Green politics and greener pastures
The New Year started on a good note in Delhi with the Arvind Kejriwal-headed AAP government's big experiment with the odd-even policy to combat air pollution seeing results. A couple of months ago, the CPM in Kerala started organic farming which also received an overwhelming response from the people. It opens up a bigger discussion - is political parties' myopic vision on environment beginning to improve? Have we matured with changing 'climate' for the arrival of 'Green Politics'?
“In India, Green Politics was in the movement domain. Since Chipko in the 1970s and the Forest Act it achieved, to the Doon Valley mining case to the Coastal regulation Zone, people’s movements achieved in India what Green Parties do in the West,” says Vandana Shiva, environmental activist who was part of the Chipko Movement.
It was the realisation that political parties are doing little for protecting the nature and are contributing more to environmental degradation, that led to the formation of Green party in 1980 which later merged as Alliance '90/The Greens in Germany. Since then Green parties have developed and established themselves in many countries around the globe, upholding the ideology of ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism and social justice. But is there any chance of a similar formation emerging on a broader national level in the near future in the country?
“In India, ecological justice is the issue - be it the right to land and forests, biodiversity and seeds, climate justice, freedom from pollution. Whatever formation emerges will have to combine justice and ecological issues,” says Shiva.
Eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who chaired the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), feels that social-economic disparity and centralisation of power are the two main hindrances for the “Green Politics” to take root in the country. “ In Germany, the Greens could achieve it since the economic disparity were minimal and also there was decentralisation of power. I am not saying we could not achieve it. Our vibrant democracy is a hope, unlike China where voices against the alarming pollution are silenced,” says Gadgil.
However, Gadgil is impressed by the move of the APP government to introduce the odd-even formula. “If we take the case of India the cost of environment degradation and pollution is passed to those belonging to the lower strata of society. Delhi is no different, the cost of the acts of those living and travelling in the air-conditioned cocoons in Delhi is equally shared by those living in slums,” said Gadgil, who narrated a personal experience about an 'adventure trip' he made to Malviya Nagar constituency from where Somnath Bharti of AAP got elected.
"I wanted to spend some time with those belonging to the lower strata of society. But the place I chose to visit in Malviya Nagar was told to me as one of the worst localities due to the presence of brothels and drug trafficking. Many of whom I approached in Delhi could not establish any contact there. Finally, a friend helped me and I spent a day at a street vendor's house and was quite impressed by the support for the AAP among the locals in the region. They shared their problems from water pollution to drainage issue to lack of sanitation. I saw that there was clear disconnect between those living in the urban or the elites and the poor in Delhi,” said Gadgil.
Eco-capitalism versus eco-socialism
Eco-socialism or green socialism is an ideology merging aspects of Marxism and socialism with that of green politics while in eco-capitalism natural resources are regarded as capital and profits are partially dependent on environmental protection and sustainability. So are we heading to a time of direct confrontation of the two?
“There is a convergence of the forces of greed and grab, trying to commodify and privatise every commons of nature. And there is a convergence of forces working to defend Mother Earth and all her citizens. This is the contest today and in the future,” says Vandana Shiva.
She says that there is an ecological blind spot in policy these days. “There is a clear blind spot forgetting that ecology is the foundation of economy, both being derived from 'oikos'-our home, the Earth,” she says.
Meanwhile, Gadgil says that when it comes to environment protection, the present BJP government is worse than the previous UPA government. “The policy pursued by the UPA government was not at all encouraging for the environment. But the present government seems to be much worse than the earlier one. Now, we are inviting all the multi-nationals to come to our country, exploit our natural resources and make money.”
He says that the WGEEP report and Saxena Committee Report on Mining in Orissa were two honest reports that documented the situation on the ground. “We came up with the Western Ghats report after assessing the ground level situation. The cost of environment degradation, as I said, will be paid by economically weaker sections. To protect the interests of a handful, the people's ignorance is exploited. The lobbies, particularly the quarry lobbies who were more powerful, worked against the recommendations and political parties supported their stand.”
Ecologist VS Vijayan, who was a member of WGEEP points out that the report of the Gadgil Commission was torpedoed by the powerful lobbies in Kerala. “The Gadgil report was socialist in nature as it took into consideration all sections of society including the poor. Instead of creating awareness by presenting people with the actual recommendation of the WGEEP, the government played into the hands of powerful lobbyists,” he said.
Down from the 64% suggested by the Gadgil report, Kasturirangan report sought to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs). In Kerala, it had earmarked 13,108 sq km in 123 villages as ESA. But again following widespread protests in the high-range districts, the State government on the basis of field verification had convinced the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to exclude 3,117 sq km of settlements and agricultural land from the ESAs.
Vijayan says that vested interests had used farmers as a cover to oppose the recommendations of the committee and create a fear in the high ranges. “Previous Lok Sabha election in Kerala is a classic example. The powerful quarry and land lobbies took the Church into confidence. In Idukki even a pastoral letter was read out against the WGEEP report. But all the information given out to the people were wrong. Those with vested interests used the name of farmers to carry out their agenda. Unfortunately, both UDF and LDF took a stand vindicating that of the church thereby exploiting the resources of Western Ghats,” said Vijayan.
The way forward
What is the way forward for India particularly after the Paris agreement on climate change? “For the people of India, the way forward is to defend and enlarge all fossil fuel free spaces. This is specially true of agriculture. Industrial globalised agriculture contributes 50% of Green House Gases. Ecological agriculture and local food systems can make the biggest contribution to address climate change, while addressing the food and nutrition crisis, and the crisis of farmer suicides totally related to debt due to defence on purchase of fossil fuel bases inputs, says Vandana Shiva.
She opines that to achieve the goals, we have to be 'Desi' and intensely democratic. “We have to show that we are a civilisation based on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Earth Democracy, not on the brute power of the rich, the powerful, the greedy and the unaccountable.”