An Indian voter with his voter id. Courtesy Flickr/KKalyan

An Indian voter with his voter id. Courtesy Flickr/KKalyan

 

 

‘We will protect India’s natural environment and take steps to rejuvenate it.’  (Congress party election manifesto).

 ‘One earth, green earth: Creating the right environment.’  (BJP party election manifesto)

Consensus in election manifestos is the last thing one would expect during the national elections in India. But as it turns out, India’s leading political parties – from the far right all the way to the left seem to have very similar views on the environment and climate change this election season. 

Three political party election manifestos are examined in this post: the ruling coalition leader, the Indian National Congress; the leading opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A few common general areas of focus emerge from the manifestos.

Firstly, climate change: building upon last year’s work, the Congress party emphasizes the national action plan as their strong point. Their manifesto reads “It is an acknowledgment of our responsibility to take credible actions within the overall framework of meeting the development aspirations of our people for higher economic growth and a higher standard of living. This action plan will be implemented in letter and spirit.”

Let’s not forget that the missions announced in the action plan highlight the importance of technology transfer and sustainable technology as key drivers of climate change action in India.  The BJP’s manifesto follows on a similar vein but is a little more specific. Arguing that “mitigating the threat by building a low carbon economy is the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” BJP candidates “look at ‘Climate Change’ in the context of the promises made by the international community for technology transfer and additional financing since Rio, which have remained unfulfilled.” The CPI-M too, endorses sustainable technology by calling for “steps to control emission of greenhouse gases through energy efficient technologies and effective regulation; Promoting solar and other non-conventional energy sources”. The CPI-M’s manifesto differs from the rest in that in addition to the common themes, it calls for transparency in the EIA process as well.

The similarities don’t end there. On the subject of water management, the policies are effectively unanimous: strengthening the nation’s water management capacities, cleaning up rivers (the Congress has named the Ganges as a ‘national river’ in order to prioritise it’s sustainable usage, the BJP has pledged to clean all rivers and the CPI-M promises to regulate riverine pollution) and protecting the coastal areas emerge as priorities for all three parties. Biodiversity management and conservation are also common preoccupations that find mention in the manifestos.

 So why is it that these three parties that have such disparate policies on other issues can come together on questions of climate change? Perhaps one reason is that there is very little awareness at the political helm on the subject that would otherwise push these parties to take differing views. This week, the Times of India produced a series of polls on the environment as part of their election coverage. Their statistics note that 81% blame political ignorance and interference for the state of the environment; 46% feeling that politicos are “clueless about the extent of the damage or significance of the problem” and 35% feel that our leaders have “colluded with timber mafia, poachers; added to the problem”. Moreover, neither the Congress-led UPA incumbent coalition nor the BJP led NDA coalition addressed the problem very well; 36% thought the BJP was better than the Congress in this regard, while 26% though the opposite. A little over a third of those asked felt neither party fared well.

Secondly, climate change policy tends to get frequently coupled with other policies (as is the case in the BJP manifesto, where environmental concerns are coupled with national security and development) such as national and energy security, self-sufficiency, investment and development that may require different priorities. As such political parties lack a long term sustainable vision in this regard. It is easier to lie low on environmental issues as they aren’t really hot election topics. 

As I’ve mentioned before, beyond issues of pollution, wildlife conservation and ecology, environmental awareness in India has been fairly limited. Forget about the politicos – beyond specific fora, there is very little debate or awareness on the subject in the public domain. Nevertheless, lest there be too much negativity in this post, environmental issues, whether in the garb of rapid developmental externalities or as cost saving concerns, are creeping into the political mainstream. The national action plan drawn out by the Congress stood apart from previous environmental action as it came at a time when there was a lot of international pressure on India to take a stand on the issue, and awareness on climate change was slowly filtering into the minds of young urban Indians (Indeed, the inclusion of the environment in this election’s manifestos has been seen by many as a way of attracting India’s youth). Perhaps there was also a desire to cash in on the investment potential. 

So where next? According to the poll, 63% of the people questioned call for better administration on environmental issues. One hopes this burgeoning public and political awareness will bring increasing scrutiny on the environmental performance of which ever government wins at the polls. The Congress’ action plan came out a year ago and we are yet to see any remarkable action. If they win, will their environmental policies develop or will they remain platitudes? Will a BJP led government stick to its promises? At the very least, hopefully an inclusive debate on the subject with a long term national perspective will ensue.  

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