Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, observed on Tuesday that water scarcity is becoming a way of life and pollution is a growing threat to our health and habitats.
The World Bank estimates that in the next 25 years the demand for drinking water in India will double from 25 billion cubic metres at present to 52 billion cubic metres — with not much change in availability.
Due to the increase in demand, the State of India Environment Report said the per capita drinking water availability has fallen by about 15-20 per cent over the past two decades.
Singh asked citizens to make “fundamental choices” about their lifestyles at a conference of environment ministers from various states. He said the biggest challenge was arriving at a new “equilibrium between man and nature”.
For him, there was no re-thinking on India’s aim to continue its high economic growth. But he wanted the growth strategy to be innovative and different. “We can and we must walk a different road, an environment-friendly road,” he said.
The PM expressed concern at the growing perception that environmental clearance — a key for faster economic growth — was becoming a “source of corruption” and had become a new form of “License Raj”.
“This is a matter that needs to be addressed,” he said, while asking the ministers to improve the environmental clearance process to make it more transparent and hassle-free.
The PM brushed aside claims of the developed world that India has not done enough to combat climate change, stressing the need to make investments in new environment-friendly technologies.
“We are conscious of our responsibilities to both the present and the future generations and we seek to enhance the ecological sustainability of our development path,” he said.
The PM asked states to come out with state-specific action plans on climate change and involve youth in the movement for environmental protection and regeneration.
Singh accorded high priority to cleaning of rivers, saying that a target of preventing 25 per cent of industrial pollution from entering water systems should be achieved.
After the day-long conference, Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, 55, said there was a consensus among states to constitute national and state-level Enviro-nment Protection Agencies to enforce environment laws and penalise violators.
He said the first tranche of compensatory afforestation funds of Rs 400 crore (4 billion) was released to 10 states on Monday while three more would get about Rs 350 crore (3.5 billion) by the end of this week.