No Space for the Environment in Indian Electoralism
“Our leadership has failed us” exclaimed Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish climate change activist defeatedly as she commented on the imminent global crisis that is approaching the world. Leaders around the world have taken a nonchalant stand towards the impending threat of climate change. The UN has warned the world that the world has 12 years to cut emissions to avert climate change before we trigger a treacherous chain of droughts, floods, heat waves and numerous other unnatural calamities.
(Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish activist protesting against climate change. Source: Twitter)
India is not isolated from the effects of climate change which is not limited to hot spells and change in seasons. The nation is not only facing a water crisis but a food crisis is also at bay. A huge drop in crop yield was observed across the country which will fall further eventually struggling to feed the unprecedented growth in population. The rising sea levels will affect agglomerates such as Mumbai, Kolkata and the state of Orissa, our cities are generating 1,50,000 tonnes of solid waste every day with lackadaisical waste management plans in place, heat waves will take more lives than we can fathom and wildlife will be pushed into extinction. We’re in a state of emergency and in Greta’s words “We should be panicking!”.
It is the season of elections in India which is accompanied by spells of employment promises and winds of development. The manifesto of BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha only enlisted coal and spectrum minerals as ‘Natural Resources’. An inference that can be made from this enumeration is that the listed natural resource is the most commercially viable one with the promise of revenue and should be conserved for the industry to exploit. The current government has undeniably not fared well in terms of curbing climate change and environmental conservation.
(Udupi Power Plant, Karnataka by Adani Power. Source: Pixabay)
In 2015 the Environment Ministry released a notification that directed power plants to cut their emissions and revamp their plants to greener technologies by December 2017. It was highly opposed by the industry citing financial costs in revamping are exorbitant. In October 2017, just two months before its implementation the government withdrew the notification aiding industry friends to continue releasing the toxic cocktail of nitrogen and sulphur oxides into the air we breathe.
The cost of adopting cleaner technology by the thermal plants is greater in comparison to the thousands of lives that will be affected by these emissions and were evidently affected in Northern India. The undoing came when the government also went on to relax the rules on the amount of water that the new units of power plants can consume. Should our leaders be allowed to make such careless dilutions in policies that are essential to avoid climate change?
The 2019 Election Manifesto of Communist Party of India (Marxist) has reserved 5 objectives with what they aim to do for the environment which ironically begins with how the process of acquiring Environmental Clearances can be easier and 3 objectives reserved for management of water resources. Environment definitely does not cover significant real estate on the manifesto. Although the manifesto is inclusive of the right to water and conservation of river beds and flood plains, it lacks the certainty of how these would be achieved?
(BJP’s manifesto for 2019 elections. Source: Deccan Herald)
The Bharatiya Janta Party’s manifesto for 2019 with regard to environment goals is enveloped in frivolous claims of what they have done during the term than what they hope to do if elected. They have come up with a promising concept of ‘green bonus’ for Himalayan states for forest conservation in its manifesto. It would be interesting to see that if elected, how the government delivers on these promises considering the same government took measures to make environmental clearances faster and easier for industry fellows. There was no implementation for existing statutory afforestation requirements and safeguards to local communities in ecologically sensitive areas including the Himalayas. Interestingly the manifesto still claims that they have and will continue to protect the rights of forest dwellers and tribal communities.
Another contradictory and questionable claim the party has made regarding forests is that due to their “speed” and “effectiveness” in issuing forest and environmental clearances has resulted in the addition of 9000 Sq. Kms to the forest cover of the country. Is it really possible?
The Indian National Congress that has diverged more forest land than the incumbent BJP government has included programmes in its manifesto such as the Water Bodies Restoration Mission for repairing and restoring water bodies as well as the Wasteland Regeneration Mission for regeneration and afforestation of wastelands and degraded lands. Similar programmes have been functional in current governments term too. They have also acknowledged air pollution and declared it a national emergency.
It is still debatable whether these promises made would be met. Climate Change continues to loom around the nation and will affect the communities that had the least to contribute to Global Warming. It is time that we elect representatives that do not fail us.
(Author is a Digital Editor with Gati Foundation, a Dehradun based research and policy think-tank)