New Delhi: All the dream merchants, who until recently were gloating over the country’s booming economy at swish dinner parties are washing their hands off its fanciful growth prospects.
Raj Liberhan, director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
Obituary writers on the same issue, are out in numbers with their knives, rather pencil sharpeners, to pen the epitaph of the Indian Economy.
Indeed, these could well be applied to the economists. The glitz at the seminars and lectures organized by business lobbies is diminishing and everyday there is cause for new gloom on the stock markets.
Realty down, banking down, IT down, all seem to be breaching predicted bottoming out levels, plummeting to new depths. To add to economic woes, political potboilers are also breaching normal temperature and pressure gauges.
The climate is warmer by many degrees, though not necessarily attributed to global warming. The atmosphere is distinctly uncomfortable for the common man. High cost of living hurts; incomes are down and borrowings are costlier. Everything that you need to live is 200 times costlier. Why?
Everybody except the Communists attribute it to the global consequence of American profligacy. The Communists, however, have another take. Being of the intellectual variety from known nurseries of their fossilized ideology, and drawing upon their extensive experience of doing nothing for the national good, they say, that the Government that they supported for four long years has goofed it all up.
Not only that, they have also let loose two Imperialist monsters: inflation and the nuclear deal with the US. In defence, we are told by some pundits that salvation could be round the corner. All this is cyclical and we must learn to manage the bottom of the cycle, these worthies have advised. We have a good monsoon, the fundamentals of our economy are good (when were they ever bad?) and in the not too distant future ‘all will be well’ is exhorted, especially when the deal gets signed. Yes, the same deal that the commies are rubbishing hoarse.
The salvation may perhaps come to pass, but what about the nightmare that living in our cities has become. Forget that water, housing, power or transport is scarce. What is more disturbing is the surfeit of faecal and allied waste that is not adequately dealt with. According to a study carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the average daily output of waste from Asia’s largest cities is expected to rise to two million tonnes a day by 2025.
Indian cities generate nearly 120,000 tonnes of waste everyday. High consumption levels of water, power and other services and the accompanying creation of garbage that is treated/ recycled/ disposed at less than half the rate is whipping up serious issues related to health, hygiene and survival.
The tragedy of the urban landscape is unfolding silently. By any standard, not only cities but life in the cities is a long way from fundamental cleanliness which should figure as a basic service and reside in the consciousness of every resident. Sadly, making money seems to be the latest national obsession. The rivers next to our cities are becoming putrid cesspools of habitation’s waste.
One can’t help but recall an anguished quote from CSE’s study, “Ours is a flush and forget mindset. We have resolved not to deal with the untouchable subjects of human excreta and its disposal…why otherwise is there such little concern with the disposal of waste”.
In city after city, the story is the same. Filth on the roadsides, garbage everywhere, and worse still is the discharge of hospital waste and hazardous material into open landfill sites which threaten to damage our groundwater resources. The municipal agencies’ inability to tackle the problem is only adding to the intensity of the time bomb that is waiting to explode.
This time bomb has exploded once in Surat and it could happen again in any of our cities. Political ambitions which talk of converting Mumbai into Shanghai, or Delhi into a world class city are fine but they are meaningless shenanigans when they trivialize our concern for making our cities liveable.
We do not think of sanctity of public spaces and the need to preserve them since in such a social milieu where ethnic diversities are reconciled, they simply get used as dumps for waste. What is worrying is that even our new cities have witnessed growth but failed to create urban spaces that are truely environment friendly. The urban hardware is there but the liveability and environmental footprints are missing.
Looks as if we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The fiscal crisis would impoverish us, while the faecal one will choke us. We need to seriously clean up our act fast.
Raj Liberhan is director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org