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A Sympathetic Critique of the Bhaduri-Patkar Model

In suggesting an alternative to the current pattern of industrialisation we cannot ignore the environmental limits of industrial growth. Sustainable alternatives need to incorporate an understanding that non-industrial lifestyles and non-human life forms too deserve respect and space to flourish. This short piece offers a sympathetic critique of the Amit Bhaduri- Medha Patkar economic formula (3 January 2009).

DISCUSSIONmarch 21, 2009 vol xliv no 12 EPW Economic & Political Weekly76Ashish Kothari ( is with the Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group. A Sympathetic Critique of the Bhaduri-Patkar ModelAshish KothariIn suggesting an alternative to the current pattern of industrialisation we cannot ignore the environmental limits of industrial growth. Sustainable alternatives need to incorporate an understanding that non-industrial lifestyles and non-human life forms too deserve respect and space to flourish. This short piece offers a sympathetic critique of the Amit Bhaduri-Medha Patkar economic formula (3 January 2009).Amit Bhaduri and Medha Patkar make a formidable pair, combin-ingincisive economic analyses with deep humanitarian ethics (“Industri-alisation for the People, by the People, of the People”,EPW, 3 January 2009). Their critique of the current economic model of globalised growth in India and advocacy of an alternative, deserves full attention. But while I am in full agreement with their critique and with the general line of their prescriptions, I think these fall short of the fundamental restructuring that is needed for the Indian (or global) economy to come close to being sustainable and equitable. Knowing Medha and having been part of some of the same struggles, I suspect she and Bhaduri may not be averse to what I am saying, and that perhaps the omissions I point to may be more because they did not have the time or space to make their article more comprehensive and well-rounded. Or perhaps, they held back because they were anxious to project themselves as not being “impractical romantics”, but deeply and concretely concerned about ordinary people struggling to make a living. I have two main points of criticism. One, that the issue of ecological frame-works and limits is missing. There is a tiny hint of this in the last paragraph when they talk about “saving and improving, through popular initiative, common resources of forests, rivers and the sea coast”, but the implications of such an objective do not underlie the rest of the article. Second, that in advocating an equitable path of “industrialisation”, there is a curious sidelining of other modes of production, consumption and living. Again, there is only a hint of thisat the end of the article, when the authors mention “those who now make a livelihood from related agri-cultural activities”. It is clear now, more than ever before, that the earth simply cannot sustain continuous human growth, regardless of how efficient we make our technologies to reduce demand on resources per unit of production. Equitable growth, through rural and people-centred industrialisa-tion, must also have its limits. Indeed, the equation of “development” with “growth” has been seriously and increasingly ques-tioned, and even the idea of ever-lasting “development” has been challenged. The ideologies of development and growth are, after all, less than a century old and it is astonishing how much of a sacred status they have attained. Anyone challenging these is looked at with horror by not only those within the departments and offices responsible for development, but also by most “educated” citizens, for we have all grown up to believe that humanity can only prosper by an ever-increasing harnessing of natural resources for a constantly grow-ing base of energy and material goods. The multiple ecological crises we are now surrounded by, however, have forced us to accept that the earth indeed has lim-its. I am not necessarily arguing for the Malthusian version of “limits to growth”, such as was made famous in theClub of Rome book by this name (Meadows et al 1972). My concern is rooted in a more fun-damentally ethical perspective that re-spects all life forms and thereby requires that humanity restrain its activities so as not to impinge on their right to survive. It is also rooted on the perspective that lim-itless growth ofany kind will simply not be sustained by the earth. “Industrialisa-tion for the People, by the People, of the People”, as Bhaduri and Patkar title their article, could well lead to equitable deve-lopment for all humans, but it may not be so benevolent to other species that co-inhabit the earth since it may ultimately not be sustained by the earth. It could conceivably be argued by the authors that equitable industrialisation, in which all people have a say, would lead to ecological sustainability too. Possibly. But I do not think there is anything in-evitable about this, for conceivably too we may continue to displace the space and capacity of other species to thrive, even while expanding our own share of goods and services equitably within our
