Things are moving fast. And these are not good things. The second of the three reports from the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change had made clear in April that global warming and the rise in sea levels are likely to be far greater than earlier expected. A drop in crop yield, coastal flooding and an unstable water supply will ultimately bring about a huge escalation in human conflict. All countries need immediate controls on the emission of greenhouse gases, measures to conserve water and energy and reduce air pollution. But these, if not thought through with expertise, could clash with the drive for development, and India, heading excitedly towards its 16th Lok Sabha, may be finding it a tough call. The manifestos of its contending political parties reflect this discomfort. It is not that the parties are deaf to environmental concerns. But these come low down on their lists of things to do and are seldom more than good intentions disguised as promises, with few suggestions about ways and means. Neither is there a context. When the Congress promises a large-scale cleanup of rivers, it does not seem to have looked back to see how the the river-cleaning schemes have fared so far, and why they have failed so resoundingly that the job remains undone.
Such promises smack of a lack of seriousness that is alarming. The Bharatiya Janata Party has repeated its desire to interlink rivers, with the corollary, “based on feasibility”. Interlinking is both dangerous and not feasible: is the voter to believe that the BJP does not know that? The Congress has mentioned the launching of a green national account so that environmental costs are reflected in the national account. The thought is right, the action vague. The BJP does make quite a noise about sustainability, and has all the right phrases in the right places, such as, “the concept of pro-active ‘Carbon Credit’ will be promoted”. How, what, why? Surely, politicians know that the time for lip service to forest conservation or rainwater harvesting or distributing ‘clean fuel’ to the poor or monitoring air pollution is past, that the dangers are real, imminent and enveloping? It is not the time to mention with incomparable vagueness an “eco friendly and people friendly Environmental Law” as the Trinamul Congress manifesto does. But the tip of the nose is as far as the Indian politician’s vision goes, if that.