Politics clouds environmental issues in Delhi poll

November 27th, 2008 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Editor’s Note: Environment and climate change are among the most important challenges facing humanity today, but have they become key political issues in India? IANS examines how political parties treat them in the current state assembly elections. These reports were produced as part of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship’s Climate Change and Media Programme.
New Delhi, Nov 27 (IANS) A road and a river that symbolise the capital’s environmental malaise are the only issues of ecological relevance to emerge in a tumultuous state assembly campaign defined by terrorism and the economy.The polluted Yamuna river and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor on an arterial road make a low key appearance in the poll debate of a state beset by numerous environment problems.

The BRT, which comes up in the manifestos of both the parties, has earned the ire of south Delhi’s well-off who travel by car because the special bus lanes have reduced road space for all other vehicles. The special corridor is an attempt to speed up public transportation and cut the number of people using private vehicles. Because of the protests, the BRT was put on hold when it reached its current five-kilometre length.

The Congress Party promises to fix BRT’s problems and extend it further, while the BJP wants to scrap it in its present form and do more research and planning before allowing it to operate.

BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra told IANS: “The bus corridor was made in a very unscientific and unplanned manner. They (Congress government) have wasted a lot of money.”

However, he added, “It will not be totally scrapped. It is important to improve it.”

Congress Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: “We stopped the BRT corridor work because there was some minor problem, mainly operational problem. We will rectify it and BRT is certainly on our cards. We will not scrap it at all. It’s good for the city.”

“The intention of the (BRT) effort was good as it aims at cleaning environment,” she said.

Although it is viewed mainly as a traffic issue, “BRT is really an environment issue,” said Chandra Bhushan, associate director of the Centre for Science and Environment.

“There are contradictory views of the Congress and the BJP on the existence of BRT. I think it’s good from the environment point of view.”

Dikshit said that her party, if voted to power for the third consecutive term in Saturday’s elections, will boost public transportation to reduce pollution in a city choked by 5.2 million cars. “Metro Rail has reduced the pollution level in Delhi and it will be expanded further,” she said.

About Yamuna, which flows through the capital, the BJP manifesto says: “Yamuna is integrated to life in Delhi, but during the Congress rule our holy river has been virtually converted to a dirty drain. The Congress has grossly ignored cleaning of the Yamuna in its 10-year-long rule.

“The BJP will give utmost importance to the beautification of the Yamuna and making it pollution-free.”

Dikshit “knows her limitations and what she has not done in last 10 years,” said a state Congress leader, who did not want to be named.

“Highlighting them during election time will only backfire. So, she is focusing more on Metro trains and low floor buses (which are cleaner and carry more passengers),”

Malhotra also said that if elected, he would extend the present 18 percent green cover of Delhi - the forests and wooded areas - to 33 percent.

But Dikshit, who oversees the state environment department, has been silent about it.

Bhushan said political parties and people in the capital are equally responsible for environment issues receiving low priority. “Political parties know that talking about the Yamuna will not bring them votes,” he said.

However, another environmental activist disagreed. Ravi Aggarwal, director of an NGO, Toxic Link, said: “It’s a sad situation. While environment is definitely an issue from people’s perspective, its not an issue for politicians.”

“Waste water management, air quality, landfill management and the Yamuna are big issues and are impacting public life, but parties don’t see it,” he said, adding it’s sad that “with no one pushing for environment, people really don’t have a choice whom they should vote for “.

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