The missing election plank: Climate action - Hindustan Times
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The missing election plank: Climate action

Apr 22, 2024 10:43 PM IST

The elections present an opportunity for meaningful dialogue, yet our politicians and political parties seem to have overlooked the importance of this issue

Recently, I travelled to Vidarbha and Uttarakhand to cover elections there. I was expecting the typical dry and hot weather in Vidarbha. But the reality was different. As our plane circled over Nagpur, it started raining. In stark contrast, when we arrived in Uttarakhand, temperatures were soaring, with the daytime mercury frequently crossing 30 degrees Celsius.

 The current elections present an ideal opportunity for meaningful dialogue, yet our politicians and political parties seem to have overlooked the importance of focusing on the issue (Representative file image)
The current elections present an ideal opportunity for meaningful dialogue, yet our politicians and political parties seem to have overlooked the importance of focusing on the issue (Representative file image)

Climate is changing and requires our attention. But who will step up to address this issue? Should the burden fall solely on ordinary citizens? What actions are our governments taking? Currently, our country is in the middle of Lok Sabha elections, but have you heard even a single word from any prominent leader on this concern? It is disheartening that real issues affecting everyday people are missing from our political discourse. Instead, we are subject to a barrage of clichés, accusations, and insinuations that have no relevance to the daily struggles of the common man. This lack of political engagement on crucial human concerns reveals disturbing and insensitive self-harming tendencies.

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Let us take the Bengaluru drinking water crisis for example.

The United Nations (UN) has listed Bengaluru among the most likely to face an acute water crisis. According to the UN, if Bengaluru’s current water reserve drops by 40% by 2030, its existence will be jeopardised. The situation currently is so terrible that 6,900 of the 13,900 public borewells in the city have dried up, according to Karnataka’s deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar. Many companies have asked their staff to work from home. This city with a population of 14 million generates $50 billion in revenue each year. A lot of effort would have gone into getting it to this point. But as a Hindi adage goes: Bin paani sab soon (Without water, nothing is left).

The condition of the country’s capital Delhi is no better than Bengaluru’s. People here struggle for hours each day to procure the water they need, which is delivered to their settlements by tankers. They often quarrel with each other for their fair share of water. In a recent such incident, a woman, Soni, was killed. Now the ruling party and the lieutenant governor are in conflict over this subject. This will not bring Soni back to life or provide respite to the thirsty. Someone claimed that the next world war would be fought over water. We can see it taking shape around us.

The crises at Bengaluru and Delhi, both cities with long histories, can, to an extent, be attributed to flaws in their development planning, but the crisis in Gurugram, which developed only over the last four decades, is baffling. This little town near Delhi wasn’t expected to develop into a commercial centre so quickly. Today, the city has hundreds of domestic and foreign company offices. Some of the costliest residential properties in the National Capital Region (NCR) are located there, but it faces water scarcity. The Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) warned a month ago that the city’s drinking water demand was 675 MLD (million litres per day), and the supply could not surpass 570 MLD under any circumstance.

Another related concern is that of air pollution. During Diwali, people with allergies and asthma face a heightened risk from their conditions. Heavy fog and air pollution cover all of North India. The situation reaches a point where schools are forced to declare holidays. Political parties have attempted to attribute the issue to stubble burning by farmers in Punjab and Haryana, but studies have disproved that stubble burning alone was not responsible for air pollution in the NCR. Farmers do need to be given the resources to avoid stubble burning, but other sources of pollution must also be addressed. We cannot expect to improve a situation by making it worse. Until recently, our governments have been used to doing just that.

This situation must change, but the question is: How? The current elections present an ideal opportunity for meaningful dialogue, yet our politicians and political parties seem to have overlooked the importance of focusing on the issue. The first phase of the elections has already concluded without much discussion on the matter. If you are yet to cast your vote, take this chance to make a difference. As candidates make their rounds in your area, engage them with critical questions regarding their agenda on climate issues. It is essential to challenge them and understand their commitment to addressing these concerns. Remember, the actions or inactions of our leaders cannot diminish the significant role of the public voice in a democracy. We must recognise and utilise this powerful tool.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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