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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

Forceful Case for an Alternative Development Model

Saturday 3 October 2015, by B P Mathur


To Choose Our Future by Ashok Khosla; Development Alternatives and Academic Foundation, New Delhi; 2015; pages 127.

Sustainable Development holds the key to India’s future and its prosperity. Unfortunately the model of development we have adopted, post-1990s economic liberalisation, is leading to vast environmental degradation, threatening the very existence of life in our planet, simul-taneously creating a dysfunctional economy, in which a vast army of hungry and deprived people is being created side by side with growth in the number of super-rich millionaires. Ashok Khosla, Chairman, Development Alternatives, in his innovative book, To Choose Our Future, graphically points to the dismal state of socio-economic parameters relating to poverty, unem-ployment, education, health and other depri-vations of India’s teeming millions. He makes out a forceful case for an alternative develop-ment model in which people’s well-being can be secured by changing life-styles and livelihood, taking inspiration from our great social and cultural heritage and creating a sustainable balance between society and natural eco-systems.

There are five guiding principles of the alternative development model. The Principle of Universality, which implies inclusion and empowerment of all, particularly those who are marginalised and voiceless. The Principle of System, Integrity, which emphasises coherence and coor-dination among various policies and actions for development. The Principle of Efficiency, which underlines use of sophisticated technological and psychological systems and better resource usage and maximising productivity. The Principle of Sufficiency, which enjoins lifestyle changes and mind-sets on the part of the rich to cut the use of rapidly depleting resources of the planet for the well-being of everyone. The Principle of Harmony, which implies multi-functional systems, based on small, decentralised, self-organised sub-systems with governance at each level tailored to the needs of that level.

Khosla tellingly points out that the neo-liberal model of development with GDP growth as its mantra is leading us to crony capitalism where the fruits of economic growth are cornered by a small minority with a vast increase in the numbers of the poor at the bottom of the pyramid. India has one of the worst records in the Human Development Index as well as the Social Progress Index. While in percentage terms the number of people officially defined as poor has come down, the absolute number of poor has gone up to 27 crores from 20 crores in 1950—the number which really counts. India as being home to the highest number of households without toilets and regular supply of electricity and the biggest set of communities that do not have access to basic education and health care. Inadequate access to the basic needs reduces the capability of the population to participate in gainful economic activity, caught in a vicious circle of poverty. This poverty trap results in low incomes, large families, undernourished workers and chronic unemployment and underemployment. Eighty-five per cent of India’s workforce is in the unorganised sector with no job security and social security cover. The government’s policies are obsessed with the organised sector, which gets various incentives, attracts FDI and has its focus on the rising stock-market index.

The current development strategy has not only led to heightened poverty and income disparity, it has degraded vast swathes of natural capital on which the majority of people subsist. Our forest cover has depleted and water systems, with the world’s mightiest rivers, are pale ghosts of their former glory. Seventy per cent of surface water is polluted and 60 per cent of ground water is in a critical stage. The loss of tree cover, the creation of land use systems prone to floods and droughts and resource extraction for materials has led to massive erosion of highly fertile soil, threatening our food producing capacity. Environmentalist James Speth has observed that our mindless pursuit of growth is responsible for ecological devastation and concludes that ‘growth is the enemy of environment. Economy and environment remain on collision course.’

Khosla discusses four alternative pathways to future course of action. First is the Copy Cat and Business as Usual method copying the Western development patterns and the second is the Piggy-Back and Fine-Tuning path, making incremental changes based on best practices and tested models developed elsewhere. None of these paths can meet the formidable challenge that India faces. The desirable path for India is the Leap-Frog method which implies deep changes in the economy, recognising continuing inter-dependence of human and ecological systems and embracing green solutions. Simultaneously India will have to embrace the Horse-Jump method involving structural transformation of existing societal values, ethics and economics.

The most significant part of the study is an action plan for a sustainable future. Sustainable development is one in which environment, social equity and empowerment are goals of equal importance with economic improvement. It means widespread access to education, enterprise and empowerment that helps people to find meaning and dignity in their lives. This requires building the technical, managerial and financial skills of people, creating institutions of local governance capable of managing resources for the benefit of the community. Khosla identifies nine pivots as the basic building block of Sustainable Development.

1. Invest in systems and Institutions that deliver basic needs effectively and universally. India needs to ensure that all its citizens have access to the means of satisfying their basic needs—food, water and sanitation, housing, energy, education, healthcare—through solutions that minimise material needs. The Development Alternative Group has identified a package of solutions to secure households and communities to meet the energy needs through the renewable energy model known as SPEED (Smart Power for Environmentally-sound Economic Development). A backward village, Rampura in Bundelkhand, has been electrified which has enabled uninterrupted electricity supply to households for a fee. Another initiative is the Karigar Mandal that builds capacities of masons to build eco-friendly houses.

