Growing water scarcity is being recognized as an important problem facing India. Per capita availability of water in India has declined from over 3,000 cubic meters (CuM) per year from 1951 to 1,820 CuM in 2001. In nine out of twenty river basins, per capita availability of water is below 1,700 CuM per year, indicating that India is experiencing severe water stress. In particular, the status of groundwater resources of the country is a matter of serious concern.
At the recently concluded UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP-16) at Cancun, banners of civil society groups hopefully and expectantly urged “Cancun Can.” And it did; at the end of two weeks of exhausting discussions and negotiations, the world has taken a small but sure step towards a meaningful set of global agreements on climate change.
As the next round of international negotiations over climate change commences in Cancun, Mexico, the Indian government finds itself on center stage. In the lead up, the Indian environment minister has stated that India would proffer a framework for monitoring emissions-reduction efforts, known as the International Consultation Analysis (ICA), and a mechanism for technology transfer.
The rapid growth in motor vehicle ownership and activity in India – motor vehicle numbers have doubled every six or so years from 1980 to 2004 – has provided mobility to millions, and contributed to employment and the economy. This trend is, however, causing a wide range of adverse impacts. Perhaps the most serious of these impacts, in health and welfare terms, result from road traffic accidents.
A specter is haunting India; a specter of clean, safe, and affordable access to goods and services for all. Policy makers find themselves at a cusp, not quite sure whether to follow the model of automobile-dominated urban development that characterizes twentieth century North America, or to look at contemporary cities in Northern Europe instead, where pedestrians, bicyclists, and users of public transit are given far greater priority than car drivers.
Is India a land drained by rivers in a system that begins in point sources on high grounds and flows to the sea or is it a terrain soaked and overflowed by rains that fall in complex ways across a thickened surface of soils, aquifers, life, and atmosphere? The former dominates word and image, fact and imagination. It is the taken for granted geography that provides the ground of ecology, technology, and history. This ground is, however, profoundly simplistic.
The discovery of a major new cause of climate change may provide India’s best opportunity to engage with the international climate community in a way that enhances, rather than threatens, India’s broader national interests.
In the run-up to elections, the print media has highlighted the seeming prosperity of rural India relative to the economic slump in urban areas. Favorable monsoon rains, the rise in commodity prices and public works funded by the employment guarantee scheme are cited as some of the contributory factors. However, a happy coincidence of transient features does not constitute a turn-around.
One of the problems that India’s new government will find itself confronting – a problem that is rapidly moving up the global geopolitical agenda – is the issue of climate change. This issue is extremely pertinent to India for a number of reasons. First, climate change is likely to hit India hard in the coming decades. Predicted impacts include water scarcity, decreased crop yields, increased risk of disease, and flooding of coastal areas. These problems will be most detrimental to India’s poorest citizens.
Much has been said about the fallacies in India’s energy policy-a lack of coherent planning, endemic ills of cross-subsidies, inefficiencies of state-owned companies, and so on-to argue the impossibility of India’s ability to meet the energy demands of a growing economy. Although true in past, this argument is weakening. Amidst excessive criticism of every single government action, the real, but subtle, face of Indian energy policy has not attracted mass attention yet. And understandably so: