of the more difficult issues facing developing countries presently
is that of striking a balance between industrial development
and protecting the environment. The fact that the critically
important issues of health and safety are intrinsically interconnected
with both serves to highlight the need for proper analysis,
planning and execution.
There are no easy answers and dialogue between all stakeholders
is therefore essential. The adage that nature abhors a vacuum
is only too true when it comes to communication.
In the absence of proper and credible information, rumours
quickly fill the communication space with the attendant outcomes.
Hinduism has always stressed the need to respect and protect
the environment. This is manifested in the reverence and regard
for rivers and mountains in particular. It also propounds
the ethical acquisition of material possessions as one of
the four legitimate goals of mankind. If we are to use this
as the basis of an industrialisation policy then the effecting
of it must require that economic studies and evaluation must
go beyond the methods presently being employed.
For starters, return on investment, while an important criterion,
cannot and should not occupy centrestage. This is not an antiquated
socialist or communist position. No, it is capitalism with
a heart. Unbridled capitalism must give way to humane capitalism.
In humane capitalism, protection/maintenance of the environment
is as important as profits. The idea that there are mutually
exclusive is not necessarily true. Profits are benefits from
an investment. While the shareholders of the company are the
ones who invest capital, the citizens of the country invest
equity in the form of its natural resources; land, air, water
and energy. So it is only fair that the general citizenry
be also classified as shareholders.
Clearly there is a need to put a proper form to these categories
of shareholders. Just as normal shareholders go
to great lengths to minimise their risks, then should not
the same also apply to the citizenry-class of
In fact, this latter class of shareholders has even more incentive
to minimise risk. When there is an industrial accident or
consistent pollution that results in long term or delayed
health effects, they not only suffer a reduction in investment
returns but also suffer a reduction in the quality of life
with attendant medical costs and sometimes loss of life. Quality
of life and life must be given a higher priority than the
quantum of profit.
So investment on returns must take into consideration both
categories of shareholders. The important question now must
be what mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the interests
of the citizenry is safeguarded.
It goes without saying that the government of the day has
that responsibility. But governments are not monolithic entities.
They are, at best, a conglomeration of competing interests
operating within a party framework.
So it would be prudent to have some additional mechanism to
ensure that the interests of the citizens are always given
their due priority. One simple way to implement this would
be to expand the present method of public consultation with
the public, particularly the community in which the industry
would be located.
What is being proposed is this. In addition to the initial
public consultation, and it must be stressed that consultation
is distinct and different from the act of merely informing,
there must be a continuation of the reporting to local and
central authorities (which may be statutory bodies and or
parliamentary committees) for the purposes of discussing and
resolving environmental issues that may arise and to ensure
that pollution limits are being observed.
There is no doubt that companies would baulk at this. But
just as the Enron fiasco has resulted in the greater and stricter
accounting and reporting procedures to safeguard the interests
of financial shareholders, the Bhopal disaster and others
must result in greater accounting and reporting to the equity
This should not be viewed as obstructionism to the growth
of business but rather a logical expansion of the reporting
and accounting mechanisms of public shareholding companies.
It would represent a further democratisation of business practices.
This process being proposed is meant to assist in furthering
the industrialisation in manner that balances the concerns
of all shareholders. It may appear difficult at first but
it is going to serve the interests of all over the long term.
Development dictates that the resources be used for the development
of the country. Financial investments are needed and appreciated.
Similarly for local equity investments. The protection of
the environment is one of the most important investment we
can make for the future of the country. It should be seen
as exactly that. An investment, nothing more, nothing less.
Finally, dialogue and reporting are an integral part of the
democratic process. Democracy may, at times, be tedious and
frustrating, but it is the most successful system we have,
to date. It is slow but it is sure.
Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc