As the election approaches, there is a lot of debate over what will be the key issues. In a diverse country like India, there is no dearth of issues: they could range from very local to very national. This year, corruption will be one big-ticket item and so will the dipping growth rate. And then there is the environment, the biggest political hot potato in recent times. Not convinced? Look at the big issues (and related scams) that surfaced in the last few years — energy security, infrastructure development, land acquisition, water, mining, land and forest rights — they all have links with environment and the fight out there has been over who should control the resources, the people or the industry?
In such a scenario, politics have never been left behind. So you have had Congress’ Rahul Gandhi at the Vedanta bauxite mining site telling the tribals that he was their soldier in Delhi, and yet the UPA’s environment ministry at the Centre has been on a project clearance spree. Environment is not just about growing trees, it is about real money, real power.
In a set of analyses and overviews on some of the most significant developments of 2013 ranging from water, mining and agriculture to governance, forests and climate change, the Centre for Science and Environment’s latest The State of India’s Environment 2014 – A Down To Earth annual (SOE), which was released in New Delhi last week, deals with this crucial development versus environment debate. Unsurprisingly, the report also deals with the question that might become a reality in future: the birth of a green party in India.
No matter which party captures the gaddi in Delhi, one thing is certain: The growth versus environment debate is here to stay. So instead of shying away from the subject, it will have to be dealt with. This will involve a tricky balancing act because upsetting communities is never a great idea. While the trees may not have a vote, people who depend on them do. And as the SOE correctly says, the balance between environment and development requires working institutions that can be trusted to take carefully evaluated decisions. Such decision making cannot be done by trial-and-error.