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Environmental issues sidelined at Indian elections

There has been almost no talk of the environment by candidates as India goes to the polls, and the manifestos are woefully short on specifics

There has been almost no talk of the environment by candidates as India goes to the polls, and the manifestos are woefully short on specifics

 plan to interlink rivers envisages a series of canals, pumps and reservoirs to shift water from the Brahmaputra and lower Ganga basins in eastern India to water scarce regions of western and central India (Image courtesy of Al Jazeera)
If BJP come to power as expected, potentially disastrous plans to interlink India’s rivers could become a flashpoint. (Image courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The world’s largest elections have started. Opinion polls give a distinct edge to the current main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has campaigned almost exclusively on the issue of corruption in the outgoing government. Most of the corruption scandals in recent years have been over allocation of natural resources – land, water for hydropower and minerals.

Still, neither the BJP nor today’s ruling Congress party has much to say in their campaign or their manifesto on how the next government will ensure these resources are used in a manner that is fair, efficient, equitable and sustainable.

A few commentators have pointed out how this campaign for the April 7-May 13 elections has been almost exclusively about politicians, with almost nothing about policies. The manifestos do mention many policies, but very little on how they are to be implemented. At best, they remain wish lists. Whoever comes to power once the votes are counted on May 16 will find it relatively easy to duck accountability on the basis of his party’s manifesto.

And even in the policy lists, those related to the environment and natural resources find little space, especially when it comes to the Congress or the BJP.

In the analysis of a senior bureaucrat – who was supportive of the Congress manifesto – the reason for this is that “many in India still consider environmental protection an elitist concern, and believe that the ‘bread and butter’ issues – economic and social – are what the electorate really cares about.” However, he said the picture was changing. “The growing impact of climate change – in the form of changing monsoon patterns, unseasonal rains, increasing incidence of droughts and floods etc. – are changing the nature of the debate. All this is happening in a rapidly growing economy where the trade-offs with environmental protection are becoming starker.”

See also: An Indian manifesto for the environment

The big promise of the Congress manifesto in the field of environment is to set up an independent green regulator for mining and development projects – what it calls the National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA). What it does not mention is that such an authority will have to be set up anyway by whoever comes to power, since it has been ordered by the Supreme Court.

The Congress manifesto does have some other statements of good intentions, such as the need to have tribal and forest dwelling communities engaged more centrally in forest management. But there is nothing about how this will be done.

See also: India’s Congress party releases manifesto, green promises remain unfulfilled

As for the BJP, it does take overt note of climate change in its manifesto, saying “We will take climate change mitigation initiatives with all seriousness and work with the global community and institutions in this regard.”

But it has also reiterated its commitment to the potentially disastrous plan to interlink the rivers of the country. It has also promised to launch a rural irrigation scheme with the motto of providing water to every farm, though there is no mention of where that water will come from.

The plan to interlink rivers envisages a series of canals, pumps and reservoirs to shift water from the Brahmaputra and lower Ganga basins in eastern India to water scarce regions of western and central India. Scientists and environmentalists criticised it from day one, since it plans to alter the natural flow of water, for the waterlogging and salinity such massive water transfers would cause and for ignoring the requirements of downstream Bangladesh in transboundary river basins.

The plan found mention in the party’s 2009 manifesto though it was more or less buried once the BJP lost power in 2004. If the opinion polls are correct and the BJP heads the next government, this may become a major flashpoint.

See also: Environmentalists attack catch-all BJP manifesto

In contrast to the big two, the new player on India’s national political scene – the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) – has a different way of looking at ecology, placing it in the same section as economy in its manifesto, though it too is short on specifics.

The new party has emphasised its desire to hand over control to village councils on many issues, and stressed that exploitation of minerals, water and forests will not be done without the consent of local communities.

Commercial exploitation of natural resources should be done on the basis of a royalty and revenue sharing agreement with local communities, the AAP says. If mining or any other activity requires displacement of people, local consent would have to be sought and those moved provided with alternative means of livelihood.

