) the gap in income level is now 20:1. This gap is still widening. A direct result of this is the problem of waste disposal in the economy. Industry has become an essential part of modern society, and waste production is an inevitable outcome of the developmental activities. Of major concern, especially to industrialized countries, is the problem of what to do with the waste materials produced each year. The United States, for example, produces enormous quantities of hazardous waste each year. Because of environmental regulations, the "not-in-my-backyard" movement, landfill closings, and citizen opposition to local waste facilities, the search for dumping sites for waste disposal extended beyond regional and national boundaries and countries are increasingly disposing of their problematic materials by shipping them to the Third World, where they pose substantial threats to human health and the environment. The 1980s have seen several attempts to export hazardous wastes to third world countries. Africa gradually has become the prime hunting ground for waste disposal companies.
The result of this was the Basal Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, 1992, which is a comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes, as per its official website, being ratified by 172 parties. However, the effectiveness of this convention has been a subject of controversy since its inception. As with international law, there are no defining national legislations related to this issue of disposal in most developed countries. Hence, in the United States and elsewhere, companies are free to dispose of their waste utilizing any means possible. The practice of shipping toxic waste to third world countries is effective not only as a cheap method of disposal, but it is seen as a way of improving the economy of these countries. Such patronizing attitude has brought third world countries unto the throes of an enormous environmental and economic crisis, which they are barely equipped to battle.
The lax implementation of legislation has resulted in the creation of the world’s digital dumping grounds, in the southern Chinese city of Guiyu, the digital slum of Agbogbloshie in Ghana etc. where millions of tons of the West's electronic waste, or e-waste, piles up each year. In May 2009, PC maker Dell Inc. formally banned the export of broken computers, monitors and parts to developing countries amidst complaints of lax enforcement of environmental regulations which allowed a hazardous electronic-waste recycling industry to emerge. Such show of responsibility by companies and consumers is essential to mobilize a global network of certified e-waste recyclers.
But doing it environmentally would require investment in machinery, labor, everything, which are ‘unnecessary’ expenditures. This being the pessimist’s view, even if we have a state-of-the-art facility of e-recycling, in a developing country like India, the free market will send it to the lowest common denominator, to the worst facilities where people are sitting on the streets just picking through it by hand.
It’s a myth to think that you can just solve the problem immediately with technology alone. However, with effort, awareness, and the strict enforcement of legislation, we could force the high tech industry to recycle responsibly and maybe one day put the digital dumps out of business.
Sustainable energy investment in India went up to US$ 3.7 billion in 2008, up 12 per cent since 2007. It included asset finance of US$ 3.2 billion, up by 36 per cent. Venture capital and private equity saw an increase of 270 per cent to US$ 493 million. Merger and acquisition activities totalled US$ 585 million. Most acquisition activity was centered on biomass, small hydro and wind projects, according to the report, Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009.
India’s sustained work towards reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) will ensure that the country’s per capita emission of GHG will continue to be low until 2030-31, and it is estimated that the per capita emission in 2031 will be lower than per capita global emission of GHG in 2005, according to a new study. Even in 2031, India’s per capita GHG emissions would stay under four tonnes of CO2, which is lower than the global per capita emission of 4.22 tonnes of CO2 in 2005.
The ecological sustainability of current industrial and organizational practices becomes more questionable as one considers the next 40 years. As per Ehrlich & Ehrlich, by the year 2050, world population will increase from 6.8 billion to 9 billion. To provide basic amenities to all people, it is estimated that the production of goods and energy will need to increase 5 to 35 times today's levels. With current technologies, social organization, and production practices, this level of production will generate commensurate increase in environmental degradation. Some analysts think that these dire assessments of ecological problems are exaggerations. They point to the high degree of scientific uncertainty about the pervasiveness, severity, and human consequences of environmental problems. Some argue that new technologies and laissez faire capitalism can prevent massive ecological disruptions and permit reasonable rates of growth. Still, these sanguine assessments do not contest the desirability of creating a worldwide ecological-economic equilibrium. They accept the need for caution in expanding worldwide production and consumption. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission Report popularized "ecologically sustainable development" (ESD) as a means for simultaneously dealing with economic and ecological problems. The July 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro further cemented international commitment to ecologically sustainable development through treaties for dealing with ozone depletion, global warming, and declining biodiversity. Government policies and programs have selectively mitigated many environmental problems. However, because much economic activity occurs within corporations, these government efforts need to be supplemented with new voluntary efforts by corporations in order to address the industrially induced ecological problems.
