Event ReportsPublished on Jul 02, 2018
Urgent need for 'green accounting' and 'green GDP', says expert

Pointing out that the cost of damage to the environment is put at Rs 34,0000 crores per year and it reduces the GDP by 9.5 percent annually, Dr. S. Janakarajan, President of SaciWATERs, Hyderabad, emphasised the need for ‘green national accounting’.

“Is development possible without making compromises on our environment?” he asked while initiating a discussion on the topic, ‘Environmental Accounting: Concepts & Concerns’, at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter, on 23 June 2018.

“The abuse of natural capital will be disastrous and catastrophic,” said Dr. S. Janakarajan, pointing out that the country is struggling to achieve a trade-off point for sustainable development while keeping at bay the degradation of environment.

As an economic giant, the nation has to face several questions about its development, such as controlling the growing rate of consumerism and environmental decline. Unfortunately, Dr. Janakarajan said, “It is the middle class that bears the costs of environmental degradation, as they struggle to make ends meet and find the environmental chaos mind boggling.”

Far-fetched idea? 

Green national accounting is the need of the hour and it concerns itself with arriving at environmental costs, measuring of ecology and valuation of eco-system. But the lack of data greatly curbs the efficiency of this model, said Dr. Janakarajan. There are several pollutants which play a huge role in diminishing the quality of water basins and air.

Most of the pollutants such as solid waste, bio-medical waste and E-waste are released by heavy industries and they contribute to the pollution of river basins, surface and groundwater.  But the corporates that release these pollutants only maintain an account of economic costs and benefits and omit the social costs which are crucial for environmental accounting said Dr. Janakarajan. In this context, he referred to the recent turmoil in Tamil Nadu, the ‘anti-Sterlite agitation’ in Thoothukudi, and such other public protests in Kadiramangalam and Neduvasal, which have all drawn attention to the impact of environmental degradation on the lives of people.

Water scarcity & economy 

The country is facing a threat of water scarcity with 600 million of the population facing high to extreme water-stress, he said. The situation is further worsened with 70 percent of the water being contaminated. In this context, he posed a question, “Do we really care about water?”

Dr Janakarajan pointed to the detrimental effects of water scarcity on the nation’s economy. The ramifications of water scarcity on the economy are multiple, such as the transition from rural poverty to urban poverty, increase in illiteracy, lack of basic needs and hike in gender disparity. If water scarcity persists, it can lead to an alarming loss of six percent in the GDP by year 2050, he warned.

Over the years, the country has experienced loss of water bodies such as rivers, streams, estuaries, brackish-water, lakes, creeks and mangrove forests, Dr. Janakarajan pointed out. “The first stage to their disappearance is depletion and then desertification which can be observed in the several parts of the country.” Their disappearance is due to human activities and it has led to irrevocable loss of forests cover, increase in carbon space along with ground water depletion and contamination.

Abusing environment

In this context, he referred to Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu, where a State-promoted industrial estate was dumping their pollution load, which ultimately led to the loss of the estuary. In this context, he asked a looming question, “Can we get the environment back after we abuse them?”

The Palar River in the State too has become another victim of industrial exploitation.  A high number of leather tanneries situated along the river basin has contributed to its destruction. The effluents released in the river are found to be high in TDS, chromium and cyanide. The environmental destruction of the river has led to the economic collapse of the region. Decreased yield led people to abandon the region in search of better livelihoods. Apart from the economic consequences, serious health problems have been reported by the residents, Dr. Janakarajan said.

Along with dumping of effluents, the failures of the enforcement agencies have further contributed to the decline of the river. Regrettably, Dr. Janakarajan observed, the Palar has been named as the third most polluted river in the world. The Noyal basin can be added to this list of victims, being so close to Tirupur, known as the ‘Hosiery capital’ of the country.

Here, fresh ground water is used for dyeing and bleaching purposes and then discharged into the Noyyal River. The Orathupalayam dam, which served as lifeline for several surrounding villages, is now rich with pollutants, adversely affecting crops, cattle, the fertility of the soil and drinking water.

Forgotten waterways 

The Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai has three major waterways -- rivers Cooum and the Adyar and the Buckingham Canal. Unfortunately, Dr. Janakarajan noted, these waterways can now be described only as carriers of sewage and industrial effluents. Worse still, they go untreated before mixing with the Bay of Bengal.

“Despite spending huge amounts of money, the situation has gone from bad to worse,” said  Dr.Janakarajan. He pointed out that a river has a capacity to rejuvenate itself, which meant that “we just need to stop polluting them, if we have to revive them, without even having to do anything special or specific.”

In conclusion, Dr. Janakarajan said that the need for environmental accounting is critical now more than ever. Development must mean that the government aims for a “green GDP.” Development shouldn’t compromise the ecology, and the nation needs to be careful not to succumb to western concepts and developmental pressures.

This report was prepared by Madhumitha Ashok, I Year MA, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Madras

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