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Of Ecology & Development: ETHICS IN MANAGEMENT CRITICAL, By Dr S Saraswathi, 1 July, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 1 July 2013

Of Ecology & Development


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The monstrous disaster witnessed in Uttarakhand is aptly described as “man-made” more than nature’s fury. The terror unleashed by Naxalism and other violent ethnic, regional movements is attributed partly to some serious human lapses in the development process planned and operated by men leading to human rights violations. The ever-growing exposure of corruption in high places, and betting and prefixing the outcome of sports contests are evidence of utter indifference of men to ethics in public life.


It is indeed shocking to learn that the CAG has submitted three reports reflecting on the development of Uttarakhand since 2009. They have drawn the attention of the Government to the absence of a proper disaster management plan for this State, which is situated in a high seismic zone and has seen many natural calamities in the past. The reports, which should have been received as a warning for urgent action, seem to have evoked no substantive response. These have to be retrieved now after the calamity. 


Adding to this, the former CAG is reported to have stated in a meeting recently that the impact of the flash flood in Uttarakhand could have been lowered if the State and Union Governments had followed the recommendations of the reports. This confirms that there is reason for pointing accusing fingers at men behind development for this unforgettable tragedy. Importantly, it brings into focus several key questions about the role of ethics in management/governance in our country.


It has also come to light that the Geological Survey of India (GSI), in a report way back in 1994 had cautioned the authorities against civil constructions in the eco-sensitive zone of Uttarakhand, now dubbed as the “killer zone”. Kedarnath has been declared unsuitable for civil structures, and even relocation of some establishments in that temple complex was recommended. Since the time of 2004 Tsunami which is followed by earthquakes as routine occurrences in different parts of the world, the Himalayan region as a vulnerable target to natural disasters has often been mentioned by geologists and environmentalists.


Increasing encroachment on the environment in pursuit of material development is the reason behind local people’s protest against construction of dams, nuclear plants, and other mega hydro-electric projects affecting the natural landscape.  


In the case of Uttarakhand, ecology is a matter of paramount significance that has to be taken into consideration in embarking on any construction activity.  This State has given birth to the famous Chipko Movement of local women literally hugging trees to prevent felling of trees and destruction of forests by contractors – a movement showing the moral calibre of women.


The task of maintaining balance between ecology and development is a highly technical one requiring both knowledge and will to act on that knowledge while undertaking constructions and destructions for building roads, bridges, dams, buildings, power projects and so on.


It is a question of balancing the benefits of “development” in material terms and the cost of ecological loss in the process. By the way, the benefits and losses in this matter do not accrue to the same people to make calculations simpler. It is, therefore, a question of relative power and influence of people involved on the two sides. Hence, along with rules and regulations, ethical values or moral standards do matter. This is something that has to be nurtured.


Development Ethics is a growing discipline in the West which deals with the moral assessment of the ends, means, and processes of development.  It is concerned with all aspects of development - not just economic development. It cares for the poor and the deprived, and holds that the rich have an obligation to ensure the welfare of the poor.


Ethical values are both the means and ends of development. Pursuit of development should be consistent with ethical virtues, for ethics is a constituent part of development.  The two are intertwined. The term “development” covers values, attitudes, and goals.


Violations of building rules, constructions without licence, erection of concrete buildings flouting all norms are exposed day in and day out in the aftermath of Uttarakhand deluge.  Collusion of corporate houses and building contractors with Government agencies is suspected as they are apparently the main beneficiaries in the loot of natural surrounding for the sake of “development”. 


Even now, arguments are put forth that the area and people of Uttarakhand are entitled to the benefits of development – like power, water, public amenities, etc. – like those elsewhere. True. Nobody denies this. But, do people need development at the cost of their own lives and livelihoods? Cannot we think of what is called “sustainable development”, that is, development without destroying the environment?


Economic development is not just growth in the GDP and per capita income. It is a human creation and should include quality of life. In addition to economy, efficiency, and effectiveness, ethics must be included as a hallmark of development management.


Denis Goulet, who has written extensively on Development Ethics, refers to “authentic development” which cares for people’s ideas, participation, and choice.  


An important ingredient of managerial ethics is a high sense of accountability, i.e. answerability to one’s actions or behaviour. It has many masters – hierarchical authorities in the bureaucracy, legal prescriptions, professional conduct, political leadership, and more than these, moral and ethical standards. We are able to enforce legal and administrative responsibility at least on paper though the crooked try to circumvent the norms and justify their actions. But, we fail to recognize and demonstrate moral accountability. 


Accountability must involve liability for lapses, indifference, and wrong doings. Errors may occur in a work; judgement may go wrong; but autocratic decisions and willful negligence, and refusal to heed opinions contrary to one’s own must be liable to punishment.


Transparency is another important quality of ethical management. It comes only when development is not one-sided and does not involve exploitation of one for the benefit of another either knowingly or unknowingly. Transparency can effectively curb the scope for corruption. It can also expose “conflict of interest” and nepotism which are growing phenomena in governance everywhere, striking at the roots of morality in public life.


Unfortunately, ethics, which is the foundation of human relationships, remains invisible and unenforceable. When it is absent, the result is rampant corruption, and misuse of power and authority, and secrecy in public dealings. Then, development is narrowly construed in terms of structures and number overlooking people’s choice, cultural values, and natural environment. Mountains, rivers, forests, and valleys become victims of economic development. Man, who must be the subject of development, becomes an object.


Will the exposures in the media on the ground situation in Uttarakhand help improve governance/management or help the culprits to discover ways and strategies to escape exposures and start reconstruction in the same spots? One shudders to ponder or guess. -----INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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