The environmental impact of an Indian election

The timing of this piece cannot be more appropriate as the world environment day is just around the corner, observed annually on the 5th of June. The world is witnessing the biggest democratic exercise in history with India being the venue. Close to 900 million India are electing the next government at the central and the state levels. While, we Indians are proud of this mighty feat, there is another critical issue that needs to be addressed. The Indian civilization has always fostered and propagated reverence for nature.

The Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas are full of hymns and chanting extolling mother earth and on protecting environment. Ancient Indians understood the intimate relationship between man and nature and hence prescribed ways to live in harmony with nature and maintaining a balance. Fast forward to the 20th and the 21st centuries, India and Indians have forgotten the wisdom of living in harmony with nature. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the land we inhabit has witnessed a devastating impact of rapid urbanization and economic progress through industrialization.

While the much touted Swatchh Bharat Mission (SBM) launched by Prime Minister Modi in 2014 was a moderate success, there are some indispensable issues that have not been addressed. Issues like handling plastic, chemicals, medical waste have not garnered any attention from the SBM whose primary focus was on improving hygiene and constructing toilets in rural and semi urban India. However, these are separate issues that warrant another discussion. Since, it is the election season; it would be more prudent to discuss the impact this quinquennial affair on the environment. It is rather strange that not a single media house either print or television has taken up such an important issue, who constantly discuss politics of religion and cannot look beyond into other critical issues faced by this country.

Election related merchandise

One of the biggest concerns is the onslaught on environment of the election related merchandise that is distributed to the masses of the country by every political party. In India election season is seen as a festival by the masses who eagerly await the distribution of merchandise by their Netas. This is something common across party lines and everybody political party needs to be blamed. Election related merchandise includes flags (both plastic and cloth), caps, shawls, banners, placards, letters, food carry bags and even alcohol bottles. This merchandise is forgotten as soon as the elections are done and are mostly discarded leaving no scope for recycling.

Imagine a major proportion of the 900 million people mostly in rural India who are not aware of the environmental impact of synthetic material discarding them in their habitats! This is nothing short of a disaster and will adversely impact not only the environment but also the flora, fauna and eventually people dwelling in rural areas where health and hygiene are already a major concern. Not to forget the energy expended into manufacturing the merchandise in the first place which has its own carbon footprint. India is a home to 17% of the world’s population with just 2% of its land area.

The gigantic rallies and public meetings

While this culture of reverence for the Netas by the masses of India is not new, the environmental impact of these mega rallies, road shows and meetings is huge. Hand waving netas move amidst the masses with the grandeur of the Maharajas of the bygone era. Sometimes, the presence of such mega crowds at public meetings is more to satisfy the gargantuan egos of the Netas more than anything else. The rallies consist of not only the convoys of the politician’s vehicles but also the motorbikes and vehicles of their admirers and followers. And of course the vehicles do not run on electricity as Tesla’s cars are not yet affordable for the common folks. Let us also remember yet another contribution to the air pollution, the choppers and private jets used by politicians to reach various constituencies. The other cause for pollution during the election campaigns and rallies is the usage of blaring loud speakers playing songs and being a source of noise pollution which has its own harmful side effects.

Are green elections the way ahead?

Keeping in mind the environmental hazards of the largest democratic exercise, it would be prudent to have green election campaigns in the future. With the percolation of the smart phones even into rural India, technology can play a significant role even in election campaigning. The direct money transfer into bank accounts of rural Indians has ushered in a great deal of transparency and plugged in leaks due to middlemen. Similarly, politicians can become accessible to people in rural and remote areas even via social media and teleconferences. Election mega rallies need to be reduced or completely banned along with distribution of merchandise. Or the merchandise distributed should be organic and biodegradable. Aspiring politicians and politicians in power should visit their constituencies during the 4 non election years and not just before the elections.

Any merchandise that is found in violation to the requirements of biodegradability requires politicians to either pay hefty fines or even perhaps get their nominations cancelled. The usage of plastic by politicians in election rallies needs to be completely banned. This will ensure the transmission of the message to the masses regarding the hazards of the presence of materials like plastic and other synthetically fabricated materials in the environment. Unique campaigns through teleconferencing and social media will send a loud and clear message and even reduce the distribution of black money in the elections which has been a menace in the history of elections in independent India. A lot of energy is saved, carbon foot print reduced, air, land, water and noise pollution completely avoided. Fuels used by vehicles in rallies can be completely saved and electricity used for loud speakers can be conserved. In short by implementing these simple measures an environmental disaster every five years can be comprehensively avoided.

In conclusion it would be apt to invoke the Shanti Mantra of the Yajurveda which wishes for peace and harmony for both men and nature.

ॐ द्यौः शान्तिरन्तरिक्षं शान्तिः पृथिवी शान्तिरापः शान्तिरोषधयः शान्तिः । वनस्पतयः शान्तिर्विश्वेदेवाः
शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्तिः सर्वं शान्तिः शान्तिरेव शान्तिः सा मा शान्तिरेधि ॥ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

May there be peace in space, on earth, in water for plants, trees, animals, the environment and the universe. Let only peace, peace and peace alone prevail.

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