Economic growth or pollution control reforms? The finals of X-Confero 2019 came to a clear solution for a developing country
Days after teen climate activist Greta Thunberg’s rousing UN speech about climate action, the environmental crisis debate was picked up at a timely inter-college debate at the city's most esteemed educational institution. Xavier's Management Society along with St. Xavier's College Kolkata presents X - Confero, in association with Indulge, powered by One Plus, raised the issue of sustainable development and the prioritisation of the economy over pollution control in a developing country and saw two teams engage in a Cambridge-style war of words.
The format was simple, to persuade the larger percentage of people in the auditorium to agree with your side of the argument. It was stated at the beginning of the debate that the house believes that economic development should be prioritised over pollution control and 41 people from the auditorium sided with the house. The proposing team was The Accidental Participants (comprising Deep Mehta, Vani Dugar and Somok Sur) and the opposing team was Team Rejects 3.0 (comprising Priya Chatterjee Ray, Pranav Dhupia and Hamid Aziz).
Some of the main organisers of the event were joint secretaries Himay Sheth and Ritika Borar. The final decision was to be given by a panel of three judges, featuring Mahesh Motwani, the Executive Vice President of Initiative Media, Saira Shah Halim, the noted gender and peace activist and Sharmistha Ghosal, the Kolkata editor for Indulge, The New India Express. One of India’s premier economists and Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Bibek Debroy was the noted speaker, who gave an enlightening hour-long speech following the debate, on the topic, ‘Indian economy: Where is it headed?’ The moderator for the debate was entrepreneur and writer Swati Gautam, who’s also a trustee of Calcutta Debating Circle. The opening statement was kicked off by a member of the proposing team, Deep Mehta, who cited Thomas Malthus in his argument.
"We've often heard how important climate change is, and how important it is to control pollution, but imagine yourself as the head of state or as a policy-maker, that's when you realize that all of this has to do with the quality of life and the standard of living. When you're talking about a country like our's which is a developing one, we have factories being set up, the technological influx, and incomes being generated. The government's priority is to make sure that we become a developed country like the west where you have economic equity and better infrastructure, and there's skewness in the facilities which are provided to the people. It is in this regard we tell you that pollution control and economic growth are complementary. While you have economic development, you have the control of pollution being facilitated by the process of it," Mehta remarked.
Some practical facts about policy reforms were brought up by members of Team Rejects 3.0. "We are trying to develop towards a future that may not exist at all. On the Environmental Protection Index India is at 174 out of 178 countries. On the Air Quality Index, a country like Brazil which is also a developing country is 154 out of 178. This arises as there has been no prioritisation of pollution control, and we have not believed in sustainable development. When they tell us that when we have proper economic growth only then can we have pollution control, that is not true. When we prioritise environmental policy over everything else, only then can we assure an efficient resource allocation," said Priya Chatterjee Ray, who also cited Thunberg as part of her argument.
After an impressive round of debates, The Accidental Participants, who already had a headstart with the audience’s favour, were able to change the minds of 10 more people, as 51 people agreed with them by the end of the debate. The judges’ decision was also on the same page, and the team was declared the winner for X-Confero.
“Where is the Indian economy headed? To understand that, we have to begin by asking, where is the Indian economy today? Some of you who are students will venture overseas and visit countries abroad and you will come back and ask, ‘why cannot India be like those countries?’ An entirely legitimate question to ask, provided you compare apples and apples, and oranges and oranges,” remarked Debroy as part of his speech. The economist and author brought many interesting perspectives to light, in context of income, infrastructure and the economic priorities of the population especially when it comes to a developing country like India.