It is necessary to understand that corporations too stand to benefit by moving toward ecological sustainability. They could benefit by reducing costs through ecological efficiencies, capturing emerging "green" markets, gaining first-mover advantage in their industries, ensuring long-term profitability, establishing better community relations, and improving their image.
The focus is on corporations and the role they play in ESD, as the unit of analysis for the following two reasons. First, corporations are the primary engines of economic development. Second, they have financial resources, technological knowledge, and institutional capacity to implement ecological solutions. However, I acknowledge that corporations are only one of the many wheels of sustainability. Consumers and governments form the other wheels. Consumers must be willing to consume fewer products and use these more wisely, while governments must establish ecologically sustainable economic policies.
Although analysis of the contributions and roles of governments and consumers is also necessary, it is with regret that I admit even after the sad lessons that India has learnt by way of the Monsanto cotton debacle and the false promise of Green Revolution, we still aspire for short cuts. Hundreds of farmer suicides and starvation deaths later, India’s political leaders have yet to learn their lessons and exercise belief in Traditional Environmental Knowledge. For example, at the moment, our Union Environment Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh is debating whether to allow corporations with American interests to genetically engineer India's King of Vegetables—the brinjal.
The U.S.-backed companies say the Bt Brinjal will be free from pests, but Indian farmers have successfully grown brinjal for thousands of years without this toxic gene. Bt Brinjal is created with U.S. technology that inserts the gene of a bacterium into brinjals. The gene causes the Bt Brinjal to produce toxins. But there are no studies proving that Bt Brinjal is safe for human consumption. In fact, rats fed on Bt Brinjal had diarrhoea and liver weight decrease. If Bt Brinjal is grown in India, it could contaminate traditional brinjal farms as well, thus tainting India's food supply forever.
Friends, we do realize that uncritical belief in Western science and technology as the only valid approach to resolving environmental problems has fallen by the wayside. In fact, science and technology are believed to be the cause of many of the problems that we now face. Realizing the faults in its own system and recognizing the value of other knowledge in addressing global environmental concerns is a significant step for dominant Western society. Science and technology, at least on their own, cannot get us out of the situation that we are in now. Other approaches are required, especially ones with long, successful track records like Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK). TEK is increasingly viewed as a viable alternative to the status quo that caused the problems in the first place. Thus, TEK has received increased attention over the last couple of decades, particularly in the area of sustainable development. Although there are protocols (the Convention on Biodiversity, for example) that promote and encourage the recognition and utilization of TEK as an integral part of moving towards sustainability, there has been little evaluation of the methods being implemented to achieve this sustainable future. Nor has there been much in the way of monitoring the level of achievement of its desired outcome: sustainability.
Global ESD requires that those who are more affluent adopt lifestyles that are within the planet's ecological means. At the same time, it requires limiting total world population, and it involves managing the earth as it is transformed by human actions. It seeks an alternative form of ecologically sustainable economic growth, using energy conservation, resource regeneration, environmental preservation, and minimization of wastes. ESD is a comprehensive strategy for global development. The Brundtland Report conceptualizes it in terms of four interrelated strategies:
(a) managing the impacts of populations on ecosystems, (b) ensuring world- wide food security, (c) managing ecosystem resources, and (d) creating sustainable economies. In this case, sustainable economies imply sustainable energy use, sustainable industrialization, and sustainable urbanization.
Sustainable development in India now encompasses a variety of development schemes in social, clean-tech (clean energy, clean water and sustainable agriculture) and human resources segments, having caught the attention of both Central and State governments and also public and private sectors. Social sector, clean-tech investments into green energy and fuel alternatives and development schemes for backward and below the poverty line (BPL) families are being touted as some of the more heavily invested segments in India in 2009, despite the economic slowdown.
In fact, India is expected to begin the greening of its national income accounting starting this year, making depletion in natural resources wealth a key component in its measurement of gross domestic product (GDP).
India’s sustained work towards reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) has been globally appreciated and it will ensure that the country’s per capita emission of GHG will continue to be low until 2030-31, and it is estimated that the per capita emission in 2031 will be lower than per capita global emission of GHG in 2005, according to a new study. Even in 2031, India’s per capita GHG emissions would stay under four tonnes of CO2, which is lower than the global per capita emission of 4.22 tonnes of CO2 in 2005.
India has been ranked ninth in the tree planting roll of honour in a campaign to plant a billion trees, which was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in November 2006. The country has registered 96 million trees.
