Even as India’s General Elections 2019 are underway, by now the manifestos of most major parties[i] are out now. The latest one to come out was from AAP on April 25, 2019. Here we have tried to capture the key aspects of the manifestos of main political parties, particularly on aspects that we work on. While looking at the promises in the manifestos, we also look at the track record of the outgoing government, since that is the most relevant and current experience. We try and see how the parties try to come to grips with the massive water and environment crisis that India faces and how the poorest are the first and many times the only victims of the crisis.
BJP: BJP has been in power for the last five years under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi. The 45-page Manifesto of BJP, published on April 8, 2019 had just one person (Modi) on the cover, unlike 2014 manifesto that had a large number of people. One expected that the manifesto will provide an account of what the party promised in 2014 and how much of it was delivered and it would also do an honest assessment of what it did in last five years. On both counts we are disappointed.
Its title talks about Sankalp (oath) and Shakti (strength). Considering the situation of realization of the promises made in 2014 manifesto, the Sankalp of BJP does not have too much credibility. The tone is self congratulatory, not bothering to support the claims made. No account of the promises made in 2014 or how much of it has been achieved has been stated.
CONGRESS: The 55-page Congress Manifesto titled “Congress will deliver” was made made public on April 3, 2019. Social Justice is the main plank of the manifesto and it has many more dimensions than those in BJP Manifesto.
In what follows, we have looked how the two manifestos treat important aspects like Water Resources, Rivers, including Ganga and Brahmaputra, Environment, Governance, Civil Society and Rights.
WATER RESOURCES The Congress manifesto says: “Congress promises to address the challenges of water and sanitation through advocacy, technology and legislation.” What is missing here is governance.
Congress manifesto “promises to create a Ministry of Water to bring all water-related activities and departments under one authority.” Similarly, BJP manifesto under Jal Shakti talks about a new Water Ministry unifying the water management functions. This seems impractical. It is not possible to bring all water related activities and departments under one ministry and authority. There will be water related activities outside the water ministry, what is important is that there is coordination between different actors through clearly-defined mechanisms with clearly defined roles.
Neither of the manifestos acknowledge that groundwater is India’s water lifeline. In stead, congress manifesto makes a general statement: “We will address these issues by focusing on storage in dams and water bodies, replenishing ground water and creating a large participatory programme of water management involving the State Governments, civil society organisations, farmers, other users, Panchayats and Gram Sabhas.” This is not helpful. Big storage dams is NOT the way forward for water resources development.
BJP Manifesto The NITI Ayog report[ii] of June 2018 titled “Composite Water Management Index: A tool for Water Management” accepted that India is facing unprecedented water crisis and that crisis is only going to get worse. This was in a way admission of the fact that the Union government has been unable to do much to tackle the crisis.
There were some positive actions that BJP govt took during the last five years, but for lack of political will, they went nowhere. For example, the Mihir Shah committee was set up, thanks to an open-minded Water Resources Secretary, but the reforms suggested by the committee[iii] were never implemented for lack of political will in the government.
Lok Sabha speaker Smt Sumitra Mahajan took a welcome initiative to call for an open forum under Speaker’s Research Initiative on May 4-5 2016[iv], to discuss with Members of Parliament issue of Drought and Interlinking of Rivers, but the government gave no importance to what was discussed there.
BJP says the govt has completed pending work on 31 irrigation projects and will complete the work on rest of 68 incomplete irrigation projects by Dec 2019. The trouble with this claim is that these irrigation projects are NOT delivering benefits at National level as per govt’s own figures[v] and as made clear by the numerous CAG reports[vi], besides they being destructive and corruption ridden. Most importantly, these adversely impact the groundwater recharge, and BJP does not even acknowledge that groundwater is India’s water lifeline.
In fact, the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis led government in Maharashtra came to power on the bandwagon of Rs 72000 crore irrigation scam. But not only did the state govt fail to take any effective action on the corruption, it is pushing the same scam-tainted projects[vii] and the namesake action it took seemed more liked a fixed game[viii].
BJP manifesto says it will achieve 100% irrigation potential of the country (what this potential is, is typically not defined) in defined time frame (but no time frame is given).
BJP Manifesto talks about initiating work on “ambitious programme” of linking of rivers by constituting an authority. This has already been attempted by two terms of BJP government, one task force under A B Vajpayee govt (1998-2004) and now under Narendra Modi through a special committee. The ILR program itself has no scientific justification, is a contractor-driven dream and an invitation to disaster.
In fact, during Modi rule, Union Minister Uma Bharti threatened the Expert Appraisal Committee in June 2016 that if the statutory committee does not clear Ken Betwa River Link project, she will launch agitation against the committee.[ix] The Ken Betwa is a disastrous proposal that the government used every possible manipulation to push forward, but could not. The people of Panna and Bundelkhand are opposing this and demanding more viable alternatives. But the big money is so attractive that the BJP manifesto continues to promise on pushing this.
The manifesto pays lip service to conservation of water bodies and groundwater as the last point and not first and provides no details.
During campaigning for 2019 elections, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has possibly inadvertently, started a debate that really needs to be honestly looked at: ARE BIG DAMS ATM MACHINES FOR POLITICIANS? He may have raised the issue only in the context of Polavaram Dam and Andhra Government, but the question is equally valid for all big dams across the country. Including for Sardar Sarovar Dam, as Andhra Water Resource Minister has possibly only rhetorically asked.[x] This election, we wont have that honest debate, since both the initiator and responder are not particularly serious about it. Nor does the media seem to have a stomach for such a debate. WHEN WILL WE HAVE AN HONEST DEBATE THAT WILL ANSWER THIS QUESTION: ARE DAMS ATM MACHINES FOR POLITICIANS?
BJP also promises to bring 10 million ha under micro irrigation schemes, without giving any time frame. More importantly, it does not even talk about much better options like SRI (System of Rice Intensification) or efforts to increase soil moisture and groundwater recharge.
As recent CAG report has found[xi], the performance of the National Rural Drinking Water Program under Modi government has been a disaster. The program spent massive Rs 82000 crores during the five years, but could achieve coverage of mere additional 5.5% rural habitations. However, even at the end of five years, 82% of rural population and 83% of rural household did not have access to adequate water supply of 55 lpcd (Liters per Capita per day) as targeted. At least 15% of the rural schools did not have access to clean drinking water. The Audit showed failure at each stage of the program from planning, implementation, fund management, monitoring and evaluation to grievance redressal.
RIVERS Mark these remarkable words: “Rivers have played as important a role in human history as oceans. Civilisations have been nurtured by rivers. And, rivers will remain critical for our future. So, revival of rivers is an essential part of my commitment for a cleaner and healthier future for our society, economic opportunities for our people, and renewal of our heritage. We need regulations, policy, investments and management to achieve our objective. But, we will succeed only when we integrate technology, engineering and innovation into our efforts, not just to clean our rivers now but to keep them healthy in the future as well. For this, we also need scientific understanding of the impact of urbanisation, farming, industrialisation and groundwater use and contamination on the river eco-system. River is the soul of Nature. Their renewal must be an element of a larger effort to sustain Nature.”
Guess who spoke these words? Prime Minister Narendra Modi at inaugural address at 103rd session of Indian Science Congress on January 3, 2016[xii]. Action? Zero, unfortunately.
BJP Manifesto, under Cultural Heritage (& not under Water Resources) says on “Namami Gange”, “We are committed to ensure a clean and uninterrupted flow of River Ganga from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar. We will ensure that the sewerage infrastructure to deal with 100% of the waste water from the Ganga towns is completed and is functioning effectively, and take steps to enhance the river flow.” Not a word on what they promised and achieved. No details as to how this new promise will be achieved.
BJP’s track record is of course disastrous[xiii]. Elsewhere we have elaborated on this track record, but to put it briefly, the state of the Ganga has worsened during Modi rule according to even official reports. Modi’s vocal Water Resources Minister Gadkari keeps making goal-post changing, vague, slippery promises. In fact, the BJP govt has done large number of projects including hydropower, water ways, Char Dham Highway, dredging, river linking and dam projects in Ganga basin, in most cases manipulating the situations to avoid even basic credible assessment or appraisal processes. The situation turned so bad that Prof G D Agarwal, went on fast unto death and ultimately died since Modi government had no credible response. Now Swami Aatmabodhanand is on fast since Oct 2018.
Modi government claimed that state of the river had improved during the Ardh Kumbh in early 2019, but even that claim has been nailed by a number of reports including the latest by National Green Tribunal.[xiv]
BJP Manifesto says it will aim at next generation infrastructure including water grids. This shows how poor is the understanding of party about rivers, it seems them as water conduits rather than eco systems. It also says it will continue to focus on development of inland waterways.
There are many reports about how the Modi government claims of Ganga clean up are wrong. For example, Mr Gadkari claimed that Sismau nala in Kanpur has been cleaned up but IIT Kanpur among others have found this to be false claim.[xv]
Congress On River cleaning including Ganga Action Plan, Congress promises doubling budget, using latest Science and Technology, review of methodology and making it People’s Program (not clear how), but again does not talk about governance, the most important missing part of the puzzle. Like BJP, Congress makes general statement “We will implement a comprehensive plan for the treatment and safe disposal of sewage”, which is meaningless without details.
