Op-Ed: Who Cares For Environment During Polls?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: In the cacophonous campaign of political parties marked by mutual recrimination environmental issues often get lost during the elections. It is no different this time. Hardly any party is raising any environment-related issue of consequence.

Interestingly, a few days ago chief minister, Naveen Patnaik sought to bring Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake straddling three Odisha districts, into the election discourse. He accused the BJP-led NDA government of conspiring to sell off the lake, a Ramsar site, in an apparent reference to the Centre’s plan to set up a water aerodrome in Chilika which sustains a bewildering variety of aquatic like and is home to the state’s largest bird sanctuary.

Patnaik asserted that he would not let anyone destroy the lake, one of the greatest natural assets of the state on which thousands of fisher-folk depend for their survival. Noble sentiments! But the state government has itself failed to protect the ecology of the lake, a world famous wetland being choked by weeds and plundered by the Mammon-worshipping prawn culturists. The state government has even failed to develop Chilika as a world class tourist destination.

One must, however, thank the chief minister for raising the issue of Chilika which is slowly but certainly turning into an environmental hotspot with rampant prawn culture and unregulated operation of tourist boats taking a big toll on the water body.

There are several other environmental issues that need to be highlighted by political parties which have shown scant regard for them. For example while major political parties in Kalahandi sought to woo the Kondh tribals inhabiting the Niyamgiri hills during their campaign they have never made any serious attempt to protect the ecology of this area which is a victim of unwanted human activity.

The kondhs of Niyamgiri appear to have become pawns in the political game being played by various parties to further their own ends. When the agitation against bauxite mining in Niyamgiri was in full swing they were used as tools by some parties to launch a broadside against the state government which was seen as supporting a particular private company.

For months together the once quiet hills kept reverberating with anti-government slogans. Then the matter went to the court which ordered holding of gram sabha meetings to elicit opinion on mining. The gram sabhas finally rejected the proposal for mining but the fear of issue being revived still grips the minds of local kondhs.

Politicians of various hues have found it useful to channelize the anger of the kondhs against the government but they have done precious little to improve the living conditions in Niyamgiri which the tribals revere as a deity. If they are really concerned about the welfare of kondh tribals in  this  belt they should try to set up good schools and hospitals here and ensure at the same time that Niyamgiri’s environmental equilibrium is not disturbed.

Unfortunately this is not happening because political parties realize that environmental issues, though important, don’t get them votes. And to them that is what matters most.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)