So, what happened? I think that the post-Independence government was wholly focused on “development”. The many five-year planes were about output, especially in heavy industry. Restraint in using resources was seen as obstructing progress. Progress and development were intimately linked together.
It’s important to remember that India was hardly alone in unsustainable resource stripping. The Soviet Union destroyed the Aral Sea in the name of irrigated food production and industrial water use. The United States diverted all the rivers of the West for irrigation, much of it growing crops where they never should have been grown. Only in the last decade have environmentalists ion India raised serious questions about whether “progress” and “development” should be so closely linked and whether development is such a desirable thing. The only way that India is going to reach some level of sustainability is, right now, to deeply question “progress” and “development”, especially asking who has benefitted by the decades of development and what has been lost.