Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

A Million Mutinies: Raising India's Environmental Awareness

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

I talked earlier about our experience with drought-proofing and water management. And similarly, we find that, for instance, Digvijay Singhwho's the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, says and this is what we feel very proud about is that he learned from civil society in terms of how land and water management needs to be done. He made the policy changes in terms of how he would manage his resources. And it's quite amazing to see Madhya Pradesh and certain parts of Madhya Pradesh the legislative changes that he's brought about in terms of resource management have brought in some very interesting answers in drought-proofing. He's also made a major investment in education. What was interesting was that two years ago he was facing elections. And everyone would say that he would not win. Every poll had said that he would lose. We had invited him to Delhi to give a keynote address atone of our seminars and I asked him why was he doing all this if he wasnot going to win elections. And he said he did this because he wanted to--typical politician-speak. And, what was fascinating was two weeks later the elections took place and he won. And we sent out our reporters to all the districts registering took place to find out why did people come out and vote and it was interesting; they came out to vote because of his land, water and education policies. And that became a very important model, to see that if a politician was to do good governance, it would pay. And that's really been the big issue for usis to get politicians to understand this.

I have a lot more faith in Indian politicians than bureaucracy. I have a much greater sense of being able to say that we can influence them.They can understand what makes good electoral promises as well. And that you do see change if they get convinced. And, really the big challenge for all of us Indians is really how do we make India's democracy work even more? When you look at the environmental movement, you really understand how it's trying to tweak certain parts of India's democracy to see it work better and to see that the changes are brought about in which both the environment as well as the developmental needs of people are taken into account.

Thank you very much.

Question and Answer Session

Shyama Venkateswar

Sunitahas kindly accepted our questions. And so maybe we can just open the floor up for a couple questions and then have a chance to talk withher.

Question from the Audience

I'd be curious to know if there is anything like the Green Party or a Green Party in India.

Sunita Narain

No, because of our silly electoral system. We have the British system, which is first past the poll, and that doesn't lead to any issue-based politics. It's the same problem, for instance, if you look at Britain, it doesn't have a Green Party. However, in the European elections where issued-based politics are allowed where you can have it, there the Green Party in Britain has about over 16% of the votes. So, it's the same problem in India that we can never have a Green Party given our electoral system.

Question from the Audience

But you could have coalition votes, right?

Sunita Narain

We can, but the other question with the environment really is -- and this is what the big challenge for us is and frankly we've not been able to succeed in being able to get the politicians to understand. Environment is still seen, to a large extent, in terms of growing trees and cleaning up pollution. It's really not seen as developmental perspective in terms of water. Drought is one of the big issues forIndian politicians today. There's no politician who can stand up todayand not talk about water. I mean, every election is won or lost on the issues on things like water. Advani, who is our Home Minister, when he was standing for elections in Saurashtra in September 1999 when they were facing a very bad drought, Advani had a slogan which said, Pehle Pani Phir Advani, which means first water, then Advani. Give us water first. It's a big issue. But that's not being translated into the way politicians view the environmental issues. Also we have found that the environment is a very dispersed term and coalition. It's all over the country. Andtherefore, to bring about a regional party even which balances animportant role in coalition politics. Because if you look at India'spolitics, we don't have central parties anymore. The Congress itself issort of losing out and BJP is drastically losing out as a central party. It's really regional parties which are gaining ground in India.And therefore, if you look at the future of politics, it's very clear that the Green Party can never be a regional party. It will also be something that focuses on an all-India issue. And so, for us, the answer is really to influence politicians -- whatever shade of color they come from.