Elections 2019: Will parties deliver on promise to fight climate change?

Updated: Apr 13, 2019, 17:15 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

Conservationists share their views on how the BJP and Congress plan to deal with climate change and environmental degradation if voted to power

Elections 2019: Will parties deliver on promise to fight climate change?
Kedar Gore, Stalin D and Rohit Joshi

Environmental conservation has been a challenge for this city forever, but hope lies in what the soon-to-be-elected government will do to protect nature and fight climate change. Days after the BJP and Congress came out with their manifestos for the Lok Sabha elections, mid-day interacted with conservationists to find out what they feel about the parties' promises on matters related to the environment.

The ruling party's Sankalp Patra has a section called Forest and Environment, which speaks about what it plans to do if voted to power. The manifesto mentions, "We have ensured that forest and environmental clearances for eligible projects are issued speedily. We are committed to maintaining this pace through adoption of cleaner practices." It further mentions, "We will convert the National Clean Air Plan into a mission and focus on 102 most polluted cities in the country. Through concerted action, we will reduce the level of pollution in each of the mission cities by at least 35 percent over the next five years."

Bittu Sahgal
Bittu Sahgal

Sharing his view on environmental clearances for developmental projects, Kedar Gore, conservationist and director of The Corbett Foundation, said, "The Congress manifesto is more promising than that of the BJP's. However, the question remains whether all that the Congress has promised will be delivered if the party is voted to power? During BJP's tenure, several projects were given the green nod despite the fact that they were harmful for the environment. Mitigation measures cannot always be the solution and sometimes a line needs to be drawn. It is unfortunate the BJP manifesto considers speedy environmental clearances as its priority."

'Will promises be delivered?'

Reacting to how developmental projects affect the environment, Environmentalist and Editor, Sanctuary Asia Bittu Sahgal said,"Powerful decision-makers should realise that destroying mangroves, which are hardcore infrastructures, with massive financial benefits, doesn't merely hurt flamingos, but is a "death-by-siltation" sentence for the Mumbai Port and JNPT. Similarly, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is critical to Mumbai's economy in an era of climate change. Even Singapore, often quoted as the Mecca for land reclamation from the sea, is worrying about its future because emerging science suggests that reclaimed land is at greater risk from earthquakes."

On the issue of air pollution, the Congress manifesto mentions, "Congress recognises that air pollution is a national public health emergency. We will significantly strengthen the National Clean Air Programme in order to urgently tackle the problem of pollution. All major sources of emission will be targeted, mitigated and reduced to acceptable levels."

Meanwhile, point number 22 of the BJP manifesto says, "We have continuously protected and promoted the interest of forest dwellers, particularly tribal communities. We have endeavored to provide basic amenities, such as roads, telephone connectivity and cooking gas connection in addition to houses and toilets, at the doorstep of people living in remote forest areas. We are committed to continue working in this direction."

One of the most significant points of the Congress manifesto is that it would constitute, by law, an independent, empowered and transparent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to establish, monitor and enforce environmental standards and regulations. The EPA will replace all other bodies that currently exercise jurisdiction and powers.

Speaking of coastal degradation, the Congress manifesto mentions, "The party promises to protect the coastal zones of the country. Recent steps that diluted the coastal zone regulations will be reversed. The coast will be preserved without affecting the livelihood of fishing communities." It further states that the party would work with state governments to increase forest cover from the current 21 per cent to 25 per cent by 2025.

'Development important'

Reacting to Cong's promise of forming an EPA and the issue of coastal degradation, Environmentalist Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti, said, "The BJP manifesto gives the impression that development is more important than fighting the effects of climate change. However, Congress has honestly admitted to the environmental challenges. Cong's concept of EPA is welcome. But it seems BJP's focus is to destroy institutions. It should have come out with positive steps to protect rivers. While Congress has accepted the need for coastal regulation zone to protect the coastline, BJP looks at destroying it in the name of development."

Interestingly, the BJP manifesto talks about protecting the Himalayas. "We will ensure that Himalayan states get special financial assistance in the form of 'green bonus' to facilitate protection and promotion of forests in those places," it says. However, Congress also says that it would work closely with state governments to preserve the rich bio-diversity of the Himalayan range and the Western Ghats. Congress has further promised to deal with the problem of man-animal conflict, which mainly happens due to degradation of forest cover, habit loss etc.

'Will protect coastal zones'

Enviornmentalist Rohit Joshi says, "The BJP manifesto is pathetic when it comes to issues related to protection of environment and wildlife because it's nothing but another jumla, whereas the Congress' one mentions the important issues. Congress promises to protect the coastal zones of the country and it's very important in case of Mumbai."

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