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 21, 2009 vol xliv no 1277species. It would be a mistake to think that equity will automatically lead to sustain-ability, especially if the latter is meant toinclude the capacity of all species to continue thriving. Going Beyond the LimitsThe Millennium Ecosystem Assessment sounded a clear alarm in 2005 when it stated that humanity was already over-using or degrading the carrying capacity of the earth. One consequence of our actions was that 10 to 30% of mammal, amphibian and bird species were threat-ened with extinction. In such a situation, any more overall growth for human purposes could exacerbate our negative impact on ecosystems and species. In October 2008 the Ecological Footprint Network and Chamber of Indian Indus-tries reported that India was already using twice its biological capacity (GFN and CII 2008). This means itwas either using someone else’s bio-capacity by im-porting timber or mineral or other natu-ral resources and energy sources (and in-deed we do import timber from south-east Asia), or overusing its own resources (of which there is plenty of evidence in the form of continuing degradation of forest, grassland and wetland resources). Therefore, a strategy of ever-increasing growth, whether for India or for the world, is not likely to be compatible with an eco-logically healthy future. The consequences of the lack of a more ecologically-centred vision shows up in seemingly innocuous but potentially dan-gerous ways in the article. For instance, inarguing that industry must not displace existing land-based livelihoods (an abso-lutely vital point), they advocate that it must“come up on vacant/uncultivable land”. This harks back to attempts by the government of India to afforest “waste-lands” (in more recent times), or to distribute such lands to the landless (in early post-independence times). Many studieshave shown that in fact such lands are either, (a) the only common resource forthe poorest people (especially pastoral-ists), or (b) the habitat of a rich diversity of wildlife.Oroften both. In a country like India, it is not clear what vacant or uncultivable land wouldbeavailable, which is not already in use by the most underpriviliged sections of India’s (human or non-human) denizens. Alternatives to IndustryFocusing only on “industrialisation” in their alternative has led the authors to ne-glect telling us what should happenwith agriculture or other non-industrialliveli-hoods and lifestyles. They talk of the dire straits agriculture is in (and the dropping share of agriculture in the country’sGDP), but do not provide a vision of how farmers are to get out of this. This is much more than simply saying they should not be displaced by industry, it is about a funda-mental revolution in the way agriculture has been treated by governmental policy. It is about moving away from bureaucracy or corporate-led, chemical-intensive, irri-gation-priority, homogenised farming to-wards a focus on farmer-led innovation, reviving the respectful role of farming in the economy, clarifying property rights, supporting organic and biologically di-verse cropping, encouraging direct and local producer-consumer links, putting the knowledge of farmers into school and college curriculum to provide it the same status that formal lab-generated knowledge has, and other such actions. Strategies such as these, and many simi-lar ones for forest-dwellers, fishers, pasto-ralists, and other non-industrial ways of life, are as crucial in any “alternative” vision of human welfare as is equitable/rural industrial development. Concomi-tant to such a restructuring would also be a more direct challenge to the unfettered consumerism of material goods that feeds the currently unsustainable paths of economic globalisation. Such a chal-lenge may today seem hopelessly unreal-istic but may not in the near future, spe-cially if public awareness of its conse-quences and incorporation of different perspectives are put squarely into educa-tion and public outreach. To conclude, I urge that any fundamental challenge to today’s destructive economic globalisation process, has to embrace a diversity of ways of producing and consuming, and related lifestyles; as also respect for a diversity of life forms. One may then envisage not even one alterna-tive path, but perhaps a variety of paths, to suit the enormous diversity of local ecological, cultural, economic, and political situations humans find themselves in. Such alternative paths would have to ensurethat none is constraining the other, and that they all collectively respect the global limits of the earth and our responsibility placed on us towards our fellow species. Such a vision may be called “impracti-cal” and “romantic”. I could argue that we now have the knowledge and practical strategies to make this possible, and that this is no more impractical than try-ing to achieve universal human welfare through industrialisation of any kind. Or I could argue that India’s constitution, which enjoins upon us the responsibility of achieving equity and environmental protection, is equally “impractical” and “romantic”, but is nevertheless something we have embraced as a guiding light to illuminate the paths we must take. Either way, the fact that we have put our planet and ourselves on a path with very visible arrows pointing to “self-destruct” suggests we need a very basic rethink. Arguing for equitable, democratic and decentralised growth is crucial, but on its own, it will simply not get us off this path. References GFN and CII (2008): “India’s Ecological Footprint: A Business Perspective”, Global Footprint Network and Chamber of Indian Industries,, Donella H, Dennis L Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W Behrens III (1972): The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books).For the Attention of Subscribers and Subscription Agencies Outside India It has come to our notice that a large number of subscriptions to the EPW from outside the country together with the subscription payments sent to supposed subscription agents in India have not been forwarded to us. We wish to point out to subscribers and subscription agencies outside India that all foreign subscriptions, together with the appropriate remittances, must be forwarded to us and not to unauthorised third parties in India. We take no responsibility whatsoever in respect of subscriptions not registered with us. MANAGER

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