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How ‘green’ are the election manifestos?

While major political parties have announced a number of green initiatives in their election manifesto for the 16th Lok Sabha, it appears that many of the promises made are not well thought of and are not detailed in achievable terms. Some political parties agree that the issues raised are yet to be debated and are driven away from reality.

New Delhi, May 14 (G’nY news service): An election manifesto is a declaration of the intentions, motives or views of a political party which promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes for the future, if voted to power. G’nY gets you a comparative analysis and perspective of the manifestos of the major political parties – Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the subject of environment.

In deference to a Supreme Court judgment in July 2013, the Election Commission (EC) issued guidelines to political parties on the contents of the election manifesto, which stated, “in the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the promises and the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.”

However, none of the political parties have gone by the above EC notification to bring clarity, at least with respect to green initiatives.

Water: The BJP promise goes with a motto ‘har khet ko paani’- water for every farm, and piped water to every household; it does not mention how it plans to achieve the same and the budgetary allocation that would be needed for the project. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar, who claimed that the BJP is the only party with a dedicated water cell, clarified, “The irrigation system will be expanded through the use of technology which will be environment friendly.” He also spoke about a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report that mentions that 20 per cent of the industrial waste water, 40 per cent of domestic waste water and 60 per cent of agricultural waste water directly enters the nation’s water bodies. “We have to develop a system which will reduce this,” he said. Also, the manifesto played safe by mentioning “interlinking of rivers based on feasibility.”

Meanwhile, the Congress promises to bring one crore hectares  of land under irrigated area, and promises to support more efficient water use technologies, including reuse and recycling of water . This apart, it promises to achieve 100 per cent coverage of rural habitations for clean drinking water in the next five years. It also says that it believes in pricing of water to bring in ethics of conservation. All senior Congress leaders contacted – Renuka Choudhary, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Manish Tewari, Shakeel Ahmed – remained unavailable for comment.

AAP focuses on decentralization of water resources based on rainwater harvesting, watershed development and commits to ensure that people in rural areas have access to all basic facilities. On the other hand, the CPI(M) manifesto talks about settling the Teesta waters treaty with Bangladesh. It sends a strong message that it is against privatisation of water resources and would tackle depletion of ground water through more effective regulation, strengthening regulatory bodies and appropriate legislations.

However, none of the parties sought to highlight contentious issues such as banning water intensive crops in water scarce regions; or the levying of energy tariff based on consumption so that it may act as a deterrent and farmers abate the misuse of water resources; or issues related to the falling water table and checks therein, amongst others.

Irrigation-India

(Source: bharatdiscovery.org)

Energy: CPIM wishes to concentrate on revising the Indo-US nuclear agreement and wants to ensure self-reliance in civilian nuclear energy based on domestic uranium and thorium reserves. It also promises to invest in emerging technologies and scale up solar and wind energy.

Meanwhile, the BJP promises to bring a comprehensive ‘National Energy Policy’ and harness oil, gas, hydel, ocean, wind, coal and nuclear small-hydro power generation projects. When asked about net metering, smart grid and pricing with respect to the energy agenda, Javdekar replied that there is a ‘detailed plan’ ready, but did not reveal what this plan was. The BJP manifesto however, does not talk about reforms in tariff, the energy mix or a plan for increasing renewable resources to a certain envisaged proportion in its manifesto. The Congress plans to launch a National Wind Energy Mission to give thrust to renewable energy – but they too do not project a proportion that wind energy is envisaged to hold in the coming five years.

Natural resources: The AAP seems to be at the forefront with its plan that will give powers to the gram sabha to decide on the exploitation of mineral, water and forest resources. Meanwhile, the BJP promises the introduction of a ‘National Mission on Himalayas’ and creation of a ‘Himalayan Sustainability Fund’ and bring in national policies to decide on critical natural resources. But what would have been perhaps pertinent, keeping in mind that we have a very high proportion of population living in the coastal areas too, was if a transitory mention would be made about the health of India’s marine resources.

While the Congress promises to bring a National Environment and Appraisal monitoring authority- a professional agency to conduct rigorous and time bound environment appraisals for environment clearances, and bring transparent policies for development of natural resources – the CPI(M) promises to strengthen states to tackle natural and climate-related disasters, and to adopt and implement climate resilient development strategies addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.

River clean up: With two of the Prime Ministerial candidates contesting from Varanasi, the cleaning of rivers (particularly the Ganga) is on priority list of all the political parties. Interestingly, Ganga cleaning, Javdekar said, involves the cleaning of all water bodies, which will be done by cleaning at the sources. How all bodies nationwide would be covered within the Ganga cleaning mission was however not clear.

Greenhouse gas emission: The BJP manifesto mentions promotion of the concept of pro-active ‘carbon credit’ Surprisingly, Javdekar contradicted the manifesto, opining that carbon credit was a fancy term used by the largest global polluters. “The US is into the business of environment,” he said. He complained that ‘they’ (possibly alluding toUS) do not share the (environment friendly) technology or make it universal. But when our reporter pointed out that BJP mentions the promotion of pro-active carbon credit, Javdekar mystified us by adding that it only meant “environment friendly”. The manifesto also plans to bring in guidelines for green buildings. Without revealing what the guidelines are, Javdekar said that green buildings should be promoted, as so far buildings were not thought of from the environmental point of view. The CPI(M) mentions steps to reduce emission of greenhouse gases through effective regulation, energy efficiency in all sectors of production and consumption.

Genetically modified (GM) crops: The AAP promises regulation of GM crops to ensure safety of food to human health.  The BJP said GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation. “We are not against GM crops, we just want the scientific truth,” said Javdekar. On being questioned about the disappearing indigenous Indian seeds, Javdekar said, “Agricultural productivity is the focus. If it doesn’t happen with Indian seeds, hybrids must be innovated.” For a party that supposedly mandates nationalistic fervor with swadeshi overtones, the lack of appreciation for India’s heritage was trifle painful.

Western Ghats:  Only the CPI(M) promises to stop implementation of the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports, 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 nation-wide consultations with stakeholders.

When questioned about the feasibility of the river linking projects and green initiatives, speaking to G’nY, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitaraman said, “We have just flagged off some of the important issues. The Modalities of implementation and the feasibility will all have to be studied and debated. We are not saying all are achievable. We are only highlighting to concentrate on issues to find a solution.”

Meanwhile, the AAP said they are against the river linking project and criticized the BJP for one such proposal.“In fact, some of our party members are all who fought against such big dam projects and river linking proposals. We will not allow such proposals which will be detrimental to nature. They are highlighted by the BJP because that is where the money is. They can get commissions from such big projects,” Atishi Marlena, AAP spokesperson said.

With the exit polls claiming a clear mandate for BJP, it seems that the party has to work on its inclusion agenda in more ways than one. Clearly, it does not understand or address the needs of the south of India as most of its mandate reflects a north bias. Also, as a national party, the BJP needs to change its vision and mission plans, to work for real development which includes the environmental agenda. And to cap it all, we hope that despite the lackadaisical commitments of the Congress in its manifesto, they will rise to be a true blue opposition and flag every development issue with zeal and understanding.

Prabhu M, Shatakshi Gawade, Sulagna Chattopadhyay

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