See also: New Indian political party integrates economy and ecology

Even if the AAP does offer voters a different development path, however, the party is still far too weak for this to matter. Since the next government will almost certainly be led by the BJP or the Congress, the depressing news is that it will be business as usual, when it comes to safeguarding India’s environment and natural resources.

Comments (4)

Don’t Ask ” How ” ?

At the bottom of the 42 page Election Manifesto of BJP , released yesterday , I tried to search , if in very small print somewhere , there was a footnote which read ,

” Please , don’t ask how we plan to implement these promises ;
From where we plan to find all the money to execute these projects ”

Here are my back-of-the-envelope estimates of what some of the MAJOR projects might cost :
PROJECT ……………………………… Approx Cost ( Rs Lakh * Crores )
> 100 Mega Cities…………………… 90
> Interlinking of Rivers……………… 60
> Sagar Mala of Ports……………….. 30
> Highways ( 25,000 Km )………….. 50
> Housing ( 100 mill units )………… 100
> Rivers Cleaning…………………….. 10
> Other Infra Projects……………….. 100
* Freight Corridors
* Gas Grids
* OFC Network
* Quadrilateral Bullet Trains
Total ……………………………………Rs 430 Lakh Crores
Admittedly , not all of these money will be required in the very first budget that NaMo government ( – of course , only if voted to power ! ) , would present by end June 2014

But a problem does not go away by postponement !

There is only ONE viable solution to the FUNDING problem , viz:,

> Union Government must NOT even try to fund these projects !
There is NO WAY , it can find these kind of money thro taxation !
There will be a revolt !


> Make it possible for the PUBLIC to invest into these projects by ” owning ”
these projects – and earn a reasonable ” tax-free ” return on investments
( Bonds ? ) in these projects

> Towards this end , create various INFRASTRUCTURE SPVs

> Immediately modify PERSONAL INCOME TAX regime as follows :

> Up to Rs 5 lakhs………………… NIL
> 5.1 – 10 lakhs………………….. 8 %
> 10.1 – 20 lakhs…………………. 6 %
> 20.1 – 50 lakhs………………… 5 %
> 50.1 – 100 lakhs………………… 3 %
> Above 100 lakhs…………………. 1 %

What is likely to happen with such ” INVERSE TAXATION ” regime ?

Following few things :

> Total personal tax payer base will go up dramatically from current 4
crores tax-payers

> with this ” INVERSE TAX REGIME ” , there will be no incentive to evade
taxes and to generate ” BLACK MONEY ”

There will be no resistance to accept ALL payments by cheque / electronic

The more you disclose as your income , the less you pay by way of taxes

( Of course , incrementally )

> For a change , we will learn to reward honesty / efficiency / productivity !

No need to bribe those Income Tax officers !

> Suddenly , lakhs of crores of BLACK MONEY will become WHITE MONEY

> There will be a huge surge in bank deposits ( – even with , the inevitable
lower interest rates )

> Banks will be awash with funds to finance businesses / infrastructure
projects etc , encouraging entrepreneurs / self-employed to set up new
businesses ( at 2 % interest rates of loans ) and generate millions of jobs

In any case , BJP manifesto promises :

> Rationalization and simplification of the tax regime – which is currently
repulsive for honest tax payers

> The process of bringing black money to India , what belongs to India , will
be put in motion on priority

> Minimize scope for Corruption

Narendrabhai ,

Here is your chance to ditch the ” Historical Baggage ” into the Indian Ocean
and come up with an INNOVATION that will take India ahead of China !

* hemen parekh ( 08 April 2014 / Mumbai )

This is like what happens in my country, Thailand. The manifestos of all parties are usually beautifully written. They could turn earth into heaven, almost. But once a party is put in power, those beautiful words stay on paper, never to see the light of day.

However, if any projects related to what was in the manifestos were implemented, they usually benefited certain vested interest groups with connections to the party in power and the people be damned.

I guess it’s all the same in the developing world.

Interesting article. The manifestos, for the most part, have not spoken about “Hows” on any challenge, let alone environment. A group of us (AskHow India) have analysed the biggest challenges facing India and we invite citizens to ask political parties and politicians ‘how’ instead of ‘what’. We salute you for doing it!

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