July 24, 2011
New Delhi

PM's address at the Valedictory Session of International Seminar on Global Environment and Disaster Management

I indeed happy to be present here at the valedictory session of this very important International Seminar on Global Environment and Disaster Management. I compliment the Supreme Court and the co-sponsors for organizing a seminar on such a contemporary and highly relevant issue.

In the past fifty years or so we have come face to face with unusual climatic occurrences, weather changes and environmental disasters. These are a corollary of the global pursuit of rapid growth in particular rapid growth of industrialization and, very often, the mindless and predatory exploitation of natural resources to sustain such patterns of development and industrialization. These have happened across the world, without distinguishing between rich and poor nations. There have been unprecedented heat-waves in the United States and Europe, devastating floods in China and tsunamis in South East Asia and more recently in Japan. All of these have highlighted the vulnerability and helplessness of human beings confronted with the wrath of nature.

The United Nations Conference held at Stockholm in 1972 marked the first major international event to deal with environmental issues. But securing global cooperation for the protection and preservation of the environment has proved quite difficult, as each country has sought to protect its own perceived national interest. There has also been a divide between the north and the south, which the international community has failed to bridge thus far. Protecting and preserving the environment is not a divisible task, as the acts of omissions and commissions of one nation or one set of people impinge on the others and vice-versa. Therefore, all countries, both rich and poor, developed and developing, countries of the north and countries of the south need to cooperate in this sort of global effort.

In general, in the increasingly integrated world that we live in, we have to devise cooperative solutions to deal with the pressing emerging global challenges and concerns. Environment and climate change certainly belong to this class of issues. In this context the development of new environment friendly technologies is going to play a very important role. The task ahead, as I see it, is to design a system of intellectual property rights which provides adequate incentives to invest in the development of new environment friendly technologies and at the same time ensuring that these technologies become available to poor countries at affordable cost.

Sustainable development has been accepted widely as the strategy that marries the aspirations for growth and development with preservation of the environment. Perhaps, it has been interpreted somewhat narrowly as the ability to meet efficiently the needs of the present generation, without imperilling the ability of the future generations to do so. The concept of sustainable development, however, appears to be larger than just a nation's ability to produce enough to meet its needs. It is about how we collectively address the growing concerns regarding climate change, resource management and what we bequeath to our future generations in terms of knowledge, skills and life-style that they can use to protect the environment, while they pursue their objectives of growth and development. Only then would we have contributed to the advancement of civilization and given an enduring legacy to the forthcoming generations.

In the public mind, there has always been a trade-off between economic growth and environmental sustainability. But, this view is changing slowly as more and more people are reviewing their notions of what constitutes growth. In fact, the very definition of growth has been enlarged to accommodate environmental and related concerns. There is now general agreement that environment cannot be protected by perpetuating the poverty of developing countries. Their basic concern is with development and this is as it should be. But it is also no longer acceptable to take as given that a certain degree of environmental degradation and over-exploitation of natural resources in the cause of promoting growth is inevitable. It is no longer possible to treat the environment with passive disregard. And it is no longer tenable to pretend that these are concerns only for the other or wealthier nations.

In the last four years our government has formulated a national agenda for environmental protection to meet the challenges of disaster management and climate change. We have a target for greening 10 million hectares of forest land to increase incomes of the poor through a national Green India Mission. Action for generating over 20,000 MW of solar energy by the year 2020 is underway. Our mission for enhanced energy efficiency will reduce substantially need for capacity addition. Our mission for sustainable habitat will develop standards for green buildings which we intend to make integral to our municipal laws. Our missions on sustainable agriculture and water conservation will increase productivity of dry land agriculture as well as increase efficiency of water use. All these steps will cumulatively lead us to a low carbon growth path. These are steps that we have decided to take on our own as responsible global citizens. We are not waiting for an international consensus to evolve through ongoing negotiations on global climate change.

In recent years we have also accelerated efforts to enhance our capability to manage disasters. The enactment of the Disaster Management Act in 2005 enabled the setting up of institutional mechanisms for disaster preparedness and mitigation. We have also tried to share our expertise and experience with the other countries of the world. As a signatory to the International Charter on Space and Major Charters, India extends its space capabilities to acquire data of the location of disasters anywhere on the globe and share the same with the affected country or countries on a priority basis. We also provide training in disaster management to personnel of other countries, especially those in our neighbourhood.

We believe that the cause of environment cannot be furthered merely by exhortation. It also needs the strength and conviction demonstrated by concrete national legislation. We, in recognition of our commitment to this cause, have enacted a comprehensive law establishing and empowering a specialized tribunal for the settlement of a broad spectrum of environmental cases of civil nature. We have joined a handful of forward looking countries to have such a dedicated mechanism. This tribunal has started functioning and I expect it will help to reduce the workload of our courts.

We also hope to establish an independent regulator - the National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority soon. This authority could lead to a complete change in the process of granting environmental clearances. Staffed by dedicated professionals, it will work on a full time basis to evolve better and more objective standards of scrutiny.

I must also mention that but for the enduring wisdom of our judiciary, we would not have the bulk of what we proudly call 'environmental jurisprudence'. The nineties witnessed remarkable changes in India. Rapid growth and industrialization were underway as a result of the newly liberalized economy. At times like this, many nations might have chosen to bear silently the depletion of the nation's natural resources as the cost of doing business but we did not compromise on these concerns. Our judiciary enforced laws passed by a farsighted legislature to ensure that these concerns were neither diluted nor dismissed. Our safeguards are now far more stringent and well defined than they were two decades ago. But for these to be effective they need continuous support from a strong executive and the oversight of a wise judiciary. Over all, a major challenge ahead is to put in place a legal and regulatory framework which is effective in protecting the environment but without bringing back the hated license permit raj of the pre-1991 period.

Any discussion on the environment would be incomplete if we in India do not look inwards to our own cultural heritage and local practices. Our people have coped with adversities of nature by nurturing practices that were environmentally wise and sound. We have looked upon Nature as a source of nurture rather than a dark force to be conquered and bent to our will. Today, we have a great deal of understanding from global experience and best practices in environmental management. We need to complement this understanding with our own Indian way of looking at nature to get the most acceptable outcomes.

I am sure that the deliberations you have had in this seminar will contribute to deepen our understanding of how important issues relating to environment and disaster management can be tackled and resolved. I once again compliment all those who have been associated with the organization of this highly creative seminar. I wish all of you all the very best in your personal and professional lives.