Sadhna Mahashabde, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra Congress environment department, said: “River regulation zone, which was enforced in the state, was abruptly revoked by the current government. The key objective was to prevent encroachment along the rivers and floodplains. We will ensure that it is re-enforced and at least one major river in the city/state is revived.” This is welcome. The other promises included stopping illegal mining of sand, implementation of solid waste management plan, promoting waste segregation, making local communities custodians of forest and shareholders of forest resources.
AAP manifesto for 2019 mentions some welcome initiatives like decentralised sewage treatment plants using local water bodies, but omits lot more about the state and prospects of Yamuna river and water issues related to Delhi.
Brahmaputra & North East India
BJP Manifesto says: “We will continue to take the necessary steps to leverage the tremendous potential of hydroelectric… in the northeastern states.” This shocking statement means that BJP will continue to push big hydropower projects in North East India, though the then Prime Minister candidate Modi in 2014 had promised people of North East India that if they do not want big dams, his government wont build big dams. However, even during last five years, the BJP govt has continued to push to restart work on the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydropower project, stalled since Dec 2011 due to massive agitation of people in Assam.
However, the Prime Minister during his election campaign in 2019 retracted, saying “the northeast has the power to become new India’s energy hub and the government is working hard to develop the region to realise this dream”.[xvi] This push for unviable and destructive projects is seriously problematic for the people of North East India.
On the eve of the elections on March 8, 2019, Modi government came out with a slew of fresh concessions for the over subsidized hydropower projects[xvii]. Such a push for unviable hydropower projects raised many questions.[xviii] This is in spite of the Union Power Minister repeatedly speaking about stalled big hydropower projects worth over Rs 30 000 crores due to non viability.[xix]
Congress Here Congress manifesto makes problematic promise: “We will use modern technology to harness the waters of the Brahmaputra and to find a permanent solution to the problems of flood and soil erosion. We will examine the opportunity provided by the mighty Brahmaputra to create a multi-modal trans- port system in the North Eastern region.” How is this approach different than that of BJP? Talk of Permanent solution of problems of flood and soil erosion basically smells of engineering solutions, which are destructive and not effective. It should have at least mentioned participatory process to arrive at right options.
Fisheries On BJP’s promises on Fisheries, the National Platform for Small Scale Fishworkers said: “BJP has taken to a new and record level the sell out of our natural resources to corporate and business houses… It had lied to the people of India including the fishing communities before the last parliamentary elections to trick them into voting for them. It is all the more deplorable that BJP’s Election Manifesto for 2019, makes no reference to the commitments they had made five years ago in 2014 before the last elections. They comfortably forget their past commitments while making new ones. They treat the people as fools with short memories.”
Congress Manifesto, acknowledging that 14 million people depend on fisheries directly and indirectly (the number could be an underestimate), promises a Ministry and National Commission for Fisheries. It needs to mention that there will be a census of fisherfolk and survey of their livelihood resources and measures will be taken to sustain and enhance them.
BJP Shockingly, BJP’s claim under “Forest and Environment” is: “We have ensured speed and effectiveness in forest and environment clearances for eligible projects due to which we have added around 9000 sq kms to the forest cover of the country. We are committed to maintaining this pace through adoption of cleaner practices to make our nation a greener country.” This only shows how poor is their understanding of environment and forests.
Bahar Dutt, in her analysis of the Congress and BJP manifestos[xx] quotes Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta: “There is a serious contradiction in the (BJP) statement since one is unable to understand as to how granting permissions for clearing forest land could lead to increase in forest cover? This statement implies that the country has cleared/ deforested a minimum of 9000 sq. km of natural forest land in order to do compensatory afforestation on equivalent area of non forest land.”
Track record of each of the three environment ministers of BJP rule (Prakash Javdekar[xxi], Late Shri Anil Madhav Dave[xxii] and Dr Harsh Vardhan) is pathetic. The Ministry has clearly become non-transparent and non responsive during last five years.[xxiii] In 2016, MoEF brought out seriously watered down wetlands rules[xxiv], while the earlier rules of 2010 remained unimplemented. The reconstituted EAC on River Valley Projects in Dec 2016 showed anti people and anti environment attitude in its very first meeting.[xxv] There are many many other instances of how badly BJP has treated environment.
