What do election manifestos of the Congress, CPI(M) and BJP have to say on environmental issues?

A brief analysis of the manifestos of the three parties reveals stark differences in their approaches to tackling pressing ecological challenges.

Published : Apr 17, 2024 17:46 IST - 7 MINS READ

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi holds the party’s manifesto as he addresses supporters during an election campaign meeting on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April 6, 2024.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi holds the party’s manifesto as he addresses supporters during an election campaign meeting on the outskirts of Hyderabad on April 6, 2024. | Photo Credit: NOAH SEELAM

The first phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha election is all set to begin this week. In the last few days, major political parties have released manifestos outlining what they intend to do if elected to power. Here we analyse manifestos of the BJP, the Congress, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to understand their environmental priorities.

The Congress manifesto

With the slogan “Haat Badlega Halaat” (The Hand will change the state of affairs), the Congress’ 48-page manifesto titled Nyay Patra’ begins by recounting what the party stated in its 2019 manifesto. While referring to issues like widespread unemployment, farmers’ distress and the loss of institutional independence, it states that tribal communities have been denied the rights due to them under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA). In the section on “Social Justice”, the party promises settlement of all pending FRA claims within a year and the establishment of a process for the review of all rejected claims within six months. It is worth bearing in mind here that that the FRA was enacted in 2006 under the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

In the section, “Reversing the Damage”, the Congress states that the BJP government has passed many “anti-people laws”, including those related to the environment and forests, “without proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate”—which it promises to review and change. Presumably, what is referred to here is the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023 (FCAA), which removes “deemed forests” from the protective cover of the original Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980, thereby opening up many ecologically sensitive areas to diversion for activities like mining, roadways and highways, etc.

The manifesto promises to enhance the role of gram sabhas in the administration of panchayats, although it does not specify how this would be done. It also pledges to enhance financial assistance to the Autonomous District Councils of the north-eastern States and to amend the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to include the tribal areas of Ladakh.

Also Read | Will Forest Conservation Amendment Act of 2023 sound the ‘death knell’ for India’s forests?

Finally, under the “Environment” section, the Congress says that it will constitute an independent Environment Protection and Climate Change Authority to establish, monitor and enforce environmental standards as well as to implement national- and State-level climate action plans. It vows to launch a “Green New Deal” investment programme focussed on renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, and the creation of green jobs while increasing allocation to the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change. By way of plans to reach the goal of net-zero by 2070, the manifesto speaks of setting up a Green Transition Fund with State governments and the private sector.

On other environmental issues, the Congress states that it will “strengthen” the National Clean Air Programme, but does not go into details. It also vaguely speaks of working with State governments to stop the discharge of effluents into rivers and other water bodies. Another promise is to appoint a high-level committee to study landslides in the hill districts. The Congress says that it will work with State governments to increase forest cover in the country and also “redefine ‘forest’ and ‘forest cover’ in accordance with modern scientific standards, and involve local communities in afforestation.”

Recent afforestation projects have drawn flak for the manner in which lands are wrongly classified as “degraded” and then diverted for plantation activities, often without the consent of the communities who use such lands as common property resources. The Congress manifesto stops short of addressing these issues.

CPI(M) manifesto

Released on March 31, the 44-page document stresses the rights of tribal communities. The section on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes starts with the reiteration that the CPI(M) “stands for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of caste oppression.” The manifesto states that the CPI(M) will ensure full implementation of the FRA, including fixing a minimum support price for minor forest produce and stopping eviction drives.

