Water had a big role to play last year due to weather-related events- first, the floods in Uttarakhand followed by three consecutive cyclones in South India and hailstorms in Maharashtra.
A recent poll in Delhi has shown that today, the common man is looking for a leader who can provide basic needs at affordable prices. People in urban as well as rural areas, want round-the-clock supply of potable water. While that might seem like a person's right, it isn't the norm in many parts of India even now. In Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka for example, a campaign has been initiated for people to rate politicians against the injustice done to them in the name of the Yettinahole river diversion project.
Given the situation, it's even more important now than ever before for political parties to make their stand clear on the subject of water:
- What are the problems in equitable access?
- How are they going to deal with these issues?
- Are the parties making any promises that voters need to be aware of?
The manifestos of all the major parties with regards to water, may not address these nagging questions clearly but they give some idea on the priority that each party is giving to the subject. With the elections already underway, have a look at the commitments that parties are making to tackle peoples' water woes over the next five years.
National Manifesto of the Indian National Congress (INC)
The Indian National Congress has put water conservation for agriculture, rural and urban development at the heart of its program. It proposes to set up a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority for conducting time-bound environmental appraisals to fast track the clearance process. It will launch the ‘Green National Accounts’ to keep an account of the costs of environmental degradation. Here are the proposals the party has made on water-related issues:
- Learning from the Ganga experience, it proposes to clean rivers on a large scale by constituting an empowered, well-funded special purpose agency.
- It calls for making water sustainable and affordable for the people. It proposes to price water in such a way that it will encourage consumers to conserve water.
- It will ensure the installation of functional toilets at every school and household.
- It has proposed to set up a legal and institutional framework for drinking and irrigation water for the rural population.
- For farmers’ welfare and agriculture development, it has proposed to invest in water reforms by adding one crore hectares to total irrigated area through the completion of the radical Water Reforms Agenda of the 12th Plan. It calls for investing in agricultural education and promoting agricultural practices like integrated farming, organic farming and developing wastelands for dry land farming. Protection of crop profits and decreasing farmers’ interest rates is also on the agenda.
- It proposes to establish a new Ministry of Fisheries.
- It proposes to continue implementation of JNNURM-II and ensure better sewage facilities for urban areas. It will also ensure monitoring the process of natural resource allocation in urban areas.
National Manifesto of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)
BJP has released the National Manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on April 7 after seeking people’s suggestions and ideas for formulating it and thereby, trying to go from a Representative Democracy to a Participatory Democracy. The party has given highest priority to issues of water security in its manifesto, given that the latest trends show that India would be a 'water stressed' nation by 2050. It has also committed to give priority to cleanliness and sanitation issues by setting up efficient waste and water management systems.
Let's have a look at what the party is committing to for the upcoming elections:
- It proposes to launch the 'Pradhan Mantri Gram Sinchayee Yojana' with a motto of 'har khet ko paani'. The scheme aims to launch a multi-pronged 'water strategy' for reducing farmer's dependence on rains and increase the irrigated land by completing the long pending irrigation projects. It also calls for introducing and promoting low water consuming irrigation techniques for optimum utilization of water resources.
- It proposes to create an open defecation free India by awareness campaigns and enabling people to build toilets in their homes, schools and public places. It also calls for introducing sanitation ratings measuring and ranking cities and towns on 'sanitation' and rewarding the best performers.
- It promises to address the issue of flood control in Assam and river water management.
- For upgrading the existing urban centres, the party proposes to shift focus from basic infrastructure to public utility services like waste and water management for a clean and healthy city life.
- It proposes to recharge groundwater by harvesting rainwater and carry out examination of groundwater to eliminate toxic chemicals, particularly arsenic and fluorides. Encouraging efficient use and water conservation is also on the party's agenda.
- It calls for installing sewage treatement plants to prevent pollution of rivers and setting up desalination plants for supplying drinking water in coastal areas.
- In order to ensure drinking water security to all, the party will encourage setting up of drinking water supply grid in water scarce areas and facilitate piped water to all households. It will promote decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed water resource management, water supply and environmental sanitation. It also proposes to make India diarrhoeas-free by providing potable water to all.
- It proposes to interlink rivers depending upon the feasibility.
- It wants to transform the quality of life of women in rural India by providing toilets and tapped water in every home.
National Manifesto of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)
The manifesto of the Aam Aadmi Party has placed both economy and ecology in the same trajectory giving equal importance to both these issues, unlike their competitors who have given more importance to the former.
Let’s see what the new Indian political party has on its agenda to win the Lok Sabha elections.
- Prime importance will be given to the protection of the rights of Gram Sabhas or the local communities. It has proposed that the exploitation of natural resources or acquisition of land within a Gram Sabha can only be done after the consent of the Gram Sabhas. It also calls for making Gram Sabhas the prime beneficiaries of any development taking place in their local regions. In other words, AAP aims for a fuller implementation of the Forest Rights Act.
