Environmentalists suggest that the government use an assessment mechanism like the Gross Environment Product to ensure viability of development projects

Reports of ministries accusing each other for overlooking concerns of environmental degradation in the case of some development project or the other are commonplace these days. But while the ministries squabble among themselves over whose assessment is right, it is the environment and indigenous people whose lives are intertwined with nature that suffer the consequences.

Against this background, assessing the Gross Environment Product or GEP of any proposed development project to determine its environmental impact could mitigate the irreversible damage of urbanisation and industrialisation.

The idea has been suggested by veteran social worker and environmentalist from Uttarakhand, Anil Joshi, after he undertook a 2,200 km-long cycle yatra from Siliguri to Dehra Dun recently and witnessed the adverse impact of several such projects on the environment.

According to Mr. Joshi, the GEP mechanism can be measured through decreased pollution levels in the air, rivers and water bodies, healthier forests, agricultural soil and better managed hilly catchments.

For example, roads are built as an economic and social activity in the hills. But today the manner in which these are built often leave behind a damaged hillside which is more prone to landslides than before. It means greater soil erosion, pockmarked forests and dried springs from decreased water retention and much socio-economic loss to the down hill and nearby villages. There is no parameter presently to even assess if a particular road was required in the first place. All this when assessed, shall be a negative GEP resulting from the said road construction activity but which just as any other economic activity shall be an addition to the GDP.

Alternatively, if an index-mandated proper planning had identified the best possible road alignment, special care to ensure least cutting and filling on the hill side and full attention to safety of natural springs and their catchments could be warranted. The road would still have been built but would now carry a positive GEP associated with it, resulting from minimised adverse impact of the activity on the hill side, the forests, the springs and the people around. In short, it only means that with better ‘quality control’ of planning and processes, a potentially negative GEP can easily be turned into a positive one.

In addition, an annual assessment ‘State of the Environment’ report-card on parameters like health of our forests, rivers, soils, air, wetlands, groundwater, bio-diversity, etc. as referenced to an agreed cut-off year shall help arrive at the national GEP.

(The writer is the Convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

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