Sustainable strategy honours Bahuguna

The passing of Sunderlal Bahuguna, who made a spontaneous movement into a turning point for forest conservation, particularly in the Himalayan region, must become the starting point of a robust engagement of the development process with nature.

The core of Bahuguna’s ideas and work are recognition of the benefit that humans accrue from nature. That economic growth and development need not be at odds with environmental conservation and protection is rooted in science, economics and sociology. For far too long, nature and development have been treated as competing forces. Bahuguna is remembered for the Chipko movement, but too little attention is paid to his idea of ecology as permanent economy. Human beings depend on nature for food, water, oxygen, and to make possible life on earth as we know it.

Nature is an asset. It has economic and intrinsic value. Forests, for instance, provide services critical to sustaining human life such as protecting hydrological systems, arresting soil degradation and erosion, and serving as carbon sinks. They also contribute to our well-being, recreation and even spiritual beliefs. Therefore, as with manufactured and human assets, there is a need to account for nature’s appreciation and depreciation.

This would mean not turning away from developmental activities, be it building of roads, transmission lines, power projects or mineral mining, but to do so in a manner that does not squander the nation’s asset base. The forest that might have to be cleared should be counted as asset depreciation while computing the costs and benefits of the project at hand. The present system assigns little or no value to nature. Mainstreaming incorporation of nature as an asset would lead to sustainable growth.

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