Economy vs Environment: The challenge facing India

Hyderabad is one of the shiny, futuristic faces of India. Technology companies - among them Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM - are flocking to this city.

With them come increasing wealth and economic success and a desire by Hyderabad’s citizens to demand a standard of living that we would easily recognise in other world cities such as London or New York.

Video report by ITV News science correspondent Alok Jha:

And no-one can argue with that demand. Development, though, needs energy and resources. And that means more carbon emissions.

The pace of growth in Hyderabad is dizzying and if it is repeated in other places around India - and there’s no reason to think there won’t be more high-tech cities like this with lots more wealthy people - the combined carbon impact would be huge.

Vijay Kumarswamy, who works for a tech company and has recently moved back to India after a decade in the United States, showed me around his swanky apartment in Gachibowli, a new area of Hyderabad that contains a lot of IT companies.

He is part of a wave of Indians coming back to the opportunities in his homeland.

"I think India is in a very, very dramatic moment in my opinion," he said.

"All the big brand names exist in Hyderabad. The growth explosion I see in india is huge and I see that its going to make a big impact on the coming few years."

Parts of the city are very affluent Credit: ITV News

The population of the city has doubled in just 15 years and many of those people have been attracted by the high-paying jobs and the infrastructure that is popping up everywhere.

But the speed of that growth has also caused havoc to the local environment.

On the other side of the city to Gachibowli is the village of Moosanagar. It sits on the banks of what used to be the River Musi, one of Hyderabad's most important waterways.

But the river has been dry for more than a decade. One of the village elders in Moosanagar, Mohammed Ashfaq, showed me around where his fellow villagers used to bathe, wash their clothes and grow crops along the river.

None of that is possible now. They used to have free access to water - now it costs money and not everyone can afford the municipal fees.

Hyderabad's shrunken lake Credit: ITV News

Those living stresses have been largely caused by the huge urban developments upstream of Moosanagar, according to local campaigner Varghese Theckanath.

New dams have been built and rivers and lakes all over the city have been left as stagnant puddles.

Theckanath lived in Moosanagar until a few years ago and told me the Musi River he remembered from 25 years ago had now just become little more than a drain.

"The lakes that feed into the river have all been poisoned," he said.

"There is no more fish in the lakes and villages down stream. There is no more agriculture in the villages down stream. People have sold lands so that more and more buildings can come up, real estate has flourished for all along the river for miles and miles."

The main lake in Hyderabad has shrunk due to dumping on the west side

This conflict between the two sides of Hyderabad - economic development versus environmental damage - represents one of the biggest challenge for countries like India at the Paris climate summit.

If Hyderabad’s rapid and unsustainable expansion is repeated in the same way elsewhere in India, the resulting combined environmental degradation would be enormous.

Never mind, in addition, the associated increase in carbon emissions form the construction and the energy needs of the new buildings.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister and the man who will lead country’s negotiating team at the Paris climate summit, said he wanted his country to be part of the solution on climate change, because his country is already suffering its impacts - heatwaves, floods and loss of agricultural lands.

But he is also adamant his country won't be held back in economic development.

Around a third of people living in Hyderabad are in the slums Credit: ITV News

"My people have equal right to grow they have aspirations and they've not got anything," he told me.

"The world has exploited and profited from their emissions we can not put restrictions on me, so there has to be a justice, so we want a just and equitable agreement to come out of Paris."

It is an exciting dawn for India.

How this country chooses to develop will determine the success of the Paris summit. And, ultimately, it will determine the health of our planet.

Hyderabad has gone through major urbanisation Credit: ITV News

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