Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture

Brief on Jairam Ramesh’s visit: Discourse on “Challenges and Opportunities of Green Growth for 21st Century India”

Jairam Ramesh is a senior Indian politician from the Indian National Congress. Currently, he is a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House). Mr. Ramesh served as the Union Cabinet Minister for Rural Development (2011-2014), and Drinking Water and Sanitation (2011-2013), Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Environment and Forests (2009-2011), Union Minister of State for Commerce and Power (2008-09) and Union Minister of State for Commerce (2006-2009).

On September 29, 2014, Jairam Ramesh presented his views on ‘Challenges and Opportunities of Green Growth for 21st Century India’ as part of a speaker series co-sponsored by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) and Yale Himalaya Initiative (YHI). The event was attended by a diverse group of students and scholars. After the lecture, according to the Yale tradition, Dean Peter Crane, group of students and faculty members joined him for dinner. Over the dinner, FES students and faculty members discussed how FES and YHI can contribute towards the sustainable development of India through multi-level partnership and research.

Jairam in his talk stated that, in the past, while Indian climate negotiators led the negotiations and decided what was good for India international political dimensions were completely absent. However, it was only when the position of negotiators got challenged during 2009-2011, that India’s image internationally changed “from being a naysayer to a country which is willing to participate in a search for solutions”. Jairam emphasized on reasons why India should worry about sustainable development and why India cannot follow the traditional ‘grow now and pay later’ model which has been followed by most developed countries? He elaborates four aspects to substantiate his argument:

First and the most important reason is the demography. He quoted that Brundtland Commission has defined “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. He highlighted that no country is going to face the demographic pressure, which India will be facing. Presently, India’s population is 1.25 billion and in the next 35 years 400 million people will be added to the population, whereas in this period China will add only 25 million people.  

Second reason is climate change. He stated that the reality of climate change can no longer be denied whether it’s the monsoon, or the health of Himalayan glaciers, or increase in mean sea level along the 7000 km coastline of India. For that matter most of the minerals are located in the forest rich areas e.g. coal, bauxite, iron ore etc. To continue the economic growth of 8% per year these resources should be extracted in the current scenario, which will add to the issue degradation of natural resources and climate change. He explicitly mentioned that India has current vulnerabilities as well as future vulnerabilities across multiple dimensions.

Third reason is public health; he emphasized that this is not adequately appreciated in India. He stressed that status of environment today is not simply an environment but a public health issue. The contamination of water and pollution of air are the most visible manifestations of the impact of economic growth. These have significantly contributed to increased morbidity patterns. The public health dimension of environment is now emerging as an important issue.

And the fourth reason is that sustainability in India’s context is not a lifestyle issue but a livelihood or basic sustenance issue. Which is linked with access to forest, productivity of land, protection of water bodies etc.

He concluded that due to serious problems like demography, climate change, public health and livelihood - sustainable development becomes an essential prerequisite in India’s growth. Jairam mentioned that the previour12th five-year plan (2012-2017) of India was developed on the theme of ‘faster, inclusive and sustainable growth’, which is a good sign towards sustainable development. Also, for the first time the planning commission of India presented what of low carbon inclusive growth strategy for India will look like.

Jairam was impressed by the contribution from faculty, researchers and students of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in the field of sustainable development. He expressed keen interest in engaging with FES and YHI programs in the future.

Discussion with Jairam, which started at the guest lecture, continued more interactively while strolling and exploring the Yale campus. Group of students and faculty members ambled along with Jairam from FES Kroon Hall to Mory’s (the traditional dinner place at Yale). Throughout the walk students kept asking questions focusing on climate change and green growth and Jairam readily replied. He shared his experience being a former environment minister of India and also shared information about his upcoming book focusing on the environmental cases. Students and faculty members interacted more casually during the dinner and the evening was entertained by the Yale’ A Cappella group ‘the Whiffenpoofs’. The dinner was concluded with group photo and desserts! Next morning, another group of students and faculty members met Jairam for breakfast. This time the theme of discussion was social and institutional aspects related to environment and development. It was a great time to learn and interact with someone who is so deeply connected to the issues of environment and development.  I hope that we will have Jairam back for a longer duration next time. 

Mohammad Aatish Khan is a Fulbright Nehru Master’s Fellow 2014 and is a first year Masters in Environmental Management student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is focusing on the ‘application of advanced analytical approaches for understanding complexities and synergies between environment-development program design and policy implications in the developing countries’. He started his professional career as a volunteer working in the tribal areas of Bastar, CG. Since last five years in an International non-profit, he worked with government agencies, international bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations and private firms on more than 30 thematically diverse projects focusing on natural resources, climate change, poverty alleviation, governance, Gender, REDD plus and development. Prior to Yale, he studied MBA in Environmental Management from Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal and Bachelors of Engineering in Electronics and Communications from Rajiv Gandhi Tech. University, India.