Govt to introduce sustainable consumption line

Government to introduce sustainable consumption line

In a move that has taken observers by surprise, the Government has decided to introduce an “Above Sustainable Consumption Line” (ASCL) concept into its planning and budgeting. This will be the inverse of the “Below Poverty Line”:  while the Government has the responsibility of bringing people above the poverty line, it will now also take on the responsibility of bringing people who are ASCL down. The stated aim is to move India towards greater sustainability, one of the pillars of the 12th 5-Year Plan. 

The National Advisory Council (NAC) has been tasked with coming up with a definition of ASCL, and specific measures to fulfill the above responsibility. Sources within the Government said that back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that between 10 to 15% of Indians are currently ASCL. Indications are that the criteria being used to identify ASCL people include ownership of private cars, air conditioners, and shares, and high level positions in corporations, government agencies, educational institutions, media houses, and big NGOs. This 10-15% of India is believed to be emitting more than its fair share of carbon (thereby reducing the climate space for the rest), using excessive materials (leading to large-scale mining and industrial pollution), taking up more than the equitable per capita space on city roads (a factor in the ever-increasing demand for wider roads and flyovers), occupying houses much bigger than needed for decent living, and so on. 

While the percentage of people who will be affected by this move is small, they include amongst the most powerful and rich, and the Government expects substantial resistance. Already the Billionaire Indians’ Advocacy Society (BIAS) has reportedly protested; the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) is planning also to join. It appears also that Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was not in favour of this move, since according to him it would affect not only 10-15% of Indians but all those earning more than Rs. 28 a day, who are classified as rich by the Planning Commission’s standards. 

Implementing the ASCL is likely to be quite a challenge. Sources said that the Government is considering redeploying the agencies under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), including State Pollution Control Boards, Forest Dept, and so on. Forest officials in particular, skilled as they are at confiscating fuelwood and fodder from the poor, will need only some retraining to go into  houses of the rich to confiscate ecologically destructive devices and materials. Environmental groups may be asked to suggest how best to recycle these into sustainable devices and materials that the poor can use.

It remains a mystery how such a decision was taken by a government that has so far promoted or allowed conspicuous, runaway consumption. Sources not wishing to be named say that some NAC members had a hand, and a sympathetic minister managed to  slip it in during a busy Cabinet meeting when more weighty decisions on land acquisition, women’s safety, and how to survive till 2014 were being discussed. 

Reported by Ashish Kothari, journalist at large, based on reliable sources

1st April, 2013

Leave a Comment