Indian political parties gloss over environment
As India faces certain water scarcity and ecological decline, the country’s main political parties campaigning for elections have all but ignored environmental issues seen as crucial to India’s vast rural majority, policy analysts say.
Environmentalists say the omission is alarming given the problems India faces. The World Bank estimates that environmental degradation costs India 5.7 percent of its annual gross domestic product, and causes a quarter of the country’s 1.6 million deaths among children each year.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization confirmed that India’s capital, New Delhi, has the most polluted air in the world, according to data reported by 1,600 cities in 91 countries.
The three main national groups competing in the elections have published manifestos that touch on the environment, but say little about major problems such as worsening pollution or projections that the country will have only half the water supply it needs by 2030.
Instead, politicians have focused on alleviating poverty, creating jobs and reviving the economy, all key concerns for voters as growth of India’s gross domestic product flagged to 4.7 percent in the past year. The country’s political parties are in the final stretch of a marathon, five-week vote, with results expected May 16.
Analysts say Indian incomes and the country’s future stability depend enormously on a healthy environment. Some 65 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people work in farming, while hundreds of thousands rely on forests for clean water, food, firewood and medicinal plants.
“It isn’t possible in a country like India to separate issues of livelihood and environment,” said Ashish Kothari, founder of the Kalpavriksh environmental group. “The fact that it’s not given central attention is extremely scary.”
India’s major rivers have become clogged with garbage, sewage and industrial runoff. The country’s air is now the world’s dirtiest, according to a study by environmental research centers at Yale and Columbia universities.
The country is the world’s third-worst emitter of carbon dioxide _ behind China and the United States _ even though a third of Indians still lack electricity.
Analysts say India’s politicians _ traditionally focused on bagging or buying easy votes while protecting political patronage built on communal identity _ may see the environment as a fringe issue given other, more obvious priorities like lifting 400 million still living in extreme poverty.
They may also be wary of antagonizing industrial or corporate entities, many of whom see environmental protection as an obstacle to profitability.
“There must be money involved for the environment to become an election issue. But preserving, protecting, managing resources, these are not interesting for politicians,” said Raj Panjwani, a lawyer in both India and the United States. “There has to be a calamity continued…