By adopting a different, more positive, and more proactive approach to the challenges that environmental issues pose, Indian enterprises will greatly benefit in this millennium. The prevalent attitude today, with some exceptions, is that environmental concerns impose costs that are best avoided. This is natural since these are costs which can fairly readily be externalised and imposed on somebody else. Thus, when industrial effluents render river water unfit for drinking, or decimate fisheries, the costs are paid by people who have to seek other sources of water for domestic use, or pay more for fish. A rational economic organisation would, of course, try and, as far as possible, avoid paying these costs. It would first invest in lobbying against regulations demanding pollution-control. If that does not work, it will invest in bribing pollution-control authorities to certify that it is obeying regulations, even if it isn't.
I have more personal experience of such corporate attitudes. A Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) engaged me as a consultant to look at the environmental impact of its operations. In my report, I made a number of specific recommendations to avoid adverse environmental consequences while endorsing other aspects of their programme. I offered to help train their engineers and contractors to ensure that my suggestions were implemented. Not only did the PSU ignore this offer, it deleted all my suggestions for safeguards while preparing a consolidated environmental-impact assessment report.
It would, undoubtedly, be to the advantage of not just society at large, but the corporate world itself to shift from a negative to a positive approach. The Japanese experience is instructive in this context. Forty years ago, the Japanese industry too pursued the negative approach that the Indian industry follows today. But, in the 1960s, public pressure created a climate that convinced industry that it should give up externalising... [continues]
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