As far as our knowledge goes, earth is the only planet in our solar system, which sustains life. Though we may assume that many other planets may exist elsewhere in the universe, equally capable of sustaining life, but our present day research is not adequate enough to tell us with certainty about such existence, therefore, until now it is simply our presumption. There has been constant evolution of life on earth in stages.

Though human beings appeared at the far end of the evolutionary period, its progress has been very fast vis-à-vis the age of the planet. However, in their endeavour to achieve fast progress, they have threatened their own sustainability.

Every major government in the world is suffering from the same misconception that growth and development are the same, which is not so. Growth may fetch more money, bring prosperity in terms of infrastructure like transport and communication, marketing etc, yet it may not be development in the truest sense of the term as it might be unable to fulfill the various needs of the people. The approach of development must be multidimensional. It cannot be equated with earning but should incorporate factors like culture, ecology, social justice, political accessibility, etc. The main factor, which has of late come to play a very significant role in an individual&’s life, is environment. Therefore, sustainable development incorporates not only issues like social, cultural and political, but also environmental – that definitely demands more attention. In fact, these days sustainable development is mainly equated with environmental upgradation as it either sustains or retards the development of a nation.

The concept of sustainable development assumed importance only around 1980, when it was discovered that human progress in the name of growth and development was highly impacting. While defining the concept,  Brundtland Commission in its report in 1987 emphasised on two issues — needs of the poor was prioritised and concurrently imposed certain limitations on the state of technology and social organisation not to tax environment&’s ability too much, so that the very existence of life on earth becomes unsustainable. Therefore, in other words development must commensurate with the needs of the present without compromising on that of the future.

It is an undeniable fact that without environmental protection, development cannot sustain for a long time neither can it be holistic. The idea of sustainable development came into focus when it was realised that there has been indiscriminate and excessive exploitation of earth&’s limited resources, both renewable and non-renewable. Be that as it may, developing nations usually face deficiency of food, energy, water, sanitation and employment, but to sustain their necessity, the basic requirement is sustainable limit of population, which is increasing day by day. Even the developed nations will face this problem in the future if they ignore this factor. Therefore, population growth cannot be segregated between developed and developing nations, it is rather important for the survival of earth, otherwise material deficiency due to rise in population will invariably be felt very soon. More so because environment and human beings are interdependent.

There is an intrinsic link between economic and social development on the one hand and environment protection on the other. Basically there are three closely interlinked factors associated with sustainable development- quality of life of a citizen, equitable distribution of resources and integrated decision.

Quality of life mainly insists on reconciling economic development with social equity and quality of environment. Job creation can only assure economic security and improvement in the living standards of the people, but quality of life demands health security and education along with the assurance of environmental protection for the present as well as future generations. Therefore, it is a very intriguing issue and needs special attention. But job creation itself is not enough to feed one&’s population unless there is an adequate supply of food.  Prices of basic food items will shoot up, as in India because of deficiency in supply of pulses and edible oil seeds in the country. Inflationary trend will always negate the advantage linked with rise in income level. Poor and middle class people have already started feeling the onslaught of rising prices. The government is euphoric that it has liberalised.

Easy monthly Installment by curtailing the bank rates, but it is perhaps not aware that this policy has seriously impacted the poor and lower middle class population, whose sole source of income is from fixed deposits. Saving can be expected from a household, when there is more than enough, but when around 50 per cent of population in India live from hand to mouth, augmentation of saving is only a daydream.   Preparation of statistics based on study done at certain pockets of population does not reflect the actual economic scenario. Therefore, simply job creation through rapid industrialisation is not enough to effect required improvement in the quality of life.

Equitable distribution implies fair distribution of both the costs and benefits of development between the rich and poor not only between generations, but between nations also. Equity could be expected to achieve if the entire population of a country has enough means to fulfil its basic needs that is the basic right of every individual. Only insisting on development of industries by any country will mainly benefit the corporate because a major chunk of it will inflate the coffers of a few, and not the whole.   Therefore, private and government sectors should develop simultaneously. But government sectors will flourish only when efficiency is fully ensured, which is always lacking not only in India, but other places in the world also. USA and China boast of their development, but these countries too are not free from inadequacies in certain pockets and in certain sections of population.

We should not have the misconception that sustainable development means a cleaner environment only as it also ensures a stable and healthy economy. There should be better use of available resources, increase in investment, promotion of stability and competition, development of skills, and finally proper reward for work. For this every workman must enjoy a portion of the share of the company where he is employed otherwise the goal of equality in terms of fair distribution of income in the country cannot be accomplished. Sustainable development, therefore, should be viewed as a long-term goal, and not just as a shortterm fixture. A technology driven economic growth is a utopian concept that should be imbibed by every government that unless it is dovetailed with the quality of environment, the benefit couldn’t be sustained for long. Therefore, it is imperative that there is a parallel care and respect for the ecosystem and for the people within because economic growth is not infinite. Growth is bound to become unsustainable in the long run, because there is a limit to the resources on earth. One child per family policy once adopted by China that was highly appreciated, though of late, China is also becoming liberal on this issue. India must emulate China, if it has to survive.

Clubbing environment with development is the underpinning issue of the world today. Equity could be achieved only with social justice, but it is not possible unless there is enough for survival for everyone, which will not help to achieve sustainability unless there is equitable distribution of the benefits keeping future limitation in view. The world should be prepared to face such an event in the future where the coming generations will definitely feel the pinch. We should, therefore, prepare ourselves and act accordingly. Hopefully, the upcoming 14th International Conference on Environment, Science and Technology at Rhodes in Greece from 3-5 September will definitely keep in its agenda, such issues and do something to prolong sustainability of human life on earth.

The writer is the former joint secretary, government of West Bengal