- Ownership of all the major natural resources like rivers, forests and major minerals will be left with the state while ownership of rainwater, minor forest produce and minor minerals will be vested with the local communities.
- Local and decentralized water resources will be developed through extensive rainwater harvesting, watershed development, soil-water conservation programs, small water projects and alternative cropping patterns.
- Access to basic needs like water and toilets will be provided to every citizen in the country.
Support to farmers in local watershed management schemes will be offered to reduce their dependence on large-scale projects. It will also support farmers in ecologically sustainable agriculture, special marketing incentives for organic produce and promoting indigenous varieties of crops and livestock.
National Manifesto of the Communist Party of India (CPI)
For the protection of water resources, CPI plans not to lease out water resources for commercial purpose. They promise to ensure clean drinking water for all, control indiscriminate use of groundwater resources and protect and maintain traditional lakes, ponds and other water resources and also rainwater harvest.
Following are several other commitments on water issues that the party has made:
- Creating a new Ministry of Fisheries to safeguard the rights of the Indian fishing community and to protect the communities from foreign attacks.
- The party commits to radical reforms and distribution of land to the landless for agriculture and cultivation purposes. It also calls for interest free loans to small and marginal farmers and compulsory insurance cover premium for the crops.
- Ban on eviction of tribals from forest land is also on the agenda of CPI and it also proposes to strictly implement forest laws to protect the rights of tribal population.
National Manifesto of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
CPI (M) plans to stop privatization of water resources and formulate a fresh National Water Policy that will emphasize on conserving and recharging water to enhance its availability through effective regulation and demand management. The manifesto of CPI (M) has also mentioned that special efforts will be made to build its relationship with Bangladesh and settle the Teesta waters agreement.
- The party proposes to launch a National Soil Amelioration and Replenishment Programme along with sustainable management of water resources.
- Through effective regulation and enforcement, the party proposes to check pollution in rivers and other water bodies and tackle groundwater depletion by strengthening the Central and state's regulatory authorities. It also calls for initiating immediate measures to prevent degradation and destructive development on river beds and flood plains.
- It proposes to empower the states to handle natural and climate-related disasters by adopting and implementing climate resilient development strategies keeping in mind the needs of the vulnerable population.
- The party calls for expanding the drinking water and sanitation facilities to all scheduled caste families and scheduled caste-inhabited areas, tribal areas, and to the urban poor at affordable prices.
- The party proposes to amend the Coastal Regulation Zone Act and Notification (2011) to protect the habitat and livelihood of coastal people and fishworkers. It will uphold their right to fishing in water bodies' and ban foreign trawlers and destructive fishing practices by big trawlers.
National Manifesto of the All India Trinamool Congress
With a vision and mission to achieve all the goals it has presented in its manifesto, the All India Trinamool Congress has made the following commitments on water-related issues to the people of india:
- The party proposes to provide safe drinking water to 100% of the population in a time-bound manner and make an effort towards applying appropriate technologies to provide safe and pure drinking water, especially to the rural population. Also, a special initiative will be taken to provide safe drinking water to arid regions of the country and those with problems like salinity, arsenic, fluoride etc.
- The party proposes to amend the Environment Law to make it eco-friendly and people-oriented and also create the New Energy Policy to focus on issues pertaining to hydropower and other sources of energy like natural gas, thermal power, CBM, etc.
- It proposes to launch Water Transportation Corridors for Rivers across the country including the Ganga, Hooghly, Brahmaputra, Teesta, Brahmani, Mahanadi, Krishna, Godavari, Narmada, Riverine Sunderban Delta, and the backwaters of Kerala, in order to fully utilize the full potential of the rivers for cargo transportation, tourist cruises and heritage tourism.
- The party proposes to formulate an action plan on harvesting rainwater and water distribution for domestic and agriculture use.
- The party aims to provide top priority to the agriculture sector and fisheries. It proposes to ensure an appropriate procurement price for crops like rice, wheat, jute etc. for farmers. Also, the Farmers Productivity Initiative has been proposed for increasing the productivity with a special focus on production, distribution and research of high quality seeds. The party calls for the implementation of a village and people-centric policy for industrialization of agriculture and allied services to tackle rural unemployment.
Environmental concerns addressed?
While a lot of the manifestos address issues around water at least in a cursory manner, environmentalists feel that the proposals are a bit vague since they don't address how these commitments will be carried out. Can air pollution be checked unless the number of vehicles allowed on the road is reduced or can local community lands be protected without slowing down big infrastructure projects?
Elections are an opportunity for voters to choose their leader, a person who will hopefuly bridge the gap between promises and reality. Could the subject of water decide who will win this time around?