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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 17, April 19, 2014

Climate-incompatible Elections in India

Sunday 20 April 2014

by Anwar Sadat and Sarwar Sadat

Climate change, which poses an existential threat to mankind is not an issue for the 16th Lok Sabha elections, 2014. The existing climate change regime does not bind India to reduce greenhouse gases as per the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. India is permitted not to mitigate greenhouse gases. But the severe impacts of climate change, which are purely local and developmental in character, cannot be ignored by any party. The party manifestos of all the major political parties, including the ruling Congress, is silent on the impacts of climate change which manifest in water scarcity in many parts of India, and are also reflected in drought and desertification. Since climate change has the potential to derail our developmental efforts and deplete our basic necessity—‘water’—there is a demand that all the major parties must include in their manifestos climate change as the driver of development and the programmes and strategies attending to it should be detailed while campaigning in the area or constituency showing vulnerability to the extremes of weather.

A major part of India’s population of 1027 million with the decadal growth of 21.34 per cent from 2001 to 2011 is rural and agriculturally oriented, for whom the rivers and groundwater are the source of prosperity. The country already faces major challenges to increase its food production to the tune of 300 mt by 2020 in order to feed its ever-growing population, which is likely to reach 1.30 billion by the year 2020. To meet the demand for food from this increased population, the country’s farmers need to produce 50 per cent more grain by 2020. It is feared that the fast increasing demand for food in the next two or three decades could be quite grim particularly in view of the serious problem of soil degradation and climate change.

A warmer climate will accelerate the hydrologic cycle, altering rainfall, magnitude and timing of run-off. Agricultural demand, particularly for irrigation water, which is a major share of total water demand of the country, is more sensitive to climate change. A change in the field-level climate may alter the need and timing of irrigation. Increased dryness may lead to growing demand. It is projected that most irrigated areas in India would require more water around 2025. In India, roughly 52 per cent of irrigation consumption across the country is extracted from groundwater; there-fore, it can be an alarming situation with decline in groundwater and increase in irrigation requirements due to climate change.1

THE monsoon is likely to be seriously disrupted, and coastal cities are vulnerable to more frequent severe storms and to sea-level rise. Those living in a poor rural area or an urban slum are far more familiar with the dangers of severe weather patterns than people living comfortably in the rich world. Even though Hurricane Katrina received considerable attention, the monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, killed 1000 people in 2009.

The voters not casting their votes on the ground of climate change being linked to local and national issues does not absolve the representatives from their responsibility to make statements on the gravity of the threat and its impacts at the popular level. Though Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh once described the Himalayas as the water tower of Asia, the environment chapter of the Congress manifesto is not climate-compatible in any sense. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s developmental efforts are not driven with the objective of adapting to the impacts of climate change. It is well known to the leaders of the major political parties that the main rivers of north India rise in the Himalayas and the glaciers are already retreating rapidly; they have retreated by 15 per cent in the last forty years. Available records suggest that the Gangotri glacier is retreating about 28 metres per year.2 A warming is likely to increase the melting more rapidly than
the accumulation. If its capacity to hold water continues to reduce rapidly, India is going to face unmanageable torrents in the rainy season and dry rivers at other times.

As many as 99 districts, spread over 14 States, were identified by the Central Water Commission (CWC) as drought-prone in the country. Most of the drought-prone areas so identified are concentrated in the States of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maha-rashtra and Gujarat. These States have been ruled either by the Congress or the BJP; both are focused on the winnability aspect of the candidates. Though the issue of freshwater is raised by the political parties, but its avail-ability and adequate supply to the people is not backed up with concrete programmes driven by the driver of climate change.

The study has revealed that some parts of the country are going to face the severity of droughts. Luni with the west-flowing rivers, Kutch and Saurashtra which occupy about one-fourth of the area of Gujarat and 60 per cent of the area of Rajasthan shall face acute water conditions of water scarcity. The river basins of Mahi, Pennar, Sabarmati and Tapi shall also face water shortage conditions. The river basins belonging to Cauvery, Ganga, Narmada and Krishna shall experience seasonal or regular water-stressed conditions.3

The representatives seeking election from these areas should have presented their perspective on the strategy of how to deal with water-stressed conditions. It should be made mandatory for the candidates that they have to undertake national communication to quantify the impact of climate change on the hydrologic regime of the river systems. This task is highly technical and professional and it should be provided to them by the hydrologists, ecological economists, industrial engineers and policy- makers working with the government or outside it.

Another deficit this election is suffering from is the institutional capacity building at various levels. The creation of a unified framework and its maintenance is a gigantic task which can be achieved only through major policy restruc-turing of the institutions at different levels of management.


1. R.K. Mall, Akhilesh Gupta, Ranjeet Singh, R. S. Singh and L. S. Rathore, “Water Resources and Climate Change: An Indian Perspective”, Current Science, vol. 90, no. 12, June 25, 2006, p. 1624.

2. Ibid., p. 1614.

3. India’s National Communication to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 72-82.

Dr Anwar Sadat is a Professor of International Environmental Law, Indian Society of International Law, New Delhi. He can be contacted at sadatshazia@gmail.com Sarwar Sadat is an independent researcher in the field of Geography based in Munger, Bihar.