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‘Environment’ in the Election Manifestos

Asi Guha (asi.guha@gmail.com) and Elphin Tom Joe (tom.joe.252@gmail.com) are studying at the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal.

 

Implementation of the environmental agendas put forward in the election manifestos of 2014 of eight major political parties is found to be unsatisfactory. There is a need for more synergy between the election agendas and their implementation to tackle environmental issues and the impacts of climate change.

The authors benefited from the insights of Abhijit Guha and the infrastructural support of Indian Institute of Forest Management. They are thankful for the comments of the anonymous reviewer.
 

There are many instances when environmental concerns become pivotal for elections. This, however, does not hold true for India as much as for the Western or European countries. It is worthwhile then to explore how climate change and environmental issues have been viewed andaddressed by the political parties inIndia. For this purpose, the 2014 parliamentary election manifestos of eight major political parties—Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Communist Party ofIndia (Marxist)—CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Samajwadi Party, All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and Shiv Sena are reviewed on the policies and promises stated inrelation to environment and climate, with the benefit of a hindsight view of the ground realities in terms of implementation and responses to environmental crises.

Indian National Congress

The INC emphasised on building a professional agency to smoothen out environmental clearance processes and water conservation for agriculture, rural and urbandevelopment. They also talked about providing clean cooking fuel across the country and launch “Green NationalAccounts” to ensure that costs of environmental degradation get reflected in national accounts (IndianNational Congress 2014). Although they all sound exceptional as election agenda, a contrary picture emerged on the ground. Even though the INC put water conservation in agriculture as an agendum, Haryana and Karnataka, where the party was in power in 2014, revealed a gloomy scenario. The drop in groundwater level in Haryana almost doubled from 1999 to 2016(Duhan 2017). An alarming pattern was observed in Karnataka, as revealed by the report of the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment, Government of Karnataka (EMPRI 2015),

Depletion of groundwater table due to overdraft at 64 per cent is a serious cause for concern. As a result, the critical water flow in the rivers has affected the river ecosystem. While climate change has seriously impacted the rainfall pattern in the state, deforestation in ecologically sensitive areas of Western Ghats has limited the river flows in the basins and also caused silt accumulation in the Dams. The overdraft of ground water has drastically shortened the water replenishment. Lakes and tanks bunds are mercilessly encroached and diverted for agriculture and other development purposes allowing them for gradual demise.

Congress was in government from 1999 to 2004 and from 2013 to 2018 in Karnataka and no comprehensive water conservation policy had been put in place. Exploitation of ground and surface water continued as usual.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP in its 2014 election manifesto put climate change mitigation initiatives and working with global communities on this matter as its main agenda. The manifesto mentioned encouraging cleaner production, promoting cleaner fuels and the concept of proactive carbon credits. It alsoincluded pollution control, social forestry, green buildings, promotion of research and development in environment technologies and setting up a foolproof mechanism for protection and preservation of wildlife (BJP 2014). The party emphasised the importance of conservation of the Himalayas and listed few steps such as (i) launching “National Mission on Himalayas,” (ii) creation of a “Himalayan sustainability fund,” (iii) creation of a central university dedicated to the Himalayan technology, and (iv) thrust to programmes devised to arrest melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Accordingly, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has taken some proactive steps with regard to climate change. India has become a party to the Paris Climate Agreement by signing it. Additionally, India has targeted to achieve 100 GW solar powercapacity by 2022. While the power and new and renewable energy ministeradmitted that even though the government was set to meet the target of 20 GW in 2017–18 itself, “at present the indigenous manufacturing capacity is not adequate and therefore the country is dependent on both imported as well as domestically manufactured solar panels/equipments” (PTI 2018). It was also admitted by the officials that “there were limitations to clean energy,” and that India will also stick to its plan of doubling coal production by 2020 (Reuters 2015). When it comes to preservation and protection of wildlife, the track record of NDA is quite unsatisfactory. The killing of tigers and leopards not only continued but increased under the BJP regime. Regarding conservation of the Himalayan region, the establishment of a central university dedicated to Himalayan technology has not yet materialised. Furthermore, the ground realities show that agriculture in the Himalayan region is getting seriously affected by climate change, while no efforts are undertaken to address this situation. Based on the projections by the Indian Network on Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), 2010, Gupta et al (2018) noted that “by the 2030s there is a possibility of irrigated and rain-fed rice yields toreduce by up to 5%, wheat yield by up to 20%, potato yield by 4%, and maize yield by 40%,” in the north-eastern Himalayan states. In the remaining Himalayan states,

with an increase in temperature, it is projected that there will be an upward shift in agriculture, and this is likely to result in the loss of permanent pastures and grassland, significantly impacting the livestock sector. This is likely to adversely influence the region’s grain production and food security. (Gupta et al 2018)

