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Global Natural Resources Conclave: Mapping India’s path to sustainable development with self-implementing policies

'We're running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.’ - Elon Musk

In an attempt to make the inventor-cum-business magnate take back one of his many unembellished quotes, a panel of policy experts, technocrats and industry leaders in natural resources brainstormed over sustainable development at the second day of the Network 18 Global Natural Resources Conclave held in Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi.

India’s premier policy think tank, the NITI Aayog, is doing its bit to promote sustainable development. Its CEO, Amitabh Kant, is the driving force behind initiatives like Make in India and Startup India.

Commenting on India’s commitment to sustainability, he said: "When we carry out cost-benefit analysis, entire social costs and not merely private costs need to be internalised. That alone enables us to capture the true reflection of environmental impact."

Kant called the enhancement of coal cess from Rs 200 to 400 per tonne from 2016-17 a step that endorses the concept of 'polluter says principle'. He explained that the GDP accounts for flow variables like consumptions of iron ore over a year but doesn’t cover stock variables like the remaining quantity of iron ore. Therefore, he conveyed the need to annually assess the balance stocks of major minerals and even actively track minerals extracted in small physical quantities.

Piyush Goyal addressing the GNRC to promote sustainable development in India. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Piyush Goyal addressing the GNRC. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

The government of India, Kant informed, is focussing on recovering, refurbishing, recycling and reusing in a circular manner and having a sustainably lower carbon footprint, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 12.

These measures, he went on to add, are also necessary to achieve the commitment on nationally-determined contributions, including the one to reduce emission intensity of GDP by 33–35 percent by 2030 over 2005. Also, to create a new carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through the expansion of the forest cover by 2030.

The Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana launched in 2015 is meant to provide for the welfare of areas and people affected by mining-related operations, using the funds generated by District Mineral Foundations. The objective is to implement various developmental and welfare projects/programs in mining, affected areas that complement the existing ongoing schemes/projects of State and Central Government; to minimise/mitigate the adverse impacts, during and after mining, on the environment, health and socio-economics of people in mining districts; and to ensure long-term sustainable livelihoods for the affected people in mining areas.

NITI Aayog’s 'Water Management Index', on the lines of 'Ease of Doing Business', is making the states compete on water management. This, Kant said, is critical because be it Haryana, Delhi or Punjab, industrialisation is ripping lands dry; recharging aquifers is a necessity.

In 2015, referring to a water crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for efficient use of every drop of water by employing the phrase 'per drop, more crop'. Today, a vast number of government initiatives are dedicated to water conservation.

Explaining the mammoth task the Indian government is taking on, Kant noted that India is on its way to 175 gigawatt of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022. This would include about 100 gigawatt from solar, 60 gigawatt from wind, 10 gigawatt from biomass and the balance from small hydro.

He said that the Centre has taken up a renewable energy exercise with the states; currently, 10 states are being supported in their development of a renewable energy action plan and integration into the main grid.

The share of gas in the energy mix is envisaged to rise from the 6.5 percent presently to 15 percent in 2022. If under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, two crore LPG connections have been distributed among women in 690 rural districts, the Unnat Jyoti Yojana has distributed over 21 crore LEDs, resulting in energy savings of 27,462 million units per year.

Kant compared India’s urbanisation to that of America’s, which took place at a time when land, water and gases were cheaply available.

Hence, American cities were designed for cars (and not people) and were gas guzzlers, with people driving into downtowns from suburbs far away.
India, on the other hand, will need sustainable, compact and dense urbanisation with systems in place for recycling water and waste. The task at hand is huge, yet measured, to elevate five to six billion from poverty to middle class.

Hours before Kant took to the stage, in the day’s inaugural session, minister of state for petroleum and natural gas, Dharmendra Pradhan announced that the clean fuel index BS-4 has been rolled out throughout the country from 1 April. He also promised that the next clean fuel standard, BS-6, will be supplied by 2020.

A panel of sector experts comprising Sarat Acharya, chairman and MD, NLC India; Satish Pai, managing director, Deccan Gold Mines; Tom Albanese, CEO, Vedanta Resources Plc and Vedanta Ltd deliberated the 'explore in India to make in India' agenda.

During the session, the speakers raised an important question – that zero impact mining will not be possible so the right thing to do is to look for socially responsible and environment friendly ways to mine.

In another session, dedicated to ‘Natural Resources: Seeking All-Round Sustainability’, it was said that to know if what we have created is sustainable, there needs to be green accounting. A global certification, that which forestry enjoys, must be developed to provide to customers, ensuring sustainability of products.

Aside from being able to convince consumers, earning the trust of those who help produce is also important. Prodipto Ghosh, distinguished fellow, TERI, expressed that though the Forest Rights Act 2006 allows local communities to veto projects, that is not an answer.

He feels that there is a strong need for a serious conversation at a high political level that clarifies the legal entitlements and the social contracts between the central government, the state government and the local communities.

While communication is easy, genuine engagement is hard work, said Andrew MacLeod, director, Beyond Shared Value Commission, Kings College, London. He made an observation that engineers look at everything logically and the community looks at everything emotionally. Unless that gap is bridged, the community doesn’t become part of the journey.

Coming to the question of law and order, the environment impact assessments, as per Amita Prasad of the ministry of environment and forest, have been prolonged and last from 10 to 15 years.

"Legislation policies and acts have to be in tandem. We need mandatory compliance and independent environment auditors who catch those who don’t comply," she declared.

It was discussed that the environment ministry needs to be able to levy the right kind of pollution tax. An instance that was thrown up during a discussion was when state pollution control officers filed 20,000 cases and only three convictions happened.

There is a prediction that 20 percent of India’s energy will be built on renewables like solar and wind projects to reduce dependence on a coal-powered grid. In this regard, Kirit Parikh, chairman, IRADe pointed out:

"To replace even one megawatt of coal-based power plant, we need to invest in a four megawatt solar power plant. While solar generates electricity for 2,000 hours in a year, coal can give up to 7,000 hours of energy," Parikh said.

Such investments, she said, involve some economic trade-offs. However, there can be disruptions. Since the cost of batteries is coming down, in the next five to 10 years, this coal-solar calculation can be disrupted.

Regarding the contribution of individual states towards sustainable mining, Navtez Singh Bal, who leads McKinsey's capital productivity work in the area of basic materials, said that the compression in time to get a mining license and the introduction of e-auctions indicate that the states have come a long way.

In mineral rich states, the aspirations are greatly exceeding output and as a result, exploration is taking a hit. "The reason why auctions are not coming up is that we don’t have (general exploration) G2 level data. Only $17-19 is spent on an auction per square kilometre and this is less than the amount being spent by countries like Chile and Botswana," he elaborated.

Nihal Chand Goel, from the department of environment and forest, Rajasthan, said it takes 60 days to get a license in his state (same as Southern Australia) and Anurag Diwan, joint director, mining, Chhattisgarh, proudly stated that within 28 days, the preferred bidder get its letter.

As another one of Musk’s sayings goes, "Starting and growing a business is as much about the innovation, drive and determination of the people who do it as it is about the product they sell." If India does listen to the experts at the conclave, the country might transform into a successful enterprise – an economically viable and socially-environmentally sustainable venture.

Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 11:29 AM

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