Wednesday, January 26, 2011

People’s Courts and Environmentalism

Ravleen Kaur

Is it possible to do good politics with environmentalism as your tool? Well, that could be debatable, given the real ground realities in Punjab, but one thing is clear. You do need to educate yourself in environmentalism if you need to survive in politics in times when men like Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal inculcate in people the art to ask the right questions from politicians.
Take the case of last Lok Sabha elections in 2009. When the entire media was saying the elections were issue-less, the environment sage Seechewal forced one issue, and made the politicians come running to participate in his people’s conclaves.
But soon, the politicians were left to discover that the people have been educated enough by the environment movement not to swallow empty promises.
The moment you ask the right questions, the politician does not know how to respond since he has long lost the art opf engagement, thanks to a total disconnect between the people’s needs, concerns and expectations and the politcian’s ability to even understand it.
Baba Seechewal held people’s environmental courts and had invited the local politicians to respond to questions posed by the voters. The charge was the same against the politicians of all hue: the Congress, the SAD and the BJP had failed to stop the pollution of the state’s water bodies.
All that the people wanted was for the politicos to tell them about one specific programme for cleaning up the environment. While most politicians failed, the event went a long way to sensitise politicians on environmental issues.
The bad news for the politicians is that by the time they go asking for votes again, too many would have had an idea for similar people’s courts. In fact, the NGOs in Punjab should take up the strategy as a master game changer. Political party representatives should be told that if they wanted votes, they should first spell out specific agendas on how they proposed to clean up the water bodies, deal with pollution of the soil, depleting water table etc.
Punjabis in their hundreds are dying due to pollution but such deaths do not end up in the news, on TV or even in statistical data. We all know that cancer, skin ailments and respiratory diseases have increased among those living near polluted drains. The residents alongside the Kala Sanghian drain, Chitti Bein and the Buddah Nullah are a living example of the apathy of the state.
Once, the focus turns towards environment, it will naturally force all to think about the development and economic model being pursued by the mainstream parties.
It is only when politicians face piercing queries from people will they understand that environmentalism is not a romantic love affair or a social movement that means cleaning up a rivulet or planting a sapling as a ritual. It means asking the rulers in whose name do they sign the MoUs to give away people’s lands and forests to billionaire corporate houses, and in whose name they acquire agricultural lands to set up industries. The mantra of paying market rates to the farmers will then work no more.

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