Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, political parties are busy making promises and spelling out their visions, plans and blueprints for the development and governance of the country. Issues like employment, corruption, economic growth and inflation have generated considerable political debate. However, the environment has been given a miss. Delhi, the epicentre of the political debate, has also seen tremors hitting the city repeatedly in recent times. But the tremors or safeguards for them could not find a place in political discussions. There are several environmental issues that merit serious consideration ahead of the planning and governance processes. The country is facing a scarcity of various natural resources, including water, fuel, coal and gas, and is on the verge of becoming a victim of acute environmental problems.
Alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear energy, lack proper safeguards and have not been able to win the confidence of the people. The weather alert system in India lacks reliability and also the capacity to predict deadly incidents caused by nature, such as tsunamis, cyclones and tremors. The management of civic life is miserable. According to a study done by the Global Burden of Diseases 2013, one in three people in India lives in critically polluted areas and only two out of 180 cities monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board meet the criteria of low air pollution.
Pre-electoral debates, promises and competing visions of political parties shape a substantial part of the post-elections policy agenda of the party or a coalition in the government. The lack of environmental themes in pre-electoral debates causes continued neglect by the government of these concerns. Since environmental issues are not part of mainstream political debates, there is no public opinion formed around the same, except a few scattered voices from select civil society organisations. The lack of public opinion provides space for the government to walk away free, as it has no fear of losing a potential electoral support base. It is necessary to form public opinion around issues of environmental importance. Indeed, those organisations and people who have continuously been engaging with policy and governance on environmental issues should raise questions about the intentions of political parties that aspire to form the next government at the Centre. It is unfortunate to observe the silence from those organisations and people who were actively involved in raising environmental concerns at public platforms in the past.
Environmental governance has always been a low priority issue for governments, and therefore, the neglect of environmental challenges in mainstream political debates has been consistent. Several international agencies’ reports and research indicate that in the wake of a rapidly changing climate, the South Asian region would emerge as one of the biggest victims of natural catastrophes. The future policy vision of the country, which is being presented through pre-election debates, needs to incorporate a plan for developing a resilient system to combat extreme climatic events and dispose more responsive and environment-sensitive governance. Political debates should talk about the new technologies, capacities and new plans to combat environmental challenges. It is strange that major environmental hurdles are removed and solutions provided by the judiciary, not the executive. Public pressure is needed to get the executive to work and can well be done by exposing the election debates to serious environmental threats and pressuring political parties to take a public view on the same.
The writer is assistant professor at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), Gujarat