09 April 2014
Peaceful Forest Protest in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace
The Bhartiya Janata Party released its much awaited and much delayed manifesto today, promising to boost India's economy and reiterating its obligation to the cause of Hindutva. The issue of environment has always taken a backseat in every election and continues to be given the lowest priority. However, the last minute launch of the manifesto had prompted many environmentalists to believe that the party might include a thoroughly revised policy framework for the environment. But the BJP's progressive manifesto on economy has no clear roadmap for a sustainable and inclusive development process that stresses on safeguarding the environment.
The most striking point on environment has to be the 'National Mission on Himalayas', an inter-governmental programme that will focus on the conservation of the Himalayas. This is a welcome step in the BJP's ecological development programme. India is home to 8% of the world's total biodiversity and this is spread across the country. The manifesto does not look at conservation efforts in the Western Ghats, wetlands or the wildlife in these areas- something that it definitely needs to focus more on.
In a recent speech at a rally, Narendra Modi politicized the Rhinoceros conservation program and called for strict wildlife conservation. But this only finds a toekn mention in the manifesto without any further explanation.
In January this year Narendra Modi accused Jayanthi Natarajan, ex-Minister of Environment, for sitting on files and not giving environmental clearances until money changed hands. He also assured that the BJP would protect the environment and bring transparency in mining allocations. But while the BJP points fingers at its opponents on their environment policies, its own manifesto fails to capture the idea of sustainable development.
The mention of carbon-credit promotion is a clear indication that corporate needs will be given priority over climate change. The point on local communities dependent on forests and social forestry does not explicate its contribution to our GDP, nor does it outline the steps in which this will be achieved through the Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojna. The Aam Aadmi party in its manifesto has illustrated a visionary roadmap of empowering such communities with the help of Gram Sabhas.
By 'championing opinions on global warming' at the international level, the BJP will also be expected to talk about emission cuts. But the expansion plan for renewable energy projects in India remains unclear, though the manifesto does mention increasing research to meet the challenges of climate change.
The stress on an energy mix that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels will not bring in sustainable development as coal will not only cause massive CO2 emissions but also displace people. The increase in domestic coal exploration and production to reduce import bill is actually an opportunity for the party to come out with more progressive renewable energy policies. With its dubious track record of displacement in Gujarat, the BJP should have had a stronger line on the issue of displacement of communities.
However, the manifesto does look at the utilization of natural resources on a 'Use When Required, Protect Where Necessary' basis. With a strict compliance of national policies on critical natural resources, resource management might just get better in the country.
While the Himalayas are given a priority in conservation, the party has not looked at the recent disaster in Uttarakhand and does not have a disaster relief plan with regard to climate and environment. On waste management and recycling, the manifesto does not give clarity on exact plans but does talk about cleaning rivers and setting up a comprehensive pollution control mechanism in the country.
It seems like the BJP has wanted to create an inclusive manifesto that mentions most of the environmental problems India is facing today, but it does not mention specific points and policies that will lead to the satisfactory and sustainable change.
Pari Trivedi is a Media Officer with Greenpeace India. This post was published as an op-ed article in DNA on the 8th of April, 2014.