2. Invest in People to Participate Meaningfully in the Economy. Development Alternatives, through its subsidiary, Tara Livelihood Academy, is empowering women in the backward areas of UP, MP and other States by providing functional literacy and vocational skill.

3. Invest in Local Micro, Mini and Small Enterprises as Job Creation Engine. Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a social enterprise of Development Alternatives, is helping enterprise development in areas such asrural housing, renewable energy, water management, sustainable agriculture, waste management. Services are provided to entrepreneurs in the form of technology, finance, business management and marketing support. This has enabled local enterprises to produce a wide range of products such as Micro Concrete Roofing Tiles, machines to make bricks using fly-ash, and products for water purification, clean cooking and solar lighting.

4. Invest in Natural Capital. This implies efficient use of natural resources in an equitable, secure and environmentally friendly manner. A significant initiative is construction of Check-dams in MP and UP, particularly in the drought-prone Bundelkhand region. Besides providing water security, the check-dam technology helps regenerating eco-systems services, such as soil nutrients recycling and flood and erosion control, which helps in increasing land productivity.

5. Encourage Sustainable Production through sustainable technology. This should emerge from endogenous creativity and should be relevant for the common man and improve his life. Brick forms the backbone of the construction industry. Development Alternative has pioneered eco-friendly Fly Ash Brick techno-logy which minimises use of coal, uses industrial waste generated by power plants and lends itself to small-scale production. This initiative has led to the establishment of over 800 sustainable technology based units in several States in the country.

6. Promote sustainable lives and lifestyles. This implies changing the consumer behaviour to provide more equitable access to goods and services. Community-led Environment Action Network motivates people to lead sustainable lifestyles and create greener cities. A notable effort is ZED (Zero Energy Development) homes, which are green residential complexes that use construction technology and other methodologies to secure significant indepen-dence from grid for their electricity as well as water requirement.

7. Shift to Dynamic Planning and Green Infrastructure for Sustainable Human Settlement. An illustrative case is of Hiware bazar, Maharashtra, a semi-arid village which had faced severe water crisis. A water conservation programme, using water-efficient technologies, was started with the support of village panchayat and has largely resolved the drinking water, as well as irrigation problem of the village.

8. Move from shareholder to stakeholder businesses. Under this philosophy, the Last Forest Enterprise offers a green marketing platform to organic and forest produce of the Nilgiri hills. Items like handicrafts, garments, spices, honey and timber products are procured by giving incentive to grow and harvest organic products through offer of better prices and marketing support, thus improving the economic lot of local communities.

9. Strengthen Local Government and Civil Society Cooperation for Community Empowerment. It is necessary that people, particularly the vulne-rable sections, acquire a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their resources—economic, social and natural. For this the civil society needs to take the initiative, give leadership and bring knowledge of grassroots to bear on the policy of development.

The basic philosophy of sustainable develop-ment that Khosla has articulated, is not simply from a theoretical point of view. As is evident from the above initiative, the Development Alter-native Group has gone into the field and successfully experimented with practical and viable solutions in wide ranging areas, from production of renewable energy to water conservation through check-dams and use of modern technology to make brick from fly ash. This has helped creating job opportunities and empowered village communities, particularly women and vulnerable sections of the society.

One attractive feature of the book is its presentation style with graphics, charts, dia-grams and pictures. This appeals to lay readers and helps understanding and disseminating its message to the wider audience.

The present NDA Government has won the elections in May 2014 on the plank of development. However, a year after Prime Minister Modi has come to power, the initial euphoria is wearing down. This is largely because the government is following the conventional model of development, imitating the West, with its emphasis on GDP growth and relentless consumerism. The West itself is showing signs of fatigue with this model as it takes place at great humanitarian and environmental cost and masks inequities in distribution of income and loss of jobs and livelihood.

There is an imperative need to develop a new matrix of development, in which progress is measured in terms of human capability, dignified employment for everyone, social well-being of community and ecological sustainability. Ashok Khosla’s book is a laudable attempt in that direction. Its message should be taken seriously by the government. The book is a must read for reflection by our policy-makers, thought-leaders and students of development.

Dr B.P. Mathur is a social activist and author. His latest book is Ethics for Governance—Rein-venting Public Services. A former civil servant, he has served as the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, and Director, National Institute of Financial Management.