BJP government’s pathetic understanding of environment governance was exposed when NITI Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant criticised Supreme Court’s order cancelling the environment clearance to Goa’s MOPA airport. In an excellent reply Ritwick Dutta said to Amitabh Kant: “The Supreme Court judgment isn’t an instance of ‘judicial interference’, as described by Kant, but an act of upholding the rule of law. It is time the government and NITI Aayog’s energy is channelised towards reforming institutions like NGT, so that they serve the interest of the people, and not just the interest of private investors.” (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/when-wings-were-rightly-clipped/)
BJP makes another controversial claim when it says: “We have continuously protected and promoted the interest of forest dweller particularly the tribal communities.” The forest dwellers are of course angry at the government for complete disregard of Forest Rights Act, 2005[xxvi] and Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act of 1996.
Dhruv Rathee makes important point: “The UPA government didn’t have a stellar record on environment, but what has happened in past five years is unprecedented. The biggest statistical evidence for this lies in the Environmental Performance Index, where India was ranked the fourth-worst country (177) in the world out of 180 last year. Five years ago, India was ranked 155th.”[xxvii]
Maulik Sisodia, in his analysis in EPW says: “The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has weakened laws, failed to ensure open consultations and public hearings, and made it simpler for private companies to abuse the nation’s natural resources, including forests, wildlife, aquatic life, mountains, and rivers. This, despite the fact that India has become the world’s second-most polluted country, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.” (https://www.epw.in/journal/2019/17/letters/promises-versus-deeds.html, April 27, 2019)
Congress Some Significant Congress promises:
- “We will constitute, by law, an independent, empowered and transparent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to establish, monitor and enforce environmental standards and regulations.” EPA will replace current bodies dealing with these issues. This is something Jairam Ramesh started working on while he was Environment Minister during UPA-II before he was kicked upstairs. One hopes he gets to head this task as Environment minister.
- “We will formulate a comprehensive land and water use policy and plan that will include measures for the conservation of ecosystems and the bio-diversity and wildlife contained therein, without affecting the legitimate rights of local communities.”
- Congress will work “to preserve the rich bio-diversity of the Himalayan range and the Western Ghats.” It steers clear of Madhav Gadgil Committee recommendations, but one hopes what is plans on this gets implemented.
- “We will allow the import of sand for construction and stop the illegal mining of sand in riverbanks.”
Well known environmentalist Ashish Kothari says: “The BJP’s overall vision of livelihoods and ecology does not exist. Its ecological ignorance is breathtaking, and its cavalier approach to the livelihoods of nature-based communities is callous.”
Ashish Kothari says[xxviii]: “The Congress manifesto, ‘Congress Will Deliver’, appears to have recognised at least some important steps that are needed to slow down the catastrophic destruction of the environment. The actions it promises could help provide dignified livelihoods for 65-70% of Indians who depend directly on the natural environment, including farmers, forest-dwellers, fishers, and crafts-persons. These include a rejig of its flagship MNREGA programme to incorporate land-based work, and substantial focus on forest-fish-agriculture based livelihoods.”
Roshni Udyan, an architect and environmentalist, who was a part of preparing the manifesto, said: “Climate change is affecting our farmers the most. No one has yet calculated the economic impact of climate change on our farming and coastal communities.” True, but even Congress has not done that?
Congress’s Maharashtra Unit on April 8, 2019 comes out with a manifesto on Environment: Preservation of rich biodiversity of western ghats, comprehensive land and water use policy, ban on import of waste and stopping of discharge of effluents in the river are among the 18-point “environment manifesto” released by the party.[xxix]
“India’s environmental issues being taken up during the elections is a big step forward. The biggest challenge is finding water for the people and that cannot happen with ‘Made in India’ kind of gimmicks,” said Stalin D of Vanashakti.
Climate Change Congress promises review of “the National Disaster Management Act, 2005” and working of National Disaster Management Authority, NDMA has become defunct under the current BJP government.
BJP Manifesto: This statement stands out: “(India) has achieved maximum production of coal.”
However, neither manifesto talks about identifying the victims of climate change and working towards justice for them. Neither of them proposes any steps in mainstreaming climate change in governance and decision making process.
URBAN AREAS The Congress (INC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] in their manifestos[xxx] have promised proper implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment and thereby the devolution of powers to local elected bodies. The INC plans on introducing mayoral reforms where the Mayor will be empowered and have a term of five years. Both parties plan on developing an Urban Policy. The CPI(M) plans to move away from the concept of ‘Smart cities’ to livable cities. The BJP plans to set up five regional Centres of Excellence on Urban Issues which will assist states and local bodies in urban governance.