Whereas this situation emphasises the need for programmes like the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture, a flagship programme launched in 2010 to address the risks of climate change on agriculture in villages that are vulnerable to extreme weather. However, the NDA government has reduced the budgetary allocation for it from ₹ 180 crore in 2010–11 to ₹ 52 crore in 2018–19 (Venkatesh et al 2018). While BJP promises sustainability in the Himalayanregion, the focus on projects like a char-dham highway or push for big projects like the Pancheshwar dam depicts something else entirely. Approximately, 25,303 trees are already cut for the char-dham highway project (SANDRP 2018). The Pancheshwar dam will also result in large-scale deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and displacement. A glaring policy failure of the BJP is evident when one looks at the promises of the party as regards the cleaning of the river Ganga as it committed “to ensure the cleanliness, purity and uninterrupted flow of the Ganga on priority,” in its manifesto. A lack of evidence is witnessed on the ground. Also, one of the flagship schemes of the central government, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), could have environmental impacts hitherto unseen, due to unscientific management of the waste generated and poor design of toilets. State governments have not focused on things like availability ofwater, cleanliness of water sources and waterbodies or decentralised waste management, in order to meet toilet construction targets (Down to Earth 2018).

Aam Aadmi Party

AAP has taken a very unique stand in terms of utilisation of natural resources. Their environmental policy in the 2014 election manifesto stated, “in spite of being endowed with abundant natural resources, the aam aadmi’s access to basic resources for well-being has been severely curtailed” (AAP 2014). They promised to ensure that while ownership of major natural resources will be vested in the state, theminor minerals and forest produce should belong to the local communities. They also talked about royalty and revenue sharing agreement with local communities in the case of commercial exploitation of resources, a vital role of gram sabhas in such decisions, and phased shift towards renewable sources of energy in terms of solar, biogas, water mills and wind pumps to reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs and encouragelocal ownership. The socialist tone and tenor of the AAP manifesto has similarity with that of the CPI(M). However, issues of climate change or environmental crises have not been addressed at all. Further, it has failed to tackle the problem of air pollution in Delhi adequately. The maximum value of particulate matter PM2.5 was recorded as 296 µg/m3 during January 2016 in Delhi, which is far above the prescribed standard limit of 60 µg/m3 (Central Pollution Control Board 2016). The level of PM2.5 further increasedduring 2018.

CPI(M) and CPI

As regards climate change and environmental protection, the CPI(M) in their 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto had promised to (i) make the process of environmental clearances effective, (ii) reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, (iii) strengthen the states to tackle natural and climate-related disasters, and (iv) initiate immediate measures to prevent degradation and destructive development on riverbeds and floodplains. One point in their action plan, however, reads as follows,

stopping implementation of Madhav Gadgil and Kasturiranganreports and set-up a broad-based expert committee to arrive at a comprehensive plan for protection of fragile eco-systems in the Western Ghats and people’s livelihoods through public hearings and wide consultations with stakeholders. (Communist Party of India [Marxist] 2014)

It may be noted that the Gadgil report was criticised by the party for beingexcessively environment centric, while Gadgil in a recent interview after the flood of July 2018 has categorically stated that he repeatedly warned the Kerala government to take immediate actions against gross violations of environmental laws in many parts of the state (Nath 2018). The horrific flood in Kerala was not only due to the massive rainfall that it received but also due to the mismanagement, as gates of 29 dams were opened, including the Idukki dam. According to Narain (2018),

Kerala has decimated its drainage systems, from forests to paddy fields to ponds and streams that would carry excess water or store and recharge it. It is also the result of the sheer incompetence of our technical agencies to plan for flood control and dam management. It is, therefore, “human made.” It is “human made” because werefuse to accept that this is the new normal. We want to believe that this is just another freak event; another one in a 100-year event that we cannot plan for or do anything about.

The CPI(M)’s apparent populist stand resulted in continued deforestation and exploitation of waterbodies, costing the state economically as well as in terms of human lives.

The manifesto of the CPI is an example of how the party had shunned from climate change without mentioning a single sentence on the issue, while under “Environment Policy,” the party had only uttered four sentences, like evolving a “comprehensive policy to protect environment” and “balanced approach to environment requirements and development,” without explaining how these will be achieved (Communist Party of India 2014).