The CPI(M) promises to reverse amendments to the FCA and other environment-related rules and circulars that dilute the role of gram sabhas in the decision-making process. In another section, it mentions amendments to “protective laws”, calling out the BJP-led government at the Centre for facilitating a “loot at the expense of tribal and other forest dwelling communities who are facing massive displacement, apart from the effects of large-scale deforestation and environmental damage.” It says that it will repeal the amendment made last year to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which, according to the CPI(M), “permits transfer of knowledge regarding biodiversity resources to corporates.” The amendments were criticised for favouring industries related to the AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) sector.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury (centre), Prakash Karat (right) and Brinda Karat release their party’s manifesto for the general elections, in New Delhi on April 4, 2024.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury (centre), Prakash Karat (right) and Brinda Karat release their party’s manifesto for the general elections, in New Delhi on April 4, 2024. | Photo Credit: MANISH SWARUP

The manifesto emphasises that it will scrap “environmentally disastrous and pro-corporate” plans for the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands, and stop the BJP’s national mission for the expansion of palm oil on the basis of “highly inflated” claims of yields and impact on eco-sensitive areas. The party promises to make the processes of environment clearance in general, and environment impact assessment in particular, “effective, time-bound, transparent, accountable and free of conflict of interests.” On climate change, it speaks of initiating broad economy-wide measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. But does not provide further details.

Under a section titled “Urban Issues”, the CPI(M) commits to “curb all kinds of pollution and environmental degradation”, but fails to list specific policy actions.

Also Read | Is the MoEFCC encroaching into the domain of Tribal Affairs Ministry?

Under “Science and Technology”, the party promises to enhance public funding for scientific research “to at least 2 per cent of GDP, with due importance to basic research” and to scrap “the highly centralised National Research Foundation”. It also speaks of making public-funded research accessible to all.

The BJP manifesto

Titled Modi Ki Guarantee 2024: Phir Ek Baar, Modi Sarkaar, the 76-page manifesto includes a section on “Sustainable Bharat” which lays out broad goals like increasing non-fossil fuel capacity, “protecting Himalayan ecology”, developing resilience in coastal cities, managing human-animal conflict and revitalising rivers. However, none of these promises comes with further details and action plans. There is a passing reference to the promise to expand the scope of the recently notified Green Credit Programme (GCP). Frontline has critiqued the GCP for a number of reasons, starting with unclear objectives to ignoring local context and ecology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays a copy of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto for the general election, in New Delhi on April 14, 2024.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays a copy of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto for the general election, in New Delhi on April 14, 2024. | Photo Credit: ADNAN ABIDI

The section on “energy security” outlines mega solar and wind parks to reach the target of generating 500 GW of renewable energy. The manifesto states that the BJP will enable the development of a “Battery Energy Storage System Infrastructure” by incentivising the private sector; that it will invest in green hydrogen and the establishment of smart grids; and will expand nuclear energy with a focus on small modular reactors.

Interestingly, the mention of atmanirbharta (self-reliance) with respect to edible oils production lists only mustard, soybean, til (sesame) and groundnut, glossing over the much-touted (and much-criticised) palm oil mission launched in 2021.

On tribal issues, the BJP speaks of eliminating malnutrition among tribal children and the provision of healthcare services but does not specify what kinds of action it will take to achieve these results. It also mentions “honouring and preserving the culture of tribal communities”. However, the BJP government’s actions over the last few years—undermining the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, doing away with prior gram sabha consent for the diversion of forest land under the Forest Conservation Rules, and the amendment to the FCA that made it easier to divert forestland— speak louder than any manifesto promise. On minor forest produce, the BJP mentions it will “encourage innovative and technology-driven startups to initiate commercially viable and sustainable forest-based enterprises”. But the extent to which technology can assist livelihood support without a larger framework to secure land and resource rights remains questionable. Strikingly, the manifesto does not mention forest rights. This raises serious concerns about the party’s commitments towards land and resource rights of tribal communities.

In general, the promises made by the party in the manifesto are largely a continuation of the policies undertaken by the BJP-led government so far. A few flitting avowals, such as measures to protect the Himalayan ecology, fail to impress in the absence of further details, especially since we have seen how the government has pushed ahead with dangerous projects like the Char Dham and large hydropower projects in the Himalayan States without regard to ecology.

Rishika Pardikar is an environment reporter covering science, law, and policy.

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