However, an environmental perspective must also be used to guide the evaluation of all development projects, recognizing the role of natural resources in local livelihoods. This recognition must be informed by a comprehensive understanding of the perceptions and opinions of local people, about their stakes in the resource base to ensure the sustainability of the natural resource base, the recognition of all stakeholders in it and their roles in its protection and management is essential.
There is need to establish well-defined and enforceable rights (including customary rights) and security of tenure, and to ensure equal access to land, water and other natural and biological resources. It should be ensured that this applies, in particular, to indigenous communities, women and other disadvantaged groups living in poverty.
Water governance arrangements should protect ecosystems and preserve or restore the ecological integrity of all natural water bodies and their catchments. This will maintain the wide range of ecological services that healthy ecosystems provide and the livelihoods that depend upon them.
Biomass is, and will continue for a long time to be, a major source of fuel and energy, especially for the rural poor. Recognizing this fact, appropriate mechanisms must be evolved to make such consumption of biomass sustainable, through both resource management and the promotion of efficient and minimally polluting technologies, and technologies which will progressively reduce the pressures on biomass, which cause environmental degradation.
The traditional approaches to natural resource management such as sacred groves and ponds, water harvesting and management systems, etc., should be revived by creating institutional mechanisms which recapture the ecological wisdom and the spirit of community management inherent in those systems.
The strong relationship between health and the state of the environment in developing countries is becoming increasingly evident. This calls for greater emphasis on preventive and social medicine, and on research in both occupational health and epidemiology.
Access to safe drinking water and a healthy environment should be a fundamental right of every citizen. Citizens of developing countries continue to be vulnerable to a double burden of diseases. Traditional diseases such as malaria and cholera, caused by unsafe drinking water and lack of environmental hygiene, have not yet been controlled. In addition, people are now falling prey to modern diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and stress-related disorders.
Most developing countries like India are repositories of a rich tradition of natural resource-based health care. This is under threat, on the one hand from modern mainstream medicine, and on the other from the degradation of the natural resource base. Traditional medicine in combination with modern medicine must be promoted while ensuring conservation of the resource base and effective protection of IPRs of traditional knowledge.
Developing countries should also strive to strengthen the capacity of their health care systems to deliver basic health services and to reduce environment-related health risks by sharing of health awareness and medical expertise globally.
However, one of the major impediments in the success of the ecological Consumption and Sustainability drive is the shortage of finances. Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is declining. The commitments made by industrialized countries at the Earth Summit in Rio a decade ago remain largely unmet. This is a cause for concern which has been voiced by several developing countries. Industrialized countries must honour their ODA commitments.
The new instruments and mechanisms, e.g., the Clean Development Mechanism, that are trying to replace ODA need to be examined closely for their implications for the developing countries. In view of the declining trend in ODA, developing countries must explore how they can finance their sustainable development efforts, such as by introducing a system of ecological taxation. Of course, in order to actualize the potential benefits of ecological sustainability, companies will have to incur some new costs. The cost of "setting up" for or transitioning to ecological sustainability will vary from industry to industry and will eventually be significant. But two factors can mitigate these costs (barriers).
First, some of the above-mentioned benefits can be achieved through relatively small investments. Such investments can pass routine investment hurdles in companies. By making ecological investments in stages, companies can distribute the costs over time.
Second, these benefits become persuasive when company members believe they are pursuing broadly substantive, rational goals rather than narrowly economic, rational goals. Such a commitment means they are willing to incorporate the goals and values of ecological sustainability with their more traditional economic goals and values.
Hence, to conclude, there is both a need and a scope for regional and global cooperation in sustainable development. Some of the areas of common concern are marine and riparian issues, trans-boundary environmental impacts, management of bio-resources, technology sharing and sharing of sustainable development experiences. Efforts must be made, especially by developing countries, to work towards synergizing experiences and raising shared regional concerns as a strong united front in international forums. Mechanisms must be put in place to facilitate such international exchange of domestic and global experiences in sustainable development. There must be mechanisms for monitoring the compliance of countries to their obligations under various environmental agreements. Currently there is a multiplicity of institutions with fragmented responsibilities. A better governance regime is required to ensure cooperation and compliance.
Conclusively, I would like to end my speech by throwing light on the fact that Buddhist Philosophy teaches peaceful coexistence and non-violence as the means of sustainable development. Peaceful coexistence can be derived from attainment of individual peace and tranquility which needs mental training. Furthermore, with the steady erosion of value affixed to the same at this day and age, the importance given to sustainable development is slowly diluting. However all is not lost. Sustainable development as its basic resource should elect the creative initiative of individuals and as a fundamental objective the welfare of the material and spiritual.
Thank you for your patience.
Bimal N. Patel,