India’s economic burden on its environment is heavier than anticipated

By Saptarshi Basu Roy Choudhury on January 15, 2019

The environmental policies of any country intend to bring its environmental concerns to the forefront in pursuit of sustainable development. India has emerged as the sixth largest economy in 2018. It is also the second most populous country in the world with over 1.35 billion people (World Population Review, 2018). The country has been doing fairly well in terms of the creation of economic opportunities and large-scale urbanization. With the changing times, the country’s demand for expansion of urban environment is increasing, resulting in a boost in its real estate and the industrial sector. This article critically analyses the environmental policies vis-a-vis of Mauritius, Singapore, Japan, the Netherlands, and the UK.

India’s economic burden on the environment

A study by McKinsey estimated that India will have more than 68 cities with a population greater than one million by 2030 (Sankhe et al., 2010). It also estimated that by 2030, 40% of Indians will live in the cities. However, with the striding economy and the growing population, the environment bears the burden of large-scale deforestation and pollution. World Wildlife Fund estimated the overall industrial round wood usage in India to be the 8th highest in the world (Smith, 2018). It estimated a yearly usage of more than 70 million square meters by 2020. The domestic supply is likely to be insufficient to meet this by 14 million square meters (Woodzon, 2016).

In addition, India faces a major challenge to keep its air clean. The air quality index of the major cities is at a constant poor. A report published by the World Health Organization in May 2018 revealed that India is home for 10 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentration (U.S.News, 2018).  Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reported that 63% untreated urban sewage amounting to 62 billion litres flow into the rivers every day (Chandrashekhar, 2018).

Environmental policies of India

Environmental policies of India are regulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The CPCB is responsible for providing technical services to the Ministry. The policies include National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992 and Policy Statement for the Abatement of Pollution, 1992.  The former focuses on the nature of environmental problems, and strategies (ICED, 2018). The latter focuses on the prevention of pollution at the source and finds feasible solutions to control. The National Environment Policy, 2006 is the most recent and comprehensive policy framework that extends the scope of these earlier policies.

Environmental policies of India is governed by India’s National Environment Policy, 2006. This policy is dominated by the themes of regulatory reforms and the conservation of natural resources, livelihoods, and wildlife of the country (MoEF, 2006). The policy acknowledges the degradation of environmental resources to be one of the major causes affecting air quality, water quality, soil fertility, and forests. The policy also focuses on environmental standards, clean technologies, innovation, capacity building, international cooperation, and environmental awareness. It is based on a set of principles that include economic efficiency through ‘polluter pays’ and cost minimization, equity and legal liability among others. The policy enumerates India’s environmental commitments (ICED, 2018). It points out that sustainable development is an integral part of any development project and puts a legal liability on the perpetrator.

India fares poorly as compared to its developed counterpart

The table below reveals the major themes of the environmental policies of India as well as some of the biggest countries in the world,  along with their rank in Environmental Pollution Index (EPI).



Major Themes of environmental policy

United Kingdom 6
  • Renewable Water Resources
  • Forestry Policy
  • Green belts surrounding urban areas
Netherlands 18
  • Medium-term targets
  • Climate adaptation
  • Natural gas reserves
  • Mitigation efforts
Japan 20
  • Use of renewable energy
  • Wastewater management
  • Forest management
  • Biodiversity strategies
Singapore 49
  • Air and climate change
  • Supply of water
  • Waste management
  • Conservation of nature
Mauritius 90
  • Conservation of biodiversity
  • Use of land
  • Management of water resources
  • Minimization of wastes
  • Solid Waste Treatment
  • Air quality
India 177
  • Integration of environmental protection with development
  • Protection of sensitive zones
  • Conservation of water
  • Wetland protection

Table 1: EPI rank and major environmental policies of India and a few other countries (MoE & NDU, 2007; NLB, 2018; SGI, 2018; Smith, 2018).

Note: The rankings are based on Environmental Performance Index, 2018 (YCELP, 2018).

Looking at these countries’ higher rankings in EPI index and strict environment policies, it implies that although the environmental policies in India are in place, their implementation is poor. The low rank is due to high pollution from fuels, burning of coal, emissions from vehicles and poor performance in meeting objectives of environmental health (YCELP, 2018). Singapore has achieved good ambient air quality and wastewater management (NLB, 2018). It also plans to impose a stringent carbon tax in 2019 to be paid by the emitters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Netherlands’ performance is considered to be best in terms of mapping and assessing their ecosystem (SGI, 2018). After the Fukushima disaster in the northeast of Japan in 2011, Japan has gone through a rigorous forest policy framework. Wastewater management in Japan has shown great improvement (SGI, 2018). Mauritius’ National Environmental Policy, 2007 has a lot of resemblance with India’s National Environmental Policy, 2006. But the results are far healthier in Mauritius.

Environmental policies of India need to be stricter

The environmental issues and mitigation should align with the country’s economic, social and cultural development. The National Action Plan on climate change in 2008, the Clean India Mission in 2014 and the Regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants Rules, 2018 are significant steps. But the country’s institutional capacity to uphold the laws and enforce policies is questionable (Sawnney, 2018).

Sawnney (2018) attributes low environmental quality in India to poor compliance. She cites the admission of the State Minister of Environment in August 2018 in this regard. It pertains to rampant violation of environmental norms by many industries. Therefore, it is no surprise that India is ranked low in the EPI index. To improve the situation, the government needs to ensure better compliance by polluting industries.

In the annual budget of 2018-19, the allocation to the Ministry of Environment was Rs 2,645.42 crores. It included an allocation of Rs. 160 crores for the National Afforestation Programme named Green India Mission. However, the ministry needs to take steps to make use of the budget. It needs to be actively engaged in the enhancement of the waste management and tighten its grip on the perpetrators. This will ensure the well-being of the people of the country. It will also improve India’s condition in terms of sustaining its economic growth.