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The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party has recently been launched on an anti-corruption plank. As India heads for parliamentary elections, the new party is trying to emerge as a national-level alternative to the ruling Congress party and the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. With a number of veteran NGO activists – including environmentalists – among its leaders, there was widespread expectation that the party would come up with a blueprint for sustainable development when it released its poll manifesto in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The party has made a departure from its rivals by placing economy and ecology in the same section of the manifesto. But when it comes to sustainable development, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is still short on specifics. There is no mention of the stand it will take on dams, though India’s pre-eminent anti-dam activist Medha Patkar is its candidate for a seat in parliament. Nor is there a mention of how AAP plans to handle inter-state water disputes, let alone the development of transboundary river basins in a cooperative manner.

Many Indian NGOs working on water related issues had come together recently and prepared a right to water security bill which they took to all political parties with a request to include it in their manifestos. The Congress party manifesto did not have anything on the issue. The AAP manifesto says it will “support local watershed management schemes to reduce the burden on large-scale irrigation projects.”

Local control of all water resources was one of the main planks of the bill drafted by activists. AAP says it will put “priority on developing local and decentralised water resources based on extensive rainwater harvesting, watershed development, soil-water conservation programmes, small projects and alternative cropping practices.”

Elsewhere in its manifesto, AAP says it wants all forms of development work to be controlled by local bodies, a point that was emphasised by the party’s convenor Arvind Kejriwal while releasing the manifesto. The manifesto says, “The ownership of all major natural resources like major minerals, water and forests will vest in the State. However ownership of minor minerals and minor forest produce and rainwater will vest with the local communities.”

Many sections of the AAP manifesto are characterised by a desire to hand over control to village councils. In the section on environment and natural resources policy, the manifesto says, “The local communities (Gram Sabhas) shall play a vital role in the management of major natural resources. The exploitation of minerals, water and forests within a Gram Sabha area will not be done without the consent of the Gram Sabha.” The party wants to reform the Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies to this purpose.

While releasing the manifesto, Kejriwal made it clear that he conceived the Gram Sabha (village council) as distinct from the elected village body called Panchayat – he conceived it as a platform where people from around 1,000 families would gather and take collective decisions, through a vote if necessary.

The manifesto goes on to say that commercial exploitation of natural resources would be done on the basis of a royalty and revenue sharing agreement with local communities. If mining or any other activity requires displacement of people, the consent of the Gram Sabha would have to be taken and the oustees provided with alternative means of livelihood, it adds.

The manifesto says AAP will promote decentralised renewable energy sources.

Taking note of the many conflicts in India over land acquisition, the AAP manifesto says it will ensure “acquisition happens only with the consent of the Gram Sabha.”

Himanshu Thakkar, convenor of the NGO South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, told thethirdpole.net, “It is a good thing that they are talking about ecology and economy together. Today economic development is completely divorced from ecology. It looks good on the face of it as it seems that AAP wants to give equal weightage to both of them as opposed to other parties who have largely focussed on the economic growth only.”

Thakkar was also supportive of the AAP concept to empower local councils. He said, “AAP has tried to create democracy in true sense. They want the community to have a voice and this is required as well. Unless the people feel ownership over local resources, and are empowered to exercise that right, I don’t see any hope for the environment. It’s a welcome move. But the crux of the problem is how AAP will achieve this goal.”

The activist felt AAP should have gone beyond supporting local watershed management schemes to reduce the burden on large scale irrigation projects. “They need to take a stock of the performance of these mega projects, analyse their actual costs, see who is paying these costs and then take strong decisions on the upcoming irrigation projects based on this review. Right now the manifesto doesn’t talk about this.”

Manoj Mishra, head of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a NGO that focusses on river conservation, told thethirdpole.net that the AAP manifesto lists many good points, but "falters badly in details and on some notable issues. "Why has AAP failed to mainstream the issue of climate change in its national level planning? Climate change is altogether absent from the document. And this is a shame especially when the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has just the other day raised the issue.”

With additional reporting by Juhi Chaudhary

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Election manifestos of BJP, Congress and AAP: Comparative reading on Environment and natural resource management | SANDRP

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