Environment issues rank high in Mizoram poll

December 1st, 2008 - 3:11 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 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.

Aizawl, Dec 1 (IANS) Unlike in most other Indian states, environment and global warming rank very high as issues in the assembly elections in green Mizoram. With almost 80 percent of its total area of 21,000 square kilometres carpeted by forests, most of Mizoram’s political parties have made protecting the environment and forests key issues in their manifestos.The main opposition Congress party’s manifesto for Tuesday’s elections declares that ecological balance and saving the forest cover are essential for the survival of mankind.

“We have specifically highlighted the issue of global warming,” Congress’ chief ministerial candidate Lal Thanhawla says. “The Congress is committed to taking forward environmental issues if we are voted to power,”

The Congress has accused the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) of failing to protect the environment and the forests. The party’s candidates stress in their election meetings around the state that during the last 10 years of the MNF government, the state saw “wanton” destruction of forests, leading to the state’s environmental degradation.

The manifesto of the opposition United Democratic Alliance (UDA) comprising the Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC) and Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) also expresses concern over what it describes as the state’s deforestation. As a remedy, “we will try to work out forest-based livelihood for the poor people and farmers,” says a leader of the UDA.

The ruling MNF too promises environment protection measures but asserts that it would transform Mizoram into an industrially developed state using its rich natural resources. The party promises a green revolution by encouraging scientific bamboo cultivation.

Bamboo plays an important role in the state where it grows wild in 6,000 square kilometres. Mizoram produces 40 percent of India’s 80-million-tonne annual bamboo crop.

Chief Minister Zoramthanga is nicknamed “the bamboo minister” for his enthusiasm for using bamboo as the keystone of his vision of a prosperous Mizoram. “We need to harvest bamboo or else we are going to waste billions and billions of rupees,” he says.

Zoramthanga lists their uses: bamboo chips are used for making paper, bamboo charcoal for fuel and bamboo “vinegar” to nourish the soil. His list is endless. So too, he says, is global demand.

New plantations of more profitable bamboo strains can be sown on Mizoram’s plentiful hills. In a decade, he says, bamboo-rich Mizoram could become India’s richest state — but only if private investors follow his lead.

The other parties have also promised bamboo-based schemes and projects, besides scientific cultivation of bamboo for generating employment.

Bamboo also has a destructive side. Every 49 or 50 years the bamboo put out an abundance of flowers and their fruits act as rodent magnets, drawing millions of them from even other states. The rodents play havoc with other crops and food supplies, leading to famine conditions. The last such phenomenon called mautam was in 1959 and another has probably started. Official statistics say that the rat menace has hit nearly 150,000 agrarian families.

“By properly harvesting bamboo, you can not only fight the famine but also bring in wealth for the state,” Zoramthanga says.

But the UDA has accused the MNF government of misusing funds doled out by New Delhi to deal with the destructive effects of periodic bamboo flowering.

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