Environmental Imagery in MCD Elections: Political Parties Promise Moon to Voters
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Environmental issues plaguing Delhi for a long time are now being featured conspicuously in the campaigning of political parties contesting the December 4 Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections.
Vying for votes, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress are promising nothing short of the moon to voters. Significant for many firsts, most importantly being the inaugural electoral contest for a unified MCD, prominent political parties have calculatingly zeroed in on the environmental crisis. Consequently, Delhi voters are witnessing promises galore in party manifestoes, speeches, words and songs.
Delhi’s environmental saga
Even before the climate change discourse entered the daily parlance, Delhi residents had been living an environmental nightmare. Poor-to-severe Air Quality Index (AQI), the recurrent haze of smog and industrial pollution have taken a toll on their health steadily since the 1990s when the Supreme Court intervened to monitor and regulate polluting businesses and establishments in and around Delhi.
Ordering the closure and relocation of more than 1,300 highly polluting industries from Delhi’s residential areas beyond the National Capital Region (NCR) in a phased manner, the apex court in 1995 also directed multiple brick kilns to be relocated outside the city limits.
Fast forward to 2022. Delhi’s environmental woes are far from over. In August, New Delhi was ranked as the most polluted city in the world in terms of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 concentrations, according to the State of Global Air report. I March, New Delhi was ranked as the most polluted out of 107 capital cities in the world in terms of annual average PM 2.5 levels in 2021, according to the 2021 World Air Quality Report.
Compared to 1989, when it was the fourth most-polluted city, New Delhi’s situation has steadily worsened. Political neglect and short-sightedness are as much to blame as the polluting industries and haphazard urbanisation in the national capital.
The city’s choked waterbodies, depleting groundwater table, humongous garbage dumps, untreated and excessive sewage and waterlogging are further compounded by the impact of stubble burning in neighbouring states.
Of Delhi’s 1,000 traditional water bodies, more than 500 have either dried up, been encroached upon or acquired for infrastructure development. Domestic sewage generated in the Capital is the primary reason for the Yamuna’s pollution and contributes to more than 80% of the total effluents being discharged into the river, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) said in its reply to a right-to-information query.
What do the manifestos promise
As part of its ‘Ten Guarantees for MCD Elections’, the AAP, which got a 26.23% voter share in the 2017 MCD elections, promises to “Clean Delhi by getting rid of the city’s three landfills”. Ending the stray animal menace, beautifying parks and ensuring world-class health infrastructure are some of its other commitments if the party wins.
The BJP, which bagged 181 out of the total 272 MCD seats in 2017, presents its ‘Twelve-Point Vachan Patra’ to the public asserting, “By incorporating pollution control, it will make Delhi a sustainable and green city and make electricity from garbage.” Basic facilities will be increased and improved in slums, rural areas, unauthorized colonies and JJ clusters if the BJP comes to power again.
The Congress, which could manage only 21% votes and 31 seats in the last MCD elections, has presented an ‘Eleven- point Programme’ which claims bringing down the alarming air pollution and reducing the contamination of the Yamuna would be its top priorities. The party promises a drainage master plan for MCD in sync with other public authorities to eliminate drain water, and improved civic amenities, especially for the scheduled castes and minorities, JJ clusters and other unauthorised colonies.
In a nutshell, the Congress has promised RO water to 28 lakh families instead of the ‘free yet unclean water’ being provided to the residents and the removal of unprocessed waste of what it refers to as ‘Kude Ka Qutub Minar’ at three landfill sites besides focusing on sustainable solid waste management to maximise recycling and minimise waste for landfills.
Clean land, water and air
Both BJP and AAP have launched theme songs to bait and counter each other. The BJP released its theme song in the voice of Manoj Tiwari. Sung by the party’s Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari, the punchline of the song is: “BJP ka matlab sewa hai, sevak hame banaye rakhna (The BJP symbolises the spirit of service to the people. Therefore, continue to give us the opportunity to serve you).”
The song applauds the BJP’s efforts in removing garbage from the streets of Delhi, reducing the height of landfill sites and generating electricity from garbage. While attacking the AAP, the BJP’s musical messages say, ‘Thanks to [chief minister Arvind] Kejriwal, Delhi has become a gas chamber and Yamuna a drain.”
Countering the BJP, the AAP’s theme song MCD mein bhi Kejriwal (Kejriwal in the MCD too), sung by journalist-turned-party leader Dilip Pandey, conveys the point that “people are prepared. It’s Kejriwal’s turn this time because three mountains of garbage have to be removed from Delhi and the city has to be made clean and beautiful”.
What will voters choose? Party or the issue?
Highlighted by all three parties in their manifestos are without doubt the issues of development and environment (garbage, clean water, better sanitation, air pollution and pollution in the Yamuna), which are very central in the elections. While the AAP accuses the BJP, which has been in power in the MCD for 15 years, of raising three mountains of garbage in Delhi, the latter criticises the former for air pollution and its inability to provide clean water and check the contamination of the Yamuna.
At the same time, the Congress, reminiscing CM Sheila Dixit’s term as the “Golden Age”, is criticising the other two parties for their failure to reduce pollution, provide clean water and check the contamination of the Yamuna.
How much the rhetoric will pay off, for which party and how many of the tall claims regarding environmental management, infrastructural development and health will stand the test of time, only election results and public policy in the forthcoming years will tell.
Pankaj Kumar Jha teaches political science at Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi, and Bobby Luthra Sinha is the deputy director at the Centre for Asian African and Latin American Studies, Institute of Social Sciences Delhi.
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