How is development possible along with environmental protection? There are two kinds of answers possible to this question. The standard kind of reply would try to provide a list of options that are available to a given development need.For example, to provide water to a city like Delhi, one can think of many options, including rainwater harvesting; groundwater recharge; protection of wetlands, floodplains, rivers, water bodies, catchment including the ridge; creation of more water bodies; demand-side management options; treatment and recycling of sewage; reduction in transmission and distribution losses; curbing unjustified, inappropriate and wasteful use, among others. The politicians, engineers, and bureaucrats would, however, suggest dams on the Yamuna like Renuka or Lakhwar Vyasi or Kishau and even interlinking of rivers like Sharda Yamuna Link. The first set of measures listed above provide options where it is possible to fulfill the need of Delhi’s water needs through local options that also ensure least environmental impact or rather environment protection. But the government is likely to dismiss them as impractical, insufficient or both. But how do we decide if these measures provide better options than say what the government is proposing?
That takes us to the second kind of answer to the question of How is development possible along with environmental protection? What is the decision-making process we deploy to find an answer as to which is a better option for Delhi’s water needs? If our decision-making process just involves the bureaucrats, politicians, engineers, consultants, corporate sector and some “experts”, then that process is more likely to give you one set of answers.
Instead, our decision making can involve more democratic, participatory process starting from needs assessment, prioritization of needs, options available for prioritized needs, comprehensively assessing the costs, benefits, and impacts of each of the options, putting all such assessments out in public domain and at each stage involving the real stakeholders in a decisive way and involving real public consultation process. Here it is the process that will decide what is the best option for a given need of the society, not some ready-made set of answers from some “experts”. Such a framework for decision making is indeed a necessary implication of any democratic society.
Such a process would involve time, but it is never the case that society does not have time for such a process. To illustrate, it was about a decade back that Renuka dam was being debated as next water supply option for Delhi. It was 13 years back that the Memorandum of Understanding for Ken Betwa River Link was signed. It was a decade back that a SANDRP report advocated that Mumbai does not need either Damangaga Pinjal or any more dams for its water needs and this was supported by the then BMC officials.
If we had the will we could have deployed democratic process to find answers to these questions. But do we have the will?