JUST how much do we know about what is happening across the Country? India is a large, federal country. Different states are doing different things. Are there any signs of hope anywhere, efforts that can inspire, common patterns and things all of us should know about?
In order to find this out, we decided to reach out to the country's environmental community and the readers of Down To Earth (DTE). While the readers of DTE would give us an impressionistic picture of what they know about what is happening in their state, we thought the environmental community could give us a peer view of what is actually taking place. And we thought, we could get all this information through a process in which we would rate the effectiveness of the chief ministers (CMs) in promoting sustainable development. The results would reveal the level of confidence environmentalists have in the political leadership their state.
Fortunately, both the environmental community and DTE readers responded enthusiastically to the questionnaire. We were able to include all the CMs in the final results, but for a few states where the number of respondents was too small. They were the CMs of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland, besides the CMs of Delhi, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa, who were removed from office before we went to press.
Once the results were tabulated, DTE reporters visited the states whose CMs had been rated highly in order to ascertain further the opinions of the local civil society; see some of the programmes implemented by the CM concerned and talk to the CM to get his views on the nature of the challenges ahead.
While a few CMs - Pawan Kumar Chamling of Sikkim and Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh - have been given high marks by environmentalists of their respective states, DTE readers in Andhra Pradesh have rated Chandrababu Naidu highly. On the other hand, Rabri Devi of Bihar and E K Nayanar of Kerala were low down in ratings by both. The overall results are both disturbing and interesting:
The results show that hardly any CM has tried to conceptualise and implement an overall strategy for sustainable development for both urban and rural areas. The various measures initiated are largely ad hoc and piecemeal.
Comments by environmentalists show that watershed development, afforestation, Control on the use of plastic bags and involvement of non-governmental organisations are attracting interest of several CMs. Even though air and water pollution is growing, very few CMs have taken a serious interest in this. Opposition to specific dams and hydel projects received mention in the case of three: P K Chamling of Sikkim, Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh and W Nipamacha Singh of Manipur.
The results do not show that CMs of any particular party are generating more confidence among environmentalists than those of other parties. In other words, if any CM is doing anything, it appears to be because of his or her free will. None of the major parties, therefore, have a policy to promote sustainable development. Environmentalists, however, have generally rated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) CMs - Kalyan Singh of Uttar Pradesh, Keshubhai Patel of Gujarat, and Manohar Joshi (of the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP alliance) of Maharashtra -rather badly. Only P K Dhumal of Himachal Pradesh was rated relatively high. Readers put Rabri Devi at the bottom of the heap. Environmentalists gave that place to Kalyan Singh.
But is anything changing? Improvements are being noticed in the rural environment by over two-thirds of environmentalists responding to our survey in only Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh. As regarding the urban environment, the credit only goes to Sikkim. And where is it worsening? A clear verdict in the case of urban environment is Assam, Bihar, Karnataka and Kerala. In the case of the rural environment, this credit goes to only Kerala.
Environmentalists across the country have been quite charitable to their CMs. Of the 20 CMs for whom results were compiled, as many as half received ratings as high as 10, which means "very good". It is hard to say why this is so. Is it because Indian environmentalists have very low expectations from their politicians? The high ratings of Prakash Singh Badal of Punjab raises several questions. Punjab's environmentalists who rated Badal could not provide sufficient reasons for rating him highly. One even rated him highly for waiving electricity bills for tube wells. While support for farmers is laudable, it is highly questionable whether free electricity is good for Punjab's groundwater resources. Clearly, there are very different perspectives within India's environmental community about what is sustainable development. Yet, nine out of 20 CMs received a final rating of less than five, which means they have done nothing or done things which are adverse. This shows that India's political system still has a long way to go.
When we compare the ratings given by environmentalists and readers, we find that four CMs, P K Chamling, Digvijay Singh, Prakash Singh Badal and Jyoti Basu, who have received relatively good ratings by environmentalists, have not fared so well at the hands of the readers. Is it because the environmentalists are wrong or because the CMs have not created enough awareness about their work? Generally, however, the readers' ratings are pretty close to those of the environmental community. Though why readers have given a much higher rating to Kalyan Singh and Keshubhai Patel remains a mystery.