Samajwadi Party

With the current president of the Samajwadi Party having a background inenvironmental engineering, one would have expected more focus on the issues of environment and sustainability. However, in their 2014 manifesto, sparse attention was given to these issues and only a lip-service was paid as it said that the party, 

shall develop an environmental policy which shall ensure balanced use of natural resources and a manufacturing process which includes maximum human efforts” and “shall take care of the water harvesting and prevent uncontrolled deforestation. (Mumbaivotes 2014a)

Turning to ground reality, it is found that most of the districts in Uttar Pradesh (UP) fell in the category of critically “overexploited” for groundwater, both for farming and industrial use (Dev 2016). This state of affairs was the fallout of the policy of the state government of incentivising the farm lobby with free electricity and power pumpsets that led to more than 70% of irrigation in agricultural fields being done from groundwater and having water incentive crops like sugar cane. Suffice it to say that the Samajwadi Party has not taken any initiative to solve this water mismanagement crisis in UP. Also,despite the expressed intention to “develop an environmental policy which shall ensure balanced use of natural resources,” no action has yet been taken to oust the sand mining mafia across the state.

All India Trinamool Congress

The manifesto of the AITC was an example of the superficial treatment of the issues around the environment and climate change. Their all-friendly action plans regarding environmental issues were abstract in nature. Some of these being: (i) Nature has been tortured for many years. Therefore, eco-friendly and people-friendly environmental law will be developed. (ii) A new people-friendly, industry-friendly, environment-friendly and employment-friendly public–private partnership (PPP) policy will be put in place to augment the government’s investable resources. (iii) New forest law will be enacted. Rights to tribal people and forest dwellers will be restored. (iv) A new law will be formulated for the judicious use of natural resources (All India Trinamool Congress 2014).

There was no clear direction in their plan on how they would form an eco-friendly and people-friendly environmental law. What were the aspects of the environment this law would cover and how would the party balance between environment and people? A PPP policy that can be friendly to people, industry, environment, and employment definitely has the potential to be theanswer to environmental issues, but it almost seems a utopia in absence of any given modus operandi of this policy. It was also not clear what were the changes the party wanted to make in the Scheduled Tribes and Others Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and why they wanted to enact a new forest law? Same vagueness persisted in their one-lineaction plan regarding judicious use of natural resources. While the AITC also talked about rainwater harvesting and water distribution for domestic use and irrigation in West Bengal, they are yet to come up with the practice of the same on the ground. However, draft policy guidelines for conservation of water by rainwater harvesting and framing of municipal by-laws for mandatory rainwater harvesting are said to be under process (Mandal 2015).

Shiv Sena

The manifesto of the Shiv Sena for the 2014 parliamentary elections did not contain even a sentence on the environment and climate change. It blamed the central government for delaying environmental clearances for the building of a statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea and implementation of a policy of adding 20% ethanol in petrol and diesel (Mumbaivotes 2014b). The environmental praxis of the party was best displayed when a Shiv Sena leader and minister for environment violated rules of his own department for illegal construction in the green zone in Khed city, Ratnagiri district (FPJ Political Bureau 2018). Groundwater levels in Maharashtra are depleting in 71% of state talukas, due to “uncontrolled extraction.” Extractions continue even in dry belts for purposes of irrigating cash crops like sugar cane and for bottled water plants (Kakodkar 2018). The delay by Shiv Sena in the formation of the biodiversity management committee has raised “questions over Sena’s seriousness in taking care of the environment” (Singh 2018).

In Conclusion

The foregoing narrative on the election manifestos of the eight political parties reveals a divergence in varying degrees in terms of the action plans that are set and their policy implementation in the states where they form governments.Issues get omitted since they were difficult to address or mere populist stands were taken. Issues like that of the rehabilitation and resettlement of the environmental refugees caused by climate changes were not addressed at all, even when “climate refugee” is an important issue both at the national and international levels (Panda 2010). On the verge of 2019 Lok Sabha election, if the same patterns continue to be followed by themajor political parties of India, then environmental issues may again take the back seat. This will further worsenIndia’s environmental situation and mitigating the adverse impact of climate change may become costlier in the future.

References

Aam Admi Party (2014): “National Manifesto-2014,” https://aamaadmiparty.wordpress.com/2014/ 04/03/aam-aadmi-party-national-manifesto-2014/.

All India Trinamool Congress (2014): “Election Manifesto,” http://aitcofficial.org/wp-content /uploads/2014/10/Manifesto-LS-2014-Eng.pdf.

