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The two ends of arabian sea

 

We have failed to solve the common pool resource problem
TSI | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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“Which places should one visit in your country”, I asked to our Pakistani driver, Majid, while in Dubai recently. “Sir, if you want to, you can visit the malls and the various other souks and shopping plazas, but please don’t forget to take a tour on the dhow across the creek and the beach. It’s beautiful”. I was amazed at the manner in which Majid stressed upon beautiful. No wonder Dubai has evolved as incredible tourist destination. For the rest of my journey I kept wondering – to how many tourists visiting our country can we actually recommend our beaches in Mumbai, Chennai or even Puri? I guess none, as, forget being beautiful and a centre of tourist attraction; most of our beaches are full of filth and are repulsive at best. Here is two common property (beaches) case, one sustainable and revenue generating and the other a classic example of ‘tragedy of the commons’. These two examples clearly highlight the complexity in our struggle to understand the persistent failure to solve common-pool resource problems. It has been observed that in our search for the second best alternative, there has always been the conflict of whether to appeal to the heart or to the head, whether to make selfless sacrifices or instead restrict our economic choices.

What we have completely failed to realise is that if the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and similar such examples across the world are testimony for environmental balance and a steady flow of revenues (from tourism), then it is for their citizens who had changed their selfish habits for the larger common good. However, such cooperation for common good cannot be taken for granted, unless there is some coercion or some other special instruments to make individuals act towards that common interest. Global examples exemplifies that such cases have been best dealt with by strong government interventions, through a set of incentives and disincentives. However in India, consecutive governments have completely failed in even evolving a structure to arrest the unprecedented violence against our environment. Again, to evolve a formal structure is not tough though. The only thing it requires is a diehard intent which our consecutive governments have been woefully short of. All that is needed is to develop an environmental social framework (norm) – a shared understanding about actions that are obligatory, permitted or forbidden. Along with it, our formal rules (only if they exist) to protect the environment can further strengthen this framework. Further, to set up the right paradigm, we should reward individuals for good behaviour and punish them for bad, irrespective of whoever it is. Only then can we observe meaningful and tangible change. In the end, it really feels sad that Dubai, a dot of a nation with just one Arabian Sea, is raking in millions of dollars as tourist income and we, with the same Arabian Sea, coupled with the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and innumerable small and big beaches are earning in cents!!
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017