India faces environmental crisis, but this season’s election coverage should ignore it


Once again, election season is upon us. In fact, in India it never seems to end. And for some political parties, it is sustainable.

From now on and until the proclamation of parliamentary election results in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Pondicherry on May 2, we can’t expect much more when it comes to coverage. media outside the political circus.

For the news media, the electoral battlefield offers endless possibilities and a chance to increase readership and audience. Elections are guaranteed to be fun, with every politician making the most of the media attention. However, more and more, the elections have been reduced to a few personalities; the issues that matter to the majority of voters take a back seat.

No doubt, despite the electoral frenzy, the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to immunize large parts of India’s population will continue to be part of the news cycle for some time, as this crisis is currently showing little sign of abating. .

Yet the policy tamasha unleashed with the announcement of the elections should not make us forget the vivid, the stories that are either told in passing, or only when there is a tragedy of such overwhelming proportions that they cannot be ignored.

Issues like hunger, poverty, unemployment, caste discrimination, inequality, atrocities against women, human rights and the persecution of minorities – the list goes on. We remember, and the media talk about it, when there are atrocities, like the disturbing number of incidents involving Dalit girls killed in Uttar Pradesh, or reports that remind us that nearly a third of children Indians continue to be stunted and malnourished.

When a natural disaster occurs, such as February 7, we remember that global warming and climate change are not academic issues but a living reality for people living in fragile ecological areas, as the interview clarifies. with Ravi Chopra from the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun. .

We then remember that these same areas have suffered in the past, that we in the media investigated and reported on these disasters, and the government appointed committees to investigate and recommend policies that take ecological factors into account. And that after all that, the development plans put in place, such as the construction of hydroelectric projects in this fragile ecosystem, continued as if nothing had happened. Until he started again.

Even though governments have short memories and choose to forget the lessons of previous disasters, the work of the media to continue to focus on some of these issues cannot be overstated. These issues escape popular consciousness if our focus shifts or disappears altogether, making it virtually impossible for people living in such perennial disaster areas to be heard by those who make policy.

The same argument can be applied to industrial pollution and the neglect of safety measures by industries using hazardous materials.

On May 7, 2020, at the exit of the LG Polymer chemical plant of RR Venkatapuram in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Eleven people died and hundreds were affected by the gas in villages around the plant. The reason was a malfunction in the cooling system of two chemical tanks that had been left unattended.

Following the accident, the media woke up. Stories have been written. We were also reminded that this accident was of lesser magnitude but similar in several respects to what is still called the world’s worst industrial disaster: the Bhopal gas tragedy where 40 tons of methyl isocyanate escaped from one in December 1984. Thousands of people were killed that night and many more in the months and years that followed. The health of those who survived was permanently impaired. And until today, these victims of the Bhopal tragedy feel they have never obtained justice.

But remembering Bhopal was that he raised the question of the location of industries using dangerous chemicals. Those most affected that night in Bhopal were those living in a dense settlement, literally outside the gates of Union Carbide. Thirty-six years later, those who suffered in Visakhapatnam were those who lived near the LG Polymers factory. What changed?

This immutable scenario of industrial establishment is reproduced in the way in which industries continue to pollute the air, water and soil despite environmental laws and the existence of institutions responsible for ensuring their implementation. This is one of the most distressing facts that emerges from the latest report released by the Center for Science and Environment, or CSE.

In 2009, the Central Pollution Control Commission set up a Global Environmental Pollution Index, or CEPI, to monitor industrial clusters and the pollution levels surrounding them.

Between 2009 and 2018, reports the CSE, rather than an improvement in these levels, there was a sharp deterioration. Of the 88 industrial clusters monitored during this period, air quality deteriorated in 33, water quality in 45, and soil pollution increased in 17. In other words, despite a system that checked whether industries located in these places followed pollution control standards, environmental parameters had deteriorated.

This is certainly a statement not only on the ineffectiveness of pollution control boards, or rather their inability to enforce environmental regulations, but also on the attitude of owners of industries that continue to pollute. and only stop if they are caught and / or sanctioned. We also need to study how the health of people living near these polluted industrial clusters has been affected.

Coming back to Uttarakhand, in 2010 the National Green Tribunal Act was passed. This was done expressly so that those affected by development projects, such as thermal power plants or mining, could have a say before such projects were authorized under the provisions of the 1986 Act. the protection of the environment.

However, often poor communities do not hear about a project, or that it has been authorized, until the process is almost complete. By the time they get organized and gather the necessary resources to file an appeal against such a project before the Green National Court, it is often too late because a deadline has been set.

This by Jay Mazoomdaar in the Indian express highlights how NGT continues to reject appeals on minor technical grounds rather than being sympathetic to those who approach it. It had replaced the former National Environmental Appeals Authority precisely because an independent and fair system was needed to hear complaints from project-affected communities who are often also the most marginalized. Also in this case, there is one more story to be told about the groups that turned to NGT, who they are and how they see the future.

Environmental journalism is at the crossroads of politics, politics and people. It is precisely for this reason that it is a challenge since it requires journalists to understand all of this as well as the technical aspects. Gone are the days when newspapers had environmental correspondents tasked with investigating and writing such stories. Now it is left to dedicated organizations like the CSE and its journal, , , a portal specializing in environmental and conservation stories, or the .

The deterioration of our natural environment and the continued and deliberate pollution of our water, air and land take the greatest toll on the poor, but ultimately affect everyone. Despite this, environmental concerns hardly ever figured in election speeches or on the agendas of political parties. It is highly doubtful that the election season we have entered will see any change in this regard.


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