India and Sustainable Development

Contemporary growth theories make it discernible that environmental sustainability is potentially incompatible with uninterrupted economic growth in the wake of limited resources. Inability to achieve environmental sustainability can even obstruct achievment of long-term economic growth. Given the trade-offs between environment and development, the issue is not to achieve the maximum economic growth or total maintenance of environment, but is one of arriving at optimality both in economic progress and environmental protection, and the concept of sustainable development may be the guiding force.

Sustainable development is defined by the Brundtland Report as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 This definition requires that future generations should at least get as much resources as we have, to meet their needs, but the question is how to judge whether a generation is leaving behind adequate resources for their successors. That is, it lacks tractability as it embeds many complex economic ideas, especially when one is interested in measuring whether an economy is on a sustainable growth path.2

A working definition of sustainable development is provided by Partha dasgupta: “Economic development is sustainable if, relative to its population, a society’s productive base does not shrink.”3 Productive base can be defined in terms of stock of capital assets and institutions. Capital assets include manufactured capital, human capital and knowledge, and also natural capital. Sustainability, thus, can be equated to non-declining value of the productive base. To get an idea of whether India’s development has been sustainable over a period of time, estimates of the changes that took place over the period in its productive base, relative to its population are required. It is this definition which is adopted for the purpose of this essay.

Viewed in a broad spectrum growth in Indian economy has been registering an average rate of 7/8 percent per year in recent years and per capita income is increasing at the rate of about 7 percent. Hectic endeavours to keep up the momentum of economic growth had kept environmental considerations as secondary objectives in policy making. It has been a tough trade-off decision between economic growth and environmental protection. Broadly speaking, damage caused by pollution in India is estimated to cost $14 billion annually; amounting to close to 4.5% to 6% of GDP. This apathy towards environmental protection has been threatening the sustainability of growth trajectory.

Cost of Neglect

Neglect of environmental issues has made India incur huge losses in terms of money and depletion of resources. Land degradation has been a serious problem in India. It takes place through the natural and man-made processes of wind erosion, water erosion, and water-logging. It is estimated that about 57 per cent of the total land is under some form of degradation. Under a business as usual scenario, it is estimated that India loses about 40 million tones of major soil nutrients annually.

Untreated water from urban settlements and industrial activities, and run-off from agricultural land carrying chemicals are primarily responsible for the deterioration of water quality and the contamination of lakes, rivers, and groundwater aquifers, and causing enormous damages to the economy. The water quality of surface and ground water has deteriorated significantly over the last two decades. The water quality of most of the rivers in India is not even fit for bathing, recreation and other social uses that Indians have been using for thousands of years.

Towards Sustainable Development

Sustainable development in India includes a variety of development schemes in social, cleantech (clean energy, clean water and sustainable agriculture) and human resources segments, having attracted the attention of both Central and State governments and also public and private sectors. Social sector, cleantech 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, making depletion in natural resources wealth a key component in its measurement of GDP.

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 2009.4

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.

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.5

Government Initiatives

The Government of India has launched many initiatives towards sustainable development in recent years. Under the National Solar Mission,the government targets to set up 1,100 MW grid-connected solar plants including 100 MW capacity plants as rooftop and smaller solar power plants for the first phase of the National Solar Mission till March 2013. The government has approved US$ 974.65 million for this.

In addition, the government plans to generate 20,000 MW solar power by 2022 under the three-phase National Solar Mission, with 2000 MW capacity equivalent off-grid solar applications, including 20 million solar lights, also planned to be installed during this period. Besides, the government has also initiated following measures:

  • The government has formulated the National Policy on Biofuels and given its approval for setting up the National Bio-fuel Coordination Committee and Bio-Fuel Steering Committee. Under the policy, it targets increasing the blending of biofuels with petrol and diesel to 20 per cent by 2017.
  • The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) will be investing around US$ 3.39 billion for the development of renewable energy (RE) sector projects during the 11th Five Year Plan. As per Planning Commission estimates, RE projects worth US$ 15.97 billion, (expected to generate 15,000 MW power) are likely to come up in the Plan.
  • The government is considering a regulation to make use of renewable energy mandatory for special economic zones (SEZ) to save on traditional fuel like coal and diesel.
  • India is likely to spend over US$ 20.4 billion on setting up of power plants based on renewable energy sources by the end of 2011-12.
  • The government has allowed 100 per cent FDI (foreign direct investment) in the renewable energy sector and a conducive policy has been put in place to attract foreign companies.
  • The government is proposing to convert special economic zones (SEZs) into green hubs.
  • In the Union Budget 2010-11, the government announced the setting up of the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) for funding research and innovative projects in clean technologies. To build the corpus of the NCEF, clean energy cess on coal produced in India at a nominal rate of Rs.50 per tonne will be levied. This cess will also apply on imported coal.
  • Moreover, the plan outlay for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been increased by 61 per cent, from US$ 136.83 million in 2009-10 to US$ 220.70 million in 2010-11.

Corporate Initiatives

Of late the Corporate sector in India has also heeded the call of the time and some leadeing players in the Corporate sector have started initiating measures designed towards sustainable development. The Dell Company, in partnership with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), has launched ‘The Climate Eduxchange’–an IT-enabled initiative to improve environment education in schools across India. The campaign aims to raise awareness and understanding about climate change issues among students and teachers of all disciplines.

Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS), an organisation involved in the steel major’s community building initiatives, has embarked on an initiative to empower communities by creating awareness on the Right to Information (RTI) Act at the grassroots level. Similarly, Wipro Infotech, provider of IT and business transformation services, has unveiled its new eco-friendly and toxin-free desktops, manufactured with materials completely free of deadly chemicals like polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants. There is growing interest in the Corporate sector towards investments in green technologies, as is illustrated from the following examples:

  • Investors from the US and European countries are keen to invest around US$ 416.4 million to promote and equip small and medium enterprises engaged in green business such as advanced technologies for water management, agriculture/organic products, clean technologies, ecotourism, renewable energy, green building materials, etc.
  • PV Technologies India (a subsidiary of Moser Baer), Titan Energy Systems, Reliance Industries Ltd, Tata BP Solar Power are among the 12 Solar Photo Voltaic projects filed under Special Incentive Package Scheme (SIPS), which have received in-principle clearance from the Government. Together, these 12 projects would entail an investment of US$ 16.34 billion over a 10-year period.
  • Finnish company, WinWind Power Energy, has opened its US$ 77.5 million wind turbine-cum-blade manufacturing facility near Chennai.
  • Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), a programme of US-based William J Clinton Foundation, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government for the setting up of five solar parks in Gujarat. The proposed 3000 MW solar power project will see an investment of over US$ 10.3 billion.
  • Natural Energy Processing Company (NEPC) India Ltd is planning to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) at Palladam near Coimbatore with an investment of around US$ 429.09 million.
  • Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica, a Spanish company specialising in sustainable energy technologies, especially fabrication of wind turbines and setting up of wind farms has set up a 500-MW per year capacity facility in Chennai at an investment of 40 million euro.

India- China Cooperation

India and China have burgeoning economies and the largest populations in the world. Besides, both countries are the biggest consumers of natural resources. Hence, cooperation between these two countries is vital for sustainable development.

A Western commentator once said, in the 19th century the U.K. taught the world how to produce; in the 20th century the U.S. showed the world how to consume; if China and India want to lead the 21st century, they must teach the world sustainable development. With a combined population of 2.4 billion, China and India are twice the size of Europe and North America. To develop in a sustainable way is therefore is almost a sine qua non for both.

The U.S. consumes a quarter of global crude oil. If China and India reach the same consumption levels as the U.S., 780 million tons of crude oil will be burned every year. World oil reserves are just 15.89 billion tons. Even if all other countries stopped using oil, current reserves would only cover 20 years of consumption by China and India.

Both countries are ancient civilizations and over the centuries, they have developed their own cultures, life styles and social norms which are deeply rooted. They should not ape Western life styles which are not eco-friendly.


In order to attain the goal of sustainable development, India should gradually reduce dependence on use of fuels such as petrol, diesel etc., which are non-renewable and not good for our environment too.  Afforestation should be encouraged. In rural areas, the waste land should be utilized for planting trees suitable to the local environment and in urban areas every colony should have to contain about 30to40 percent area with trees and plants. Industries should have to stop using the dangerous chemicals like cluoro-flourocarbon i.e cfcs, methane i.e ch4 or other chemicals which are not only affecting our environment but us too.the recent example of this is the change of the colour of our one of the most beautiful monument i.e THE TAJ and now its condition is getting worsend day by day due to acid rain which is causd by these horrible chemicals. People’s awareness and sincerity colud be the most effective factor in sustainable developement .because we are responsible for making our environment polluted and now we are tyring to be a developed country and only we can develop our country by treading the path of sustainable development.


  1. The Report of the Brunndtland Commission, Our Common Future, London: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  2. Vouvaki and A. Xepapadeas, “Changes in Social Welfare and Sustainability: Theoretical issues and Empirical Evidence”, Ecological Economics, 2008.
  3. Partha Dasgupta, “Nature and the Economy”, Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 44, 2007, pp. 475-487.
  4. Adapted from “Sustainable Development”,, March 2010, available at .
  5. Ibid.

Post source : Article published in Third Concept/June 2010/Vol.24/No.280/P.No.9/

About The Author

Related posts


  1. Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Arvind Kumar,

    Greetings from AFPRO !

    Congratulations for your latest article on India and Sustainable Development June issue 2010. We will share this with our Governing Body Members and other partners.

    There is a need for continuous approach with Govt, Corporate and others for sustainable development. I wish all the best in your efforts to bring awareness about the importance of this approach.

    With best wishes,

    Yours sincerely
    for A F P R O

    D.K Manavalan IAS (Retd)
    Executive Director
    AFPRO- Action For Food Production
    25/1A, Institutional Area, Pankha Road
    D-Block, Janakpuri, New Delhi 110058

  2. Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Arvind Tyagi

    I need to appreciate your continuous & untiring efforts towards water saving & sustainable means to recharge water.
    I sincerely feel that your bringing the concept of rainwater harvesting & solar energy promotion close to the educated middle class would certainly help. Need of the hour is to shake us all to allow us wake up & take social responsibility of these issues and act in line with them.
    Only then our Nation would be saved.
    If anything I can do in my personal capacity, I would like to volunteer.
    Salute to you anyway!


    Arvind Arora I CEO

    Abdoolally Ebrahim Textiles Ltd
    Abdoolally House, 20 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong.

  3. Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Arvind,

    Thanks for sharing your interesting pieces of work.


    Bharat R Sharma
    Senior Researcher & Head
    International Water Management Institute
    New Delhi Office, NASC Complex, CG Block-II
    Pusa, Dev Prakash Shastri Marg,
    NEW DELHI- 110012, India
    Ph: +91-11-25840811/12, Fax: 25842075

  4. Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Arvind Kumar,

    thanks for the article. It is very interesting for reading and
    understanding the water problems in India.

    Dr. Elmira Aleynikova*
    Environmental Journalist 47074-00100
    Nairobi, Kenya


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *