Policies and People | Make India’s elections eco-friendly
- Political campaigns and elections generate vast amounts of non-biodegradable waste, in addition to noise and vehicular pollution. Political parties must heed the EC directives on cutting down on such waste
In India, elections are a carnival of sorts. And the 2022 edition has already begun.
In the coming year, seven assembly polls are on the cards. While Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand, and Goa are expected to go to the polls in February-March, elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are slated for December. Most parties are in full campaign mode, with leaders crisscrossing poll-bound states, holding rallies and meetings.
While voters of these states begin to critically assess the report card of political parties and their representatives, they should also have another important job at hand: Evaluate political parties on their green agenda.
This, however, does not mean examining the political parties only on pressing issues such as the climate crisis, air, and water pollution, and urbanisation, but also the impact these assembly elections will have on the environment.
Political campaigns generate vast amounts of non-biodegradable waste (flex banners, single-use plastic), in addition to noise and vehicular pollution. Once used, these poll materials end up in overburdened landfills, clog waterways and pollute underground water. In addition, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is also the burden of biomedical waste such as masks and face shields. These, too, like plastic banners, need to be properly disposed of.
While there have been advisories from both the ministry of environment, forests, and climate change and the Election Commission of India (ECI) to states and Union Territories recommending that parties avoid these single-use PVC banners, the trend of using these products continues. For example, after a rally before the West Bengal assembly elections, city NGOs put out several photographs of plastic waste material strewn at the rally ground on social media, forcing the political party to clean up.
India has already committed to doing away with single-use plastics by 2022.
There have been several efforts to make elections clean and green over the years.
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to ban non-degradable materials, particularly single-use plastics, in election campaigns. It suggested that the Central Pollution Control Board should be the nodal body for monitoring the use of such material.
The ECI then directed political parties and their representatives to use “eco-friendly substances for preparing election campaign/publicity material — considering the long-term deleterious impact of materials such as plastics, polythene, etc. on the life-giving and life-sustaining environment.”
In 2019 again, for the first time in its history, Kerala held a clean and green election after the Kerala High Court banned the use of flex and non-biodegradable materials during electioneering. Kerala's then chief election commissioner directed political parties to refrain from using single-use plastic materials in poll campaigning, and advised them to opt for eco-friendly options such as wall graffiti and paper posters.
According to a report by the ECI, candidates were advised to avoid the use of plastic drinking water bottles during their campaigning and use only eco-friendly items such as cloth and paper materials to decorate their campaign vehicles; use steel plates and glasses for meals while campaigning. In addition, polling stations, counting centres, and other election offices were asked to avoid plastic material.
Almost all districts in the state created a green model polling booth, which also raised the awareness levels of the public. The public was also encouraged to come up and report any violations that were noticed anywhere in the state for immediate action from authorities.
Goa 2022: Eco-friendly booths
This time around, Goa has announced that it intends to go the green way.
According to a recent news report in a national daily, the office of the chief electoral officer, Goa, and the Goa State Biodiversity Board (GSBB) have taken the initiative to design a model for eco-friendly booths with fully biodegradable material for the forthcoming assembly elections.
The green concept is expected to be implemented in at least one booth per taluka. The material used at the booth is environmentally-friendly and has been made entirely by local traditional artisans hailing from Sattari and Ponda. The green booths, GSBB said, have been created mainly by weaving bamboo and coconut fronds. This will, GSSB, says give a fillip to local artisans.
Hopefully, 2022 will see more innovative ideas such as these, and as we go along, our elections will turn green and clean.
The views expressed are personal