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HT EDIT-When pollution turns political Leaders are realising that poor air quality can cost them power

November 21, 2019 05:36 AM


When pollution turns political
Leaders are realising that poor air quality can cost them power

When an issue reaches Parliament, it assumes political importance. And that is why the recent discussion on pollution in the Lok Sabha marks a significant moment in the politics around environmentalism in India. With Delhi reeling from hazardous levels of pollution for weeks, the issue has finally become political. And that is good, because an issue turning political means that leaders see it as a matter of pressing public urgency, and citizens are seeking solutions. The public pressure was visible when the presence of only six Members of Parliament at a standing committee meeting on the issue drew widespread criticism.

But being political also means that the issue gets caught up in partisan battles. The discussion took predictable turns. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blamed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of Arvind Kejriwal for failing to take action; AAP leaders outside the House blamed the central government; others pointed to the issue of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, while representatives from the two states said it was wrong to vilify the farmers. But beyond the political battles, constructive suggestions also emerged. The idea that Parliament should have a committee on pollution and climate change merits consideration. So does a more sustainable way to incentivise farmers whose burning practices contribute to the pollution, although a range of measures will need to be implemented for a comprehensive solution.

The technical solutions are important. But the key is political will. Politicians act when they know an issue can adversely affect their electoral fortunes. Public services in India have remained dismal for long because politicians thought that issues of identity and political arithmetic alone could deliver wins — and they did not need to deliver on governance. This has changed in recent times when public demand for better development outcomes has intensified. With citizens demanding clean air, politicians are waking up to the fact that a failure on this front could cost them power. They do not have all the answers yet, but there is a newly acquired seriousness. This can potentially lead to change.

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