illegal mining in uttarakhand

by Ayushi Nagalia

Don’t you just love the sensation of walking barefoot on green lands, breathing in cool, fresh air, drinking safe, clean water to quench the thirst acquired after enjoying a delicious, healthy meal, made from fresh vegetables straight from your backyard garden? Don’t you like to go on such peaceful outings with the family, watching the elders discuss current political and social scenarios and the younger ones relishing the environment for what it is, beautiful and lively?
One does not need to be Wangari Maathai to care about these little joys gifted to us by nature and to want to preserve this source of life and delight. However, we constantly hear on the news and observe all around us, that no matter how much we want them to preserve it, our environment slowly yet steadily is depleting, and that affects not only it’s beautifying but also the quality of life we, as its inhabitants lead.
Why is it that the one thing that we need the most to survive is constantly abused by us?
It is because of our preoccupation with the conventional politics due to the neo-economic pressures, that we have no time to think of our political system from an ecological point of view.
In India, the biggest problem is that even though there are numerous social and civil society organizations and diligent individuals who work towards the green agenda, due to their nonchalant way of working, they are recognized as ‘activists’ instead of ‘leaders’.

They are deemed as not fit to govern, even though these are the people who have the most knowledge in the ecological discipline. The reason behind this is that we Indians consider other issues greater than environmental issues. What needs to be understood is that gradually, environmental issues would so deeply degrade human life, that without a happy, healthy population, even if the government does its job efficiently in all departments other than environmental issues, their efforts towards any amount of social and technological would be moot.

An example of an effective, environmentalist government is the government of Copenhagen. The city of Copenhagen is moving rapidly towards becoming the first ever carbon neutral city in the world. Copenhagen launched its carbon neutrality scheme in 2009 when it hosted the UN Climate Change Conference. Copenhagen’s heating and cooling infrastructure play a major role in cutting down the carbon emission.  Waste heat from power plants is used to keep buildings warm via the world’s largest district heating network, or where waters from the city harbor are deployed to cool department stores, office buildings, hotels, and data centers. One of Copenhagen’s most innovative infrastructures is the Adelgade cooling plant. The plant draws cool seawater from a pipe located near the Nyhavn Canal and then delivers this water through insulated pipes to buildings. These pipes are located underground in the same tunnels as the pipes distributing steam for heat regulation via Copenhagen’s district heating network.

The European Union considers Biomass made from wood to be carbon neutral as long as the deforested land is reforested so that the new trees would absorb the carbon emissions made from using biomass. As a result, Copenhagen city hall gave a grant of 3.7 million kroner to plant 23,700 trees in 2016. By 2025, they plan to plant as much as 100,000 trees. Coal use would be completely replaced by biomass by 2025.

Another key component of becoming a net zero-carbon city is further reducing the use of cars. 36 percent of trips to work or school in the Danish capital are made by bike, and more than 20,000 cyclists enter the city center at peak hours, filling Copenhagen’s 249 miles of cycle tracks. The improvements in Copenhagen’s bicycling infrastructure includes “green wave” traffic signals set to the speed of oncoming bikes, angled footrests that enable cyclists to rest without dismounting at intersections.

Copenhagen would also invest in alternative fuels to run cars with the lease possible carbon footprint. The city projects that 20% to 30% of all cars and small trucks, and 30% to 40% of all heavy vehicles, will run on electricity, hydrogen, biogas, or bioethanol by 2025. As we can very well see the fruits of an efficient government in Copenhagen, it is not just the government that affects the entire system. e, as citizens, play a vital role in any kind of enhancement in our life. In order to ensure sustainable development of the environmental conditions, we need to make sure that the people we give the responsibility of shaping our policies and governing us care for these issues as deeply as we do; and to make sure that our politicians and our election candidates know that our priority is ecological development, we need to vote.  Our votes are the best way to let the government know about the issues we care about the most.

Environmentalists all around the world have taken it upon themselves to make sure that the government hears their voice and reforms their agendas according to the urgent need of today’s world. Whenever election season approaches, some or the other environmentalist group decides to get people to voice their opinions directly to the government by casting their vote for candidates who recognize environmental issues and pledge to take a step forward towards the improvement of the environment.

