India’s biggest environment problem is poverty – Rama Sarni


India is in a stage of transition, in its adolescence if you may. Compared to US which enjoys 230 years of independence, India will soon complete just its 63rd independence day. India’s age is a fourth of America’s. Which brings to my point – India is still a teenager, which needs to work on its problems, which are many – internal, external, financial, political, you name it.

The topic in question is regarding environment problem and poverty. If read between the lines, the statement can be understood in a couple of ways. What is an environment problem? Literally, it deals with pollution, climate change, global warming and the like. But if we take a figurative approach, it can also mean the situation that India finds itself in – financially, socially, culturally. Whatever the inference, all these are valid challenges that are interconnected and interdependent, justifying the statement using two seemingly unrelated topics in the same sentence – environment problem and poverty.

Environment and Poverty

Environment as in Climate change – India is a developing country, which needs its industries, manufacturing sector which are heavy on earth’s climate. We cannot afford to let go of these energy intensive activities. Being a country with more than half of the population under poverty line, our first priority is to lift them out of the clutches of poverty. So, more resources are used, more energy is spent and we cannot all go green while millions are starving. Instead of searching for renewable, alternate sources of energy which cost more initially, we take recourse in cheap, polluting energy sources.

The “figurative” environment – We live in a environment where majority of the people are illiterate, malnourished and poor. It is a vicious cycle – as they are poor, they cannot afford a decent square meal and the minimum education which in turn makes them frail and not able to land a job which keeps them poor. Their “environment” is unsanitary, unhygienic, lack of clean drinking water.

Poor people worry more about getting a meal. They don’t have the time nor the energy to worry about polluting the planet. According to Maslow’s Theory of needs, when their basic need of hunger is not satisfied, he wouldn’t be in a position to satisfy a higher need of education or clean air or use of renewable energy. An illiterate person doesn’t know that plastic is harmful for environment or that adulterated kerosene is not good for his health and that of planet Earth’s. A poor household cannot afford clean energy. They use polluting fuels such as wood burning stoves, cow dung and other solids as a fuel which release copious amounts of Green House Gases (GHGs).


Poverty is our problem. There have been numerous schemes, welfare measures taken to reduce poverty – from the first Five-Year-Plan to the Millennium Development Goals, there have been solutions, suggestions and it has been six decades post independence, we are nowhere near reducing the poverty. So, might be our real problem is priorities, attitude and poverty is the symptom. You cure the disease, the symptom goes away. It’s high time, we changed our priorities and attitudes.

Suggestions and solutions:

  1. People need food. 3 times a day. We have bumper crops and most of the surplus rots away due to lack of proper storage. Build extra storage and in the meantime, strengthen the PDS system so that the surplus food grains reach the BPL, APL, anyone who is in need of food.
  2. If you really want people to be self-sufficient, don’t just give them fish – Teach them how to fish. Yes. The next step is education, skill development. Increasing the number of schools in a given area is necessary but not sufficient. Increase the quality of teachers. Give them perks, raise their salaries. Give the teachers who work in remote areas extra incentives to work.
  3. To do all this, there are sufficient amount of funds available. There are instances where department funds lay idle due to lack of administrative interest. Hire good administrators – there is lot of unemployment – manpower is available. Hire them and let them do their job.
  4. Citizens can pitch in as well. NGOs, civil societies can do their bit in improving the lifestyle of our poor. Do not wait for the government to do everything. Our Mahatma has rightly said – “Be the change that you want to see”.
  5. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. How did other countries/ even some districts/ cities manage to improve the status of the poor? Study them. Emulate them. Little changes go a long way.
  6. Educate people about the polluting practices. Inculcate sense of responsibility towards greenery into children. Habits formed at that age tend to stick.

Wrapping up…

Problems are part and parcel of development. Attitudes of both the government and the citizens need a complete overhaul. Literate people, healthy people take care of their environment – both the surroundings and the planet as well. The teenager India is a typical adolescent – confused, struggling, trying out future possible personalities. Hope it learns its lessons in time and blossoms into a vibrant butterfly. (862 words) (Contributed by Target 2012 Member – Rama Sarni)