The INC promises universal access to potable drinking water, whereas the BJP aims to provide piped water connection to all households by 2024, The CPIM[xxxi] aims to work against privatization of water resources.
BJP had a smart city program, but it does not even include definition of water smart city.[xxxii]
While BJP manifesto is silent on this subject, Congress manifesto has some welcome words: “Congress affirms its belief that civil society organisations and groups are an important pillar of a parliamentary democracy. During the tenure of the UPA Governments, civil society played a key role in developing our rights-based agenda. We will continue to engage with civil society activists and organisations and draw on their experience and knowledge.”
The Congress manifesto has another important promise: “We will introduce the requirement of public consultation before a Bill is introduced in Parliament.”
Rights PUCL Maharashtra has documented[xxxiii] how over the last five years (2014-2019) there has been dilution of various rights (including environmental) through policy changes.
While BJP has done a lot to stall the letter and spirit of Right to Information Act, Congress, which brought the RTI Act, has promised to review the act to strengthen it and also operationalize the Whistle Blower Act. Congress should in fact have mentioned that several such acts, including RTI, FRA, National Food Security Act, Right to Education Act, MGNREGS were all brought in by Congress and in case, BJP has worked to dilute them.
Governance While BJP Manifesto does not provide any account of what it has done with respect to its promises in 2014 elections, Congress Manifesto promises: “In order to make governance more transparent, result-oriented and accountable, Congress promises to place before the people, annually, a statement on the implementation of manifesto promises.” To avoid it being called self congratulatory exercise, Congress may set up independent body to undertake this exercise.
Improving governance through greater transparency, accountability and participative decision making is key to improving every aspect of state of the nation, including environment, rivers and water. BJP Manifesto talks about Good governance, and claims that it has put that in place in last five years. The experience of last five years shows that the transparency, accountability and participative decision making has actually plummeted in last five years, so the change in governance has been negative in last five years. The BJP government has also shown total intolerance to criticism, civil society role in governance.[xxxiv] Compared to that, the UPA rule had shown much greater open ness and readiness to listen to the critics.
In this respect, following Congress promises are welcome: “Congress promises to enhance the role and authority of the Gram Sabhas in matters concerning the villages and Panchayats. Congress will make it obligatory for the Gram Sabha to meet at least twice a year… Congress promises to ensure that the authority of the Gram Sabha under the following Acts is obeyed and upheld and the said Acts are implemented in letter and spirit:
a. The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996; b. The Forest Rights Act, 2006; c. The Land Acquisition Act, 2013”.
In Conclusion In our analysis of manifestos of Congress, BJP and AAP for 2014 general elections, we saw that the AAP manifesto on last page appealed to voters to vote for the honest party.[xxxv] That appeal remains relevant today too.
Days before Mr Modi took oath as Prime Minister of India in May 2014, we had put out an article[xxxvi] detailing “the risks, challenges and some immediate tasks of the new government at the centre. In sum, the new NDA government would do well not to forget the reasons for rejection of NDA in 2004 and UPA now in 2014. Both were guilty of bulldozing ahead with their agendas without listening to the people.” Those concerns are valid even now, though the BJP’s track record or manifesto does not seem concerned.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)
AAP released its manifesto on Apr 25, 2019: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1y7JtRj7dVNhuYd-8y-VS22Kch2oxVu-W/view
[vii] In fact, soon after Nitin Gadkari became India’s Water Resources Minister in early Sept 2017 replacing Sushri Uma Bharti, one of the very first trip of Gadkari was to Mumbai to offer Rs 55000 crore package to Maharashtra for the same scam tainted irrigation projects, see for example: https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/gadkari-s-55-000-crore-irrigation-boost-for-maharashtra/story-CjobINxbYEw1oT8yMHYeHI.html
https://sandrp.in/2016/10/19/turning-blind-eyes-do-we-care-for-river-dolphins-or-their-habitat/, https://sandrp.in/2016/08/11/impacts-of-ganga-waterways-plan-on-its-ecology-and-the-people/, https://sandrp.in/2016/06/21/in-the-pits-the-ganga-river-dredged-to-death/, https://sandrp.in/2016/02/19/digging-our-rivers-graves/, https://sandrp.in/2015/12/28/four-boats-at-a-river-crossing/
[xxi] https://sandrp.in/2014/10/13/moefcc-orders-dont-ask-additional-information-unless-inevitable-or-just-clear-the-projects-and-dont-bother-about-informed-decisions/, https://sandrp.in/2014/10/10/strengthen-and-not-dilute-environment-laws-submission-to-the-mefs-hlc-to-review-environment-laws/