"The unfurling developments in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, amidst the shutdown of the Sterlite copper plant in the wake of protests violently suppressed by the police, cast a fresh light on an old problem: the debate between economic development and (what economists call) “non-economic” objectives such as protection of the environment or safeguarding other aspects of human capability and dignity, such as protection from involuntary displacement.
While the existence of a putative trade-off between economic development and such other, competing, objectives is well understood, what has perhaps been remarked upon much less than it deserves in the case of the Sterlite protests is the fact that they are occurring in one of the richest states of the union. Tamil Nadu ranks at, or near, the top not just in per capita income but in a range of human development and social indicators. This suggests that the trade-off is perhaps less steep in such a state than it would be in a much poorer state like Bihar, which routinely brings up the rear in economic and human development indicators.
Put simply, many residents of relatively wealthy Tamil Nadu, or, at any rate, residents of Thoothukudi district, seem willing to accept a reduction in (say) employment or income generating opportunities, directly or indirectly facilitated by the existence of the copper plant, in return for a perceived improvement in health outcomes and other, related, non-pecuniary aspects of human well-being."
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