Bharatiya Janata Party (2014): “Election Manifesto 2014,” https://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2014 /full_manifesto_english_07.04.2014.pdf.

Central Pollution Control Board (2016): “Air Pollution in Delhi: An Analysis,” ENVIS Centre on Control of Pollution Water, Air and Noise, http://cpcbenvis.nic.in/envis_newsletter/Air%20pollution%20in%20Delhi.pdf.

Communist Party of India (2014): “Election Manifesto of the Communist Party of India for the 16th Lok Sabha,” https://www.thehinducentre.com/multimedia/archive/01819/CPI_-_Manifesto_....

Communist Party of India (Marxist) (2014): “Manifesto for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections,” https://cpim.org/elections-2014/manifesto.

Dev, A (2016): “Out of 75 UP Districts, 34 ‘Over-exploited’ for Groundwater,” Times of India, 5 December, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agra/Out-of-75-UP-districts-34-... 55820437.cms.

Down to Earth (2018): “India Will Get ODF Status by February 2019, But Will It Be a ‘Cleaner Country’? New CSE Assessment Says ‘No’,” press release, 1 October, https://www.cseindia.org/india-will-get-odf-status-by-february-2019-but-....

Duhan, A K (2017): “Groundwater Pumping Irrigation in Haryana: Issues and Challenges,” International Journal of Research in Geography, Vol 3, No 2, pp 18–21.

EMPRI (2015): “State of Environment Report for Karnataka,” Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute, Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment, Government of Karnataka.

FPJ Political Bureau (2018): “Maharashtra: Shiv Sena Minister Ramdas Kadam Built Illegal Construction in Khed,” Free Press Journal, 16 October, https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/maharashtra-shiv-sena-minister-ra....

Gupta, N, A Mishra, N K Agarwal and S Satapathy (2018): “Interstate Cooperation for Climate Change Adaptation in Indian Himalayan Region,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 53, No 12, pp 35–40.

Indian National Congress (2014): “Your Voice, Our Pledge: Lok Sabha Elections 2014 Manifesto,” https://www.inc.in/images/Pages/English%20Manifesto%20for%20Web.pdf.

Kakodkar, P (2018): “Maharashtra: Groundwater Level Dips in 71% of State Talukas,” Times ofIndia, 31 May, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/maharashtra-groundwater-....

Mandal, S (2015): “Roof-top Harvesting of Rainwater: An Answer to Present Day Water Crisis of India (With Special Reference to West Bengal),” IOSR Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology and Food Technology, Vol 9, No 6, pp 36–42.

Mumbaivotes (2014a): “2014 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto-Samajwadi Party,” mumbaivotes.com, 15 April, http://blog.mumbaivotes.com/ 2014/04/lok-sabha-election-manifesto-sp/.

— (2014b): “Shiv Sena–RPI(A) Party Alliance 2014 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto,” mumbaivotes.com, http://mumbaivotes.com/parties /manifesto/121/.

Narain, S (2018): “Call for Business Unusual,” Down to Earth, 7 September, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/call-for-business-unusual-61481.

Nath, S (2018): “Interview: ‘State Govts Openly Flouting Environmental Laws,’ Says Professor Gadgil Who Predicted Kerala Floods,” The Logical Indian, 27 August, https://thelogicalindian.com/exclusive/madhav-gadgil/.

Panda, A (2010): “Climate Refugees: Implications for India,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 45, No 20, pp 76–79.

PTI (2018) “India Set to Achieve 20GW Solar Energy Capacities This Fiscal Itself,” Economic Times, 8 March, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/power/india-set-to-....

Reuters (2015): “India Says Paris Climate Deal Won’t Affect Plans to Double Coal Output,” Guardian, 14 December, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/14/india-says-paris-climate-deal-wont-affect-plans-to-double-coal-output.

SANDRP (2018): “Char Dham Highway Project: An Overview,” South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, 6 October, https://sandrp.in/ 2018/10/06/char-dham-highway-project-an-overview/.

Singh, L (2018): “Shiv Sena’s Commitment to Green Mumbai Only on Paper?,” Mid-Day, 16 February, https://www.mid-day.com/articles/senas-commitment-to-green-only-on-paper/ 19074182.

Venkatesh S, P R Sahu, A Vatamannial, A Gapak (2018): “India’s Climate Quandary,” Down to Earth, 2 April, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/climate-change/not-adapting-to-change-59869.

Updated On : 2nd Mar, 2019

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