Environment in elections: Natural disasters overlooked in Himachal Pradesh poll campaigns

Environmental issues at bottom of both major political parties' manifestos for June 1 elections, but not discussed in speeches
No candidate of Lok Sabha 2024 elections has presented a clear vision or plan for addressing environmental and climate change issues in Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Rohit Prashar
No candidate of Lok Sabha 2024 elections has presented a clear vision or plan for addressing environmental and climate change issues in Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Rohit Prashar

The impact of environmental changes is starkly visible in Himachal Pradesh, located in the Himalayan foothills, as evidenced by recurring natural disasters. However, these issues are not being addressed sufficiently in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Himachal Pradesh will hold general elections in four Lok Sabha constituencies as well as by-elections in six assembly constituencies. On June 1, approximately 5.57 million voters will vote at 7,990 polling stations during the final phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

It has been more than a month since the elections were announced and all political parties are actively campaigning. However, no candidate has presented a clear vision or plan for addressing environmental and climate change issues. 

Kulbhushan Upmanyu, a former associate of Sunderlal Bahuguna in the Chipko Movement and president of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, told Down To Earth (DTE) that including environmental issues in manifestos appears to be a mere formality for the political parties. “Environmental concerns are not just about the Himalayas and their surrounding states, but are of national significance,” he said.

Upmanyu noted that policymakers should be alerted by the natural disasters that have recently occurred in Himachal, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir. “Despite this, candidates and prominent party campaigners remain silent on environmental issues, which is concerning,” he said.

Environment played a crucial role in the 2021 by-elections for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh. 

Youth from the Kinnaur region launched a ‘No Means No’ campaign against dams and hydropower projects, urging voters to press the ‘none of the above’ or NOTA button in the elections. This movement likely contributed to the ruling party candidate’s defeat by 6,000 votes, with 12,926 voters opting for NOTA.

The youth opposing large-scale power projects in the Himalayan region, particularly in Kinnaur, have decided to raise questions about environmental issues again in the current elections. This time, Kinnaur’s youth launched a ‘No Means No’ campaign to raise awareness about environmental issues.

Sunder Singh Negi, a youth involved in the campaign, said they plan to question party candidates and campaigners on their stance towards the environment in the eco-sensitive region and seek information on their roadmap for sustainable development.

Suresh Kashyap, Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Shimla Lok Sabha seat, stated his party is aware of environmental issues and has included them in its manifesto. The party has previously expressed its views on environmental assessments in Himachal at various forums and will continue to do so in the future, Kashyap claimed.

Following an extended dry spell, Himachal Pradesh received significant snowfall and rain over the last four days in March 2024. From March 1 to 3, 2024, tribal districts Kinnaur, Lahaul, and Spiti received more than three feet of snow, posing significant challenges for local residents.

Last year, a massive natural disaster in Himachal caused property damage worth Rs 10,000 crore and claimed 391 lives. Approximately 12,000 buildings were damaged, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of land affected.

In July 2023, Lahaul-Spiti’s cold desert received one-third of its seasonal rainfall in a single day.

The deluge in north India in July 2023 also prompted experts to question Himachal Pradesh's development model, as the majority of the destruction was found to have occurred in areas with development projects.

Over 30 flash flood incidents and seven cloudbursts have battered Himachal within a month of the onset of monsoon 2022.

Raman Kant, a young voter from the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency, told DTE that natural disasters have increased significantly in their area over the past few years. “The time has come for environment and development to progress together,” he said, adding that he plans to vote based on the development models proposed by the parties and candidates this year.

Vikramaditya Singh, the Congress candidate from the Mandi Lok Sabha seat and current public works minister in Himachal Pradesh, said his party supported the people of Himachal during the recent disaster by releasing a special relief package worth Rs 4,500 crore.

Furthermore, they have made significant provisions in their budget, such as conducting need-based environmental assessments and appointing ‘environment friends’ in villages.

Despite these promises, the emphasis on environmental issues is absent from party campaigns, rallies, and speeches. As Himachal Pradesh emerges from recent disasters, its voters should be aware of the importance of electing candidates who prioritise environmental sustainability to ensure a safer future for the state.

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