With 2019 Lok Sabha elections are around the corner all the political parties are gearing up to get the pulse of the voters and likewise devise their electoral strategies. However, there isn’t much for the political parties to assess as issues around religion, caste, poverty, and corruption capture the political imagination of the country. This set pattern of agenda has been picked up by the all political parties since independence. Focus on other developmental issues has largely been absent.
Further, the media too plays its role in influencing voters’ minds by discussing topics around a political ideology of the party they support. Hence, we hardly get to listen to sensible debates on topics around welfare and development. Among this chaos and fixation with selected topics, issues like environmental protection get neglected. None of the political parties ever takes up this issue in their debates and election pitches.
Today, thick smog engulfs the national capital, and except condemning the situation, we have no other choice, because people in Delhi have still not understood that until we ask our governments to take stringent actions to combat with the situation, they will not even start thinking about it.
In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Delhi Government to collect the Environmental Compensatory Cess (ECC) from the vehicles entering in Delhi. The amount collected from this cess was supposed to be used for the mitigation of Air Pollution in Delhi, by introducing technologies etc. However, the RTI query revealed that the Delhi Government had collected somewhere around Rs 700 crores through ECC but they completely failed in utilising this fund for the intended purpose, and none of us cares about it.
Experiences from other cities are also not encouraging. Bangalore’s primary water source Varthur lake is completely polluted, but except few people, there is hardly any public protest on this. Similarly, Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar Lake and many other cities are facing acute environmental degradations.
Shockingly, the Centre had collected funds of more than Rs 75,000 crore for environmental protection, but it has not been used till date. In January 2017, Rs 56,000 crore meant to fight climate change had been already diverted to states to compensate their losses under Good and Service Tax (GST) regime. All these issues do not bother the voters at all, and therefore, important agenda’s like environmental protection has been completely wiped out from the discussions.
It is unfortunate that India isn’t showing any seriousness towards tackling climate change at a time when several countries across the world have been making significant efforts in addressing environmental issues. In the past few years some political groups have come up to voice their concern for environmental protection, and the most successful example is the emergence of the Dutch Green Left party, GroenLinks. The GroenLinks was formed in 1989 after the merger of the traditional left parties, and since its formation, the party has been putting the environment-related issues forward in the mainstream politics.
However, the first major victory for GreenLeft had been reported in 2017 Dutch national election in which GroenLink got 8.9 % vote share and managed to win 14 seats in the central assembly. The man behind GroenLink success was its prominent leader Jesse Klaver. Klaver campaigned and roamed around the University Campuses of Leiden, Utrecht, Maastricht, Rotterdam, etc. He discussed with students about the environment-related issues like clean energy, cutting down on thermal coal plants, levying taxes on the polluters, ending subsidies for fossil fuel usage and rewarding and promoting research and development of clean fuel, etc.
Now, if we compare India with the Netherlands, it is very difficult to find any politician who talks about environmental protection and climate changes. This is also because people themselves don’t realise the gravity of this issue. The public debating spaces, especially Indian universities, too deliberate majorly on traditional issues. The politically-motivated student groups are pouring the same conventional problems in the university atmosphere. Thus the importance of environmental protection is not visible. Although, it is undeniable that ecological degradation is a matter of greater public concern and its devastating effect is evident in India as in other parts of the world. In spite of that, the debates and discussion on this topic are still restricted only among the civil societies, few policymakers and academic researchers. Uttarakhand floods, Delhi smog, Mumbai rains, among many others are some examples of the impact of climate change. But, unfortunately, no one is talking about it in general debates, and that is why our government is also not serious about it.
In India, if we want to raise the issues of environment and climate change the universities have to take the lead and try to mould the perceptions of the people towards the environmental issues and bring the green agendas into the mainstream politics. GroenLink victory in the Netherlands is a positive sign which is setting the trend across the world to put forward the green issues in the political manifestos. The paradigm is also shifting towards the demand for sustainable development across the globe. This is also evident from the facts that the more and more new political parties are emerging out with a call to protect the planet. Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) is perhaps the only political party from India which has formed along the lines of GroenLink and may look forward to driving an eco-friendly agenda in the forthcoming elections.
About Author: Rohit Kumar is an advocate at Supreme Court of India and a Fellow at All India Professionals’ Congress. Kumar also appeared for the Delhi Government in the MC Mehta (Delhi Pollution case) pending before Supreme Court of India.