Elections 2014: 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.
In this April 22, 2014 file photo, a Greater Adjutant Stork flies by a ragpicker looking for recyclable items at a garbage dump on the outskirts of Gauhati. (AP)
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.
In this April 30, 2014 file photo, a woman walks through the bed of a dried rivulet carrying a bucket to fetch water from a nearby pond at Mayong village in Gauhati, Assam. (AP)
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.
In this April 22, 2014 file photo, A man dresses after bathing amidst industrial effluence in the river Yamuna in New Delhi. (AP)
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.
In this April 17, 2014 file photo, village women walk through a rice field towards a polling station to cast their votes in Shahbazpur Dor village in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh. (AP)
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.
In this July 6, 2012 file photo, residents crowd around a government tanker delivering drinking water because of short supply in running water taps in New Delhi. (AP)
Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi – aiming to become prime minister should his party win – has promised water flowing to every farm, ignoring that there simply may not be enough to go around.
Children, wearing BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s mask, walk along a road in Varanasi on May 8. (PTI)
Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, vows to work for a sewage system and a cleaner Ganges River in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He and his party say little more on public health or the environment, except that such issues must be decided in concert with local governments.
AAP Convenor Arvind Kejriwal during the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi on May 8. (PTI)
Varanasi's voters are doubtful. "As soon as they are voted in, they head back to Delhi, forgetting the problems of this city,'' textile trader Ahmed Zahir said. The ruling Congress party has focused on pledging relief for pervasive poverty while promising to make it easier for industrial projects to clear environmental hurdles.
Congress supporter waves during Congress election campaign rally in Berhampore, West Bengal on May 9. (PTI)
The major parties discuss water in their manifestos, but not in ways that satisfy environmentalists. Congress and AAP briefly say water should be a legal right, though Congress contradicts that by also discussing water pricing.
AAP supporters at an election campaign rally in Varanasi on May 8. (PTI)
The BJP is the only party to mention water scarcity predictions in its manifesto, but it proposes expensive solutions – desalination plants and river-linking – without saying where the money would come from.
A supporter of BJP holds up a mask of their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi on May 8. (AP)
"These politicians, they say `The Ganges is my mother. We will save her.' But it's a meaningless slogan, said in every election,'' said water conservationist Rajendra Singh.
In this picture BJP candidate Hema Malini pours milk to worship River Yamuna at Vishram Ghat on March 27. (PTI)
Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the BJP's intention to link India's rivers to alleviate drought, saying it would likely exacerbate water scarcity, particularly if the seasonal monsoon becomes more erratic with climate change as is predicted.
A supporter during BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi's during an election road show in Varanasi on May 8. (PTI)