Many such campaigns have been witnessed by the world, the most popular ones being the ‘Vote our Planet’ and the ‘Vote the Environment’ campaigns by Patagonia, an American clothing line that contributes 10% of its profits to environmental groups. The main motive of the ‘Vote our Environment’ campaign was to urge American citizens to take action and vote to protect the planet by voting for leaders who support clean air, clean water, strong climate action, and a shift to regenerative agriculture and a more sustainable economy.

It is very important for us to understand that all of us need a healthy environment, even if we do not unswervingly address these issues and do not profoundly feel for them, without safe water to drink, clean air to inhale and safe soil to grow our vegetables in, we cannot survive.

As long as we do not put forward our concerns in front of the politicians, they will continue to preach for the same conventional political issues that would instead of improving the environment, deplete it even further.

We, as young voters believe that election candidates analyze the population effectively and then frame their policies according to the needs and pleasure of the society. However, we are completely wrong in this take, as it is a fact that politicians cannot and will not listen until we start voting for the causes we believe could better our way of life. It is on this very basis that the ‘Environmental Voter Project’ was formed.

The Environmental Voter Project recognized that even though there are indeed many people who care for the environment, they abstain from casting their votes, believing that since no political party or individual candidates support the subjects they feel for, casting their vote would be unserviceable.
Environmental Voter Project asks these citizens to not abstain from casting a vote, because by not voting, they do not let the issues they want solutions to, come in front of the politicians. Because of this, they do not pay any heed to them.It is the ugly truth of politics, that, politicians care only put their efforts into those issues that are represented by the majority. It is also true that politicians only care about the people who cast votes, because these are the people who would decide whether or not they would win the next elections, therefore they only focus on pleasing them, and the people who abstain from voting, completely get ignored, along with the causes they represent. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to cast your vote.

If we look into Uttarakhand itself, environmental issues keep multiplying here as time goes by. It is a shame that even in a Himalayan state like Uttarakhand, the candidates fail to recognize environmental issues on a large scale. Even after facing the Kedarnath calamity, after losing countless lives and an important heritage zone, environmental issues still take a backseat in the election candidate’s manifestos. In fact, the little campaigning changes in the favor of the environment made by the candidates were also due to the “Green Vote Bank” campaign regulated by ‘Making a Difference by Being the Difference’ in the capital city, Dehradun.

According to a MAD activist, Karan Kapoor, The Green Vote Bank was named so because MAD wanted to give a rather positive meaning to the term ‘vote bank’ which has always been looked upon as a way of poisoning the elections.
Their main motive is to voice people’s opinions to the politicians, and let them know that environmental issues too, are deeply cared about by a large populace of Uttarakhand, and to make people aware of the Environmental issues that Dehradun is facing currently and how they have been addressed by various candidates in their manifestos. Through the Green Vote Bank, MAD asks people to think about the environmental issues once before casting their votes. There is a vital need to examine in greater depth the complex relationship between prosperity, poverty and environmental degradation. Given the massive variety of the ecosystems, cultures, adaptive strategies, and styles of connections to the wider political economy, this will require an extensive commitment of time and money, besides activists’ intense participation. Therefore, a Green party is needed in India at the national level. The initiative currently in the name of the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party that began in January 2009, is just a stepping-stone that hopefully ignites the Indian imagination to form a Green party at the national level.  Our Government was been hijacked by corporate interests and paralyzed by partisan ideologies, therefore, we must fight to make it again act like the impartial governing organ it is supposed to be. A vote for candidates who will protect clean air and safe drinking water is a vote for public health. It is a shame that even the government only cares about generating profits and does not value the significance of the environment.

It is a fact that if a chemical plant is contaminating a river, and is also paying some regular ‘compensations’ to the government, our politicians would turn blind to the fate of the river. It is a shame that we have to fight with our government for our own environment.

It is crucial that citizens play a direct role in the decisions that influence their lives and their environment therefore, even if we elect an environmental majority, we must still push these officers beyond their political comfort zones to stand up to moneyed interests and fight the political and environmental malaise. Making Uttarakhand rise to the level of Copenhagen is indeed, for too ambitious, but reaching to even a 10% level of their development is an achievement that would make our environments safe not only for us, but also for our future generations to come.

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