Recently, the Indian economy has surpassed that of Great Britain following Brexit. India, as the largest democracy of the world, has made tremendous progress in the last two decades in various facets of economic development, banking, foreign relations, defense hardware and capabilities, space research, agriculture, establishment of various heavy industries and framework of major infrastructure boosting projects across the nation, achieved major advances in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, marine science and technology, nuclear energy, electronics and information technology, rural electrification, digitization, food security to mention only a handful areas.
In spite of being impacted by the pressure of a massive and fast growing population, unemployment, increasing economic gaps between urban and rural areas as well as between strikingly rich and devastatingly poor citizens of the country, issues of massive corruptions, insurgencies, political instabilities, poor infrastructure and foreign investments, lack of vision and dynamic leadership from time to time, India has continued to develop as the fastest growing economy of the world. In short, in spite of several short comings and numerous pitfalls, India has continued to grow as a great nation; but much needs to be done for greater achievements.
One of the areas that the nation really needs to work seriously for the next few decades is food production, sustainability and food security to feed a huge population and at the same time, protect the vast ecological diversity of the nation to preserve a better, healthy, green environment for our future generations.
There is no doubt that India needs more industries and even a larger infrastructural haul across the nation to maintain high economic growth, but the caution is not to transform into another China, where people in major cities and even villages cannot see the open sky most days of the year due to high and alarming levels of uncontrolled air pollution as a result mass industrialization.
India should learn from this experience and try to follow a green and sustainable national policy on rapid industrialization and balance it with ample safe guards such as establishing green zones, urban and rural forests, city parks and gardens, water bodies, promote urban gardening and national greenery schemes, social forestry and a strict policy to utilize unused or underutilized free spaces for long term ecological and environmental sustainability.
At the end of December, 2016, the Indian Railways released a fabulous and ambitious plan of converting 8859.18 acres of its unused land for generating farm products under the Grow More Food (GMF) campaign. Meanwhile, the government of India passed proposals for extending new railway lines or upgrading existing lines across northern, western, southern, central, eastern and north-eastern zones. This would no doubt facilitate better railway infrastructure across the nation and improve connectivity, transportation, business and commerce. However, the decision to utilize unused lands is no less an important decision with respect to additional food production drive, as well as contributing towards ecological and environmental sustainability.
According to the Indian Railways, around 930.75 hectares are being illegally encroached across the nation and needs to be vacated with appropriate judicial action. Unfortunately, many of such politically motivated encroachment of central and state government agency lands have been lying unutilised and vacant with no agricultural, industrial or any useful economic activities being conducted on them other than illegal slums and shanties being allowed to be established for long term electoral benefits.
The Railway Ministry has been working on identifying lands under its possession as vacant or unutilized if they do not have any operational use in the foreseeable future. Rather than leaving them vacant and unattended for decades and allowing slow encroachments over time, it is an appreciable idea to use them in a productive manner. This excellent idea and sustainable approach must be appreciated for the agricultural and ecological implications they carry for the nation.
Another pertinent example with respect to economic versus ecological debate is the economically backward but biodiversity rich North-East India. The region has remained mostly untouched by the rapid industrialization and massive agricultural progresses happening in other parts of the nation. However, no matter how beautiful and serine this part of India is, one could not ignore the need for rapid economic developments for the local population. Only recently, major infrastructural developments have been initiated in the region with rising concerns that it would negatively impact the highly sensitive, extremely fragile and very rich biodiverse ecosystems of this region with unparalleled majestic beauty and huge international tourism potential.
Let us be practical and honest that there could be no development possible without even slightly impacting the local ecosystems. This is true in case of India and China as much as it is true for Greenland and Antarctica. However, the scale of damage to the environment could be controlled or regulated if the concerned agencies are truly sincere and dedicated to environmental causes in the real sense of the term. Several western nations are completely closing all kinds of mining operations within their national boundaries and getting their mineral requirement by importing them from developing and under developed nations.
Can a developing country like India follow the same principle for ecological conservation when it has such a huge human population to cater? It is virtually impossible at this stage. But the damage to the natural environment could be efficiently compensated by plating 20-30 trees for each tree damaged under the economic developmental initiatives across the nation like developing infrastructure or establishing new industries in sensitive or semi-sensitive eco-environmental areas or regions. Indigenous plants should be a priority and care must be taken that these new saplings are developing into a forest. Just planting saplings as is the grandeur fashion across India is not good enough. Care has to be taken to protect them to at least sub adult stages to see a positive impact for the local environment; else we are yet another China in making.