Campaigning for Environment

Another election has gone and it has been another missed opportunity for those that consider themselves sensitive to the environment and other species in it. During my election I was only asked how many roads I was going to build or mend, how many overhead bridges and whether I could get more electricity into the villages. I was asked for old age and widow pensions, money to get girls married, free and good medical treatment and solar lights for religious places. I was asked for more urea for the farmers and more government procurement centres.


I presume that most candidates were asked the same. Not one of us were asked on what we intended to do about removing pesticides , getting more trees planted or dealing with illegal slaughterhouses, the smuggling of cattle, new ways to look after carthorses or oxen , animal sacrifices.


While we are repeatedly asked about getting jobs for the thousands of unemployed young people and improving low incomes, not one person asked about new income generating schemes based on better agriculture. No one questioned the illegal butchery and sale of animals in every town, the illegal bird markets, the illegal wood extraction, the plastic that has destroyed each village and town drainage system. No one questioned the illegal oxytocin injections being given at each dairy (which are one of the main reasons for tuberculosis and cancer). No one asked about the forests being set on fire by the forest department or the lack of veterinary centres for their animals. No one asked for better education systems that fulfilled the needs of India or for alternative fuels that would make them free of having to cook on illegally cut wood. No one complained about the falling water levels and the severe contamination of the rivers. No one spoke about the lack of water ponds in each village where the pradhan had forcibly dried the pond and sold the land for village houses. No one questioned the huge increase in cancer and hepatitis C cases.


Many more elections will come and go with everyone asking the wrong questions. All these questions go towards making the wrong policies by any government that comes to power – because they believe that this is what makes people happy.

But it doesn’t. I can build a million more tarred roads to each village and all they will do is to make the country even hotter, eat up all the agricultural land. I went for a dinner in Pilibhit with “intellectuals” and all they wanted was a four lane road from Bareilly to Pilibhit which would result in the cutting of at least 5000 ficus and mango trees. They wanted the land around to be freed from agriculture and turned into Dhabas to service the trucks which would then traverse these roads. Not one person was concerned about the rising levels of heat and the fact that we had hailstorms in April that killed part of the wheat crop. I was asked to divert the thousand acres kept for grazing and turn it into an industrial park so that people could get jobs.


Unless we put forests, water and organic agriculture at the centre of our demands from politicians we are not going to survive. We have set the agenda and made people believe that roads, grid based electricity and pensions will make everyone happy. They will not. We have not, in all these years, even devised a way to make roads that will prevent them from unraveling and getting potholes within three months of being laid. We have devised no ways in which we can bring cowdung into the market as a viable cooking medium or even as an efficient way to burn dead bodies. We have no agro based or food based industry knowledge for the young entrepreneur. We have no forestry schemes – except for cutting trees. We have no way in which to penalize industries who pollute large rivers. In Uttar Pradesh one industry based in Hapur has polluted the entire Ram Ganga which goes all the way to Aonla hundreds of miles away. We have no schemes to bring the water table up. We have no training of farmers on how to diversify their crops and earn more.


And then we complain about the quality of politicians we get and the work of governments. But what do we demand from each candidate? All we demand is that they be of a particular caste, have enough money to spend in an election, make the maximum noise and give the best speeches. We have no idea of the schemes that government has – the rural health insurance scheme for instance which could be a godsend for those that have no money in a medical crisis. And the ones that could have changed the country like MNREGA is used to simply hand out money by corrupt village heads and has, in the process, destroyed all the artisan community without bringing any relief to a single village. Not one person in my constituency complained about the misuse of MNREGA. All they said was that they had to pay a percentage to the pradhan to get their money and could I help them with that.

MNREGA was supposed to be used to plant fruit trees round the villages, make ponds, clean canals, make village roads and drainage systems. Not one thing has been done – except making a few brick roads and a two room centre which is supposed to be used by officials when they come visiting. Community forestry tackles warming and keeps the weather stable, rural unemployment and malnutrition. It creates permanent assets for the rural unemployed who are also landless. The community is coming together and engaging in agroforestry and community forestry. Once provided with greenery and fruit bearing trees, they can sell the fruit for income and eat it themselves to better their health. They can create their own timber/wood fuel needs which will take the pressure of local wild forests and off the women who are sent to get the wood everyday. Any sensible government would do this immediately and any sensible voter would demand this immediately.


Is this what elections are about? If we do not demand the right things, we are in danger of business as usual. And the next elections will bring in a new set of useless people. Everything of value - water, forests, animal welfare and agriculture - has been left to NGOs to teach – and yet NGOs are held with deep suspicion by every government.


Any attempt to talk about any of these things during an election is mocked by the media and other politicians as being retrograde. So, even people like me keep quiet in despair.


There will come a time when the entire election will be about water, the weather and its effect on the lack of food. By then it will be too late.


Why did you, the voter, not put this in your demands to your local candidate? You need to set the correct agenda.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


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*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*