In the Assembly elections due to take place later this month in Karnataka, some citizens have decided to take matters into their own hands to change the fate of the state. For the first time ever, a manifesto, drafted by citizen activists, seeks to make the environment a core campaign point. The manifestos of both the major parties contain either a perfunctory mention of environmental sustainability or omit it altogether. Called the Green Manifesto, this “People’s Manifesto” flies in the face of populist election agendas by attempting to unite citizens under the demand for inclusive, eco-friendly development.
Supported by other citizen groups, environmentalists have been asking candidates from various constituencies to sign the manifesto and pledge their support to sustainable development before the elections on May 12th. So far, a handful of candidates from different political parties have signed the Green Manifesto.
Karnataka has faced a slew of environmental disasters over the past few years. Last year, the worst drought in 42 years was declared creating an agrarian crisis in its wake and sending summer temperatures soaring. The rivers of the state were also named the most polluted in South India, damning evidence of mismanagement of waste. With frothing lakes, deteriorating air quality, contaminated groundwater, Karnataka ticks all the boxes for indicators of the mismanagement of waste.
Seema Sharma, founding volunteer of Kasa Muktha Bellanduru (Garbage Free Bellanduru) and an active member of the Bangalore Eco Team says that despite the state having progressive Solid Waste Management rules, High Court orders and an army of citizen volunteers, absence of political will is what sets well-performing wards in Bengaluru city such as Koramangala and Bommanahalli apart from others. A local leader committed to the environmental cause and willing to work closely with citizens is what makes the difference.
The Green Manifesto is the creation of a vigilant, involved citizen volunteers who have had their ear to the ground for several years and have been working closely with the BBMP to make regulations such as 3-way garbage segregation and the plastic ban a reality.
The Manifesto, based on the principle 'Namma Kasa, Namma Jawabdari' (Our Waste, Our Responsibility) calls for management of garbage at the ward level. It addresses all the issues plaguing sustainable, decentralised waste management today: segregation at source, collection and transportation to dry waste collection centres, strict enforcement of the plastic ban and ward wise treatment of organic waste. While SWM Rules 2016 lay down clear mandates for each of these issues, laws alone are inadequate. Any time, deals that flout prevailing laws can be unilaterally struck. The recent deal to set up a waste-to-energy plant to handle mixed waste is only one such example.
“What we want candidates contesting elections to understand is that the Manifesto is not limited to solid waste,” Sharma says. A single night of rain in Bengaluru and daily life is thrown out of gear - traffic snarls stretch into the wee hours, homes flood and property worth crores is destroyed. Bad air quality, mosquito-borne diseases, contaminated vegetables, flooding, even traffic congestion are all repercussions of improper waste disposal.
Says Padmashree Balaram, President of the RWA of Koramangala Ward, “Election season is the right time to secure the buy-in of local leaders to environmental causes and hold them accountable for the promises they’ve made.”
Signing, however, is less than half the battle won. During interactions with MLA candidates, it was found that many were ignorant of entities such as the Dry Waste Collection Centres which have been in existence since 2012. So, the Manifesto is as much an effort to educate candidates as it is a citizen’s charter and a campaign point.
The real work begins after a candidate has assumed office. Whether they have won or lost, volunteers will work with them to bring them up to speed on all the SWM developments in the state and brief them about all the work that needs to be achieved during their tenure.
A local Corporator and MLA who is accessible to citizens and willing to collaborate with them is as important as a public that keeps up the pressure in a consistent, constructive manner. An informed citizenry that takes ownership over its environment is the first step towards an enlightened political stewardship, better infrastructure and progressive policy. Evidence