Green vs grey

A lively debate at St Xavier's College pitted environment vs development. In the end, though, despite spirited back 'n' forth arguments and a young, questioning audience that threw some challenging questions, there was no solution

THE MOTION: Exaggerated ecological and climate concerns are impeding India's economic growth
Is there a practical solution to escalating environmental problems in India? In the name of development, are we putting our future generations at risk? To seek answers to these questions and much more, a GreenKarbon debate was held at St Xavier's college auditorium on September 16, 2011.

EVENT: (From Left) Shrinath Bolloju, Chief Operating Officer, India,
Deutsche Bank,  Dr Omkar Goswami, Gautam Patel, Sunil Alagh, Dr KK
Narayanan, Usha Thorat, Bittu Sahgal, CP Chandrasekhar, Barun S
Mitra at the GreenKarbon debate at St. Xavier's College. PICS/ SATYAJIT DESAI

The event, organised by Sanctuary Asia in association with Deutsche Bank, was an Oxford-style debate, where every participant was given an equal amount of time to express an opinion. Almost 200 people including parents,  students and teachers attended the debate, which consisted of four rounds and was chaired by Usha Thorat, former Deputy Governor of the RBI.

DISASTER: Officials in full radiation protection suits scan evacuated
people to check radiation levels in Fukushima.  An earthquake and
tsunami sparked a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant
in Japan. FILE PIC/AFP

Sunil Alagh, founder of SKA advisors, a business consultancy firm; Dr KK Narayanan, former President of the Association of Biotechnology-Led Enterprises (ABLE) and Barun S Mitra, founder of Liberty Institute in New Delhi spoke for the motion.

DEVELOPMENT: Barun S Mitra, founder of Liberty institute in New Delhi
spoke for the motion

CP Chandrasekhar, a professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning; Gautam Patel, a renowned lawyer and counsel at the Bombay High Court and Dr Omkar Goswami, an economist and commentator spoke against the motion.

ENVIRONMENT: Dr Omkar Goswami, an economist and commentator
spoke against the motion

Mitra, speaking for the motion emphasised, "It has been observed that economically developed nations also pay a lot of heed to their environment. For a country to prosper, development and economy should go hand in hand." Talking about the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which has been banned in many parts of the world, Mitra said, "It cannot be ignored that the DDT molecule has saved so many lives. The controversy around usage of DDT being hazardous was generated only after developed countries had solved their health problems related to malaria."

Goswami, who spoke against the motion after Mitra said that environment is a non-negotiable issue. "Emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not a per capita issue, it is an aggregate issue. Look at the hills we destroy, see what we have done to our coasts and think of the disaster that we will happily bequeath to our future generations," said Goswami, who spoke against the motion.

Narayanan, who spoke for the motion, said that more often than not, claims made by activists are, "baseless, exaggerated, irrational and unscientific. In fact, most of them are misinformed when it comes to technology and development." Patel refuted these claims by pointing out to environmental movements in the past. Patel, who was against the notion, said,  "The developed countries have made it their priority to care for their natural capital and that is why there is so much development along with economic prosperity in those areas. As far as exaggeration is concerned, I believe that the highly successful Chipko movement was not an exaggeration at all. Concerns expressed by environmentalists when a thermal power plant or a nuclear power plant come up is not an exaggeration but a genuine problem."

Sunil Alagh, who spoke for the motion after Patel said that those who are for development and modernisation are not against environmental conservation. "Sustainable growth rather than no growth is the answer," said Alagh. Chandreshekhar, who was the last speaker of the first round said, "Environmental degradation is a legacy problem. Stop it now from getting worse. Treat future generations with respect."

The first round was followed by a question answer session from the audience. Somebody from the audience asked how is it possible that the Nordic nations are so developed? At the same time, they haven't compromised with their environment. Goswami responded to the question by saying, "Nordic nations are environmentally conscious. They also have low population pressure. Hence urbanisation plans are made without neglecting the environment." Referring to various thermal power plants in the country, an audience member asked, "Which is a better option--electricity at the cost of environment or no electricity at all?" Patel responded by saying that there are other alternative sources of energy, which can be explored.
While the debate was heating up, an audience member shouted, "Whose development are we talking about if the human race becomes extinct?" Thorat had to request the audience to stick to the topic. A few people on the audience also highlighted the fact that marine life is equally important for the ecosystem and should not be neglected. 

In the rebuttal round, rival parties did not let go any opportunity to take a dig at each other. Alagh, who spoke about Patel's suggestion of using alternative sources of energy, said, "My dear friend is talking about different forms of energy, which are environment friendly, but he for some reason is not elaborating on what are those alternative sources and how can they be used."

Goswami, on the other hand, elaborated about the Luddites (a social movement of 19th-century English textile artisans who protested by destroying mechanized looms -- against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life) and said, "We are not against development per se but equal respect should be shown towards the environment too."


In the last round, where each speaker was given three minutes to conclude his thoughts Alagh  said, "A blanket ban on any sort of development is not the right approach. Give us a solution, which is practical."
Though there was no solution that came out at the end of the lively debate, a show of hands by the audience decided that those against the motion were the winners.

Thorat, chair of the house said, "Conflict resolution is what we are looking at but conflict in itself is good. This can at least call for a healthy debate to seek solutions to our problems."

Srishti John (18), a first year BA student at St. Xavier's college who attended the session said, "Both the parties were correct in their own way but, I got to know about a lot of things through the question answer round."

John, whose father too attended the debate said that the debate was good but, "nobody could clearly spell out the solutions to the problems. All of us want to do something for the environment but how do we do that, is the bigger question."

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