The Underlying Causes of Environmental Degradation

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The Underlying Causes of
however, remained constant at around 320
Environmental Degradation
million over the years. An acceleration in poverty
alleviation is imperative to break this link between
37. Environmental degradation is a result of
poverty and the environment.
the dynamic inter play of socio-economic,
institutional and technological activities.
Environmental changes may be driven by many
41. Lack of oppor tunities for gainful
factors including economic growth, population
employment in villages and the ecological
growth, urbanization, intensification of
stresses is leading to an ever increasing
agriculture, rising energy use and transportation.
movement of poor families to towns. Mega cities
Poverty still remains a problem at the root of
are emerging and urban slums are expanding.
several environmental problems.
There has been an eightfold increase in urban
population over 1901-1991. During the past two
Social Factors
decades of 1971-91, India’s urban population
has doubled from 109 million to 218 million and
is estimated to reach 300 million by 2000 AD.
38. Population is an impor tant source of
development, yet it is a major source of
42. Such rapid and unplanned expansion of
environmental degradation when it exceeds the
cities has resulted in degradation of urban
threshhold limits of the support systems. Unless
environment. It has widened the gap between
the relationship between the multiplying
demand and supply of infrastructural services
population and the life support system can be
such as energy, housing, transpor t,
stabilized, development programmes, howsoever,
communication, education, water supply and
innovative are not likely to yield desired results.
sewerage and recreational amenities, thus
Population impacts on the environment primarily
depleting the precious environmental resource
through the use of natural resources and
base of the cities. The result is the growing
production of wastes and is associated with
trend in deterioration of air and water quality,
environmental stresses like loss of biodiversity,
generation of wastes, the proliferation of slums
air and water pollution and increased pressure
and undesirable land use changes, all of which
on arable land.
contribute to urban poverty.
39. India supports 17 per cent of the world
Economic Factors
population on just 2.4 per cent of world land
area. It’s current rate of population growth at
43. To a large extent, environmental
1.85 per cent continues to pose a persistent
degradation is the result of market failure, that
population challenge. In view of the linkages
is, the non existent or poorly functioning markets
between population and environment, a vigorous
for environmental goods and services. In this
drive for population control need hardly be over
context, environmental degradation is a
particular case of consumption or production
externalities reflected by divergence between
private and social costs (or benefits). Lack of
40. Poverty is said to be both cause and effect
well defined property rights may be one of the
of environmental degradation. The circular link
reasons for such market failure. On the other
between pover ty and environment is an
hand, Market distortions created by price
extremely complex phenomenon. Inequality
controls and subsidies may aggravate the
may foster unsustainability because the poor,
achievement of environmental objectives.
who rely on natural resources more than the
44. The level and pattern of economic
rich, deplete natural resources faster as they
development also affect the nature of
have no real prospects of gaining access to other
environmental problems. India’s development
types of resources. Moreover, degraded
objectives have consistently emphasised the
environment can accelerate the process of
promotion of policies and programmes for
impoverishment, again because the poor depend
economic growth and social welfare. Between
directly on natural assets. Although there has
1994-95 and 1997-98, the Indian economy has
been a significant drop in the poverty ratio in
grown a little over 7 per cent per annum: the
the country from 55 percent in 1973 to 36 percent
growth of industrial production and manufacturing
in 1993-94 , the absolute number of poor have,
averaging higher at 8.4 per cent and 8.9 per

cent respectively during these years. The
bodies. Intensive agriculture and irrigation
manufacturing technology adopted by most of
contribute to land degradation particularly
the industries has placed a heavy load on
salination, alkalization and water logging.
environment especially through intensive
resource and energy use, as is evident in natural
Institutional Factors
resource depletion (fossil fuel, minerals, timber),
The Ministry of Environment & Forests
water, air and land contamination, health hazards
(MOEF) in the Government is responsible for
and degradation of natural eco-systems. With
protection, conservation and development of
high proportion fossil fuel as the main source of
environment. The Ministry works in close
industrial energy and major air polluting
collaboration with other Ministries, State
industries such as iron and steel, fertilizers and
Governments, Pollution Control Boards and a
cement growing, industrial sources have
number of scientific and technical institutions ,
contributed to a relatively high share in air
universities, non-Governmental organisations etc.
pollution. Large quantities of industrial and
hazardous wastes brought about by expansion
Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is the
of chemical based industry has compounded the
key legislation governing environment
wastes management problem with serious
management. Other important legislations in the
environmental health implications.
area include the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The
45. Transport activities have a wide variety of
weakness of the existing system lies in the
effects on the environment such as air pollution,
enforcement capabilities of environmental
noise from road traffic and oil spills from marine
institutions, both at the centre and the state.
shipping. Transport infrastructure in India has
There is no effective coordination amongst
expanded considerably in terms of network and
various Ministries/Institutions regarding
services. Thus, road transport accounts for a
integration of environmental concerns at the
major share of air pollution load in cities such as
inception/planning stage of the project. Current
Delhi. Port and harbor projects mainly impact
policies are also fragmented across several
on sensitive coastal eco systems. Their
Government agencies with differing policy
construction affects hydrology, surface water
mandates. Lack of trained personnel and
quality, fisheries, coral reefs and mangroves to
comprehensive database delay many projects.
varying degrees.
Most of the State Government institutions are
relatively small suffering from inadequacy of
46. Direct impacts of agricultural development
technical staff and resources. Although overall
on the environment arise from farming activities
quality of Environmental Impact Assessment
which contribute to soil erosion, land salination
(EIA) studies and the effective implementation
and loss of nutrients. The spread of green
of the EIA process have improved over the years,
revolution has been accompanied by over
institutional strengthening measures such as
exploitation of land and water resources, and
training of key professionals and staffing with
use of fertilizers and pesticides have increased
proper technical persons are needed to make
many fold. Shifting cultivation has also been an
the EIA procedure a more effective instrument
important cause of land degradation. Leaching
for environment protection and sustainable
from extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers
is an important source of contamination of water