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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 16-17, April 20, April 27, 2024

Green Manifesto | Asha Gopinathan

Saturday 20 April 2024


I write this as a very concerned citizen who has been following the environmental crisis on the planet closely. I do not claim to be an ‘ expert’ and am open to a critique of what I have written below from people who work closely at the ground with these issues along with the affected communities. I see this as a beginning blue-print for a people’s manifesto which we should present to our politicians and make them accountable to us. As I am currently based in Kerala, many of the examples cited are from there.

I am concerned that environmental issues including the climate crisis has not been a campaign issue in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections even though we are approaching a planetary crisis in this regards. Take a look at the extreme heat, rain events around the planet. Bengaluru – India’s IT city is now facing a major water crisis. As I write this there are reports of extreme flooding from Oman and the UAE.

I do not believe that any of the major national parties or even the smaller regional parties have made this part of their campaign or brought up these issues in their manifestos. So I am presenting here the outline of a Green Manifesto intended for sustainable development. I hope that the floods of 2018 in Kerala and the Covid pandemic have made it only imperative that we think of these issues as important. I hope that once the political parties realise that those of us who think this way are a vote bank – they will make amends in their ways. Meanwhile, I hope that by the next elections, a Green Socialist party will be in place so we can vote for them.

1) Taking the environment into concern before launching a major project. Not diluting or doing away with the Environmental Impact Assessment or the Green Tribunal.

a) In the Himalayas – the unnecessary road widening and tunneling for ‘ spiritual ‘ tourism. True pilgrims will not mind taking a slightly narrow road or even walking a stretch to reach their destination. That is after all the meaning of pilgrimage.

b) Similar projects being launched in Kerala in Sabarimala.

c) Forests in the North East and the tribal belt being destroyed by almost 1.5 million hectares or more in the past twenty years in the name of road construction despite local protests [1].

d) Dilution of the Forest Conservation rules affecting the lives of tribals to aid corporate mining interests.

2) Vizhinjam sea port came with a lot of environmental concerns by the local communities.

a) They were against the breaking down of the Western Ghats in Kerala and now in Tamil Nadu to get rocks to build this port. They predicted that it would cause sea erosion. All of this is happening before our eyes. And the profits are to go to one Mr. Adani. Where is the development here ?

b) It is assumed that the coming of this port is going to bring in lots of jobs, traffic etc. So huge highways are being constructed. Whereever we look we see old, ancient trees being cut down and large four lane highways with apartments dangerously perched on either side of the road. Thanks to this we cannot travel anywhere in Kerala by road.

c) How do we ensure the livelihoods of those who have lost it due to the above factors.

3) Sea Erosion – The port construction has increased the sea erosion in neighbouring beaches uptil Kayamkulam or so. Mangrove forests should be planted where it is environmentally suited to curb erosion.

4) Western Ghats – The Madhav Gadgil report was thrown to the side by the Oomen Chandy Government in Kerala. This was followed by two diluted reports – Kasturirangan Committee report and the Oomen V Oomen report. Now we hear about none. The forests in the Ghats are making way for buildings, the animals whose home it is, now have no place to go except to wander into ‘human’ habitat looking for food. That is certainly makes headlines. How to do away with these nasty and angry animals ?

5) Technopark, Infopark, Industrial corridors – Why were the buildings for the Technopark and Industrial corridors not built in wasteland to begin with instead of destroying functional agricultural land? For every structure of this sort, double the amount of land should be kept aside to turn into agricultural areas and ecological restoration. This should be achieved at the expense of the companies that are making a profit by using what was once a green, fertile land. The local people should not just be compensated with money but also fertile land which they can cultivate again. This will also generate thousands of green jobs.

6) Overemphasis on private vehicle purchase and usage at the expense of green and clean public transport. Increase the numbers of electric buses especially during peak hours. Water transport should be developed and used.

7) Creating a park filled with native trees in each locality. No concrete or tiles to be used. Creation of these and their maintainence should create innumerable jobs. All kaavus – sacred groves to be protected and no construction allowed inside these.

8) Concrete and tiling around houses and establishments should be banned. Native plants and trees around buildings should be mandatory for permits.Those having a garden with trees should be given a subsidy to maintain it.

9) Rainwater harvesting should be undertaken along with restoration of existing ponds and cleaning up the river system.

10) It should be mandatory by law that every flat should have grey water treatment, rainwater harvesting, solar plants and atleast 50 percent of the compound green with native plants.

11 ) Protection of wetlands like Keezhatoor in Kannur district. No more of highway construction by destroying wetlands and forests. In Keezhatoor a viable alternate was proposed by the Shastra Sahitya Parishad which was turned down by the Government.

12) We have already lost many ancient trees and with it their DNA. A comprehensive DNA mapping of all trees to be carried out along with saving their seeds and creation of a gene bank so that these can be cultivated and grown again. Wherever possible move trees to another location without cutting them down. This is expensive, but surely the corporates who are benefitting from all this ‘development’ should be made to pay for this.

13) Creating data on ‘climate refugees’. We all saw thousands of poor migrants trudge their way back to their homes during the Covid crisis. We need more data on people who are forced to move away due to extreme climate events. This data should be gender sensitive as most extreme events affect women and children more than others.

14) Compulsory environmental education for children from Nursery till class 12 in the school system.

15) As I write this there are discussions on the Government’s Green Credit rules. Very valid critiques have been raised by ecosystem experts who point out that rewilding and restoring ecosystems should be the priority and not simply planting trees because forests are a complex mixture of soil, fungi, shrubs, vines and diverse trees [2] not to mention the various type of animals, birds, moths, butterflies and bees.

I believe that planting of trees, mangroves, ecosystem restoration, cleaning water bodies and operating them, DNA mapping of trees and plants, creating a genebank, creating a database of climate refugees and other related activities will generate lakhs of jobs. Additionally, environmental education teachers will get jobs in schools. That is also development. Why have our politicians missed this point ?

Asha Gopinathan
Neuroscientist and Writer

[1India lost 2.3 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2023., April 14, 2024

[2Pennisi, Elizabeth : Rare and ancient trees are key to a healthy forest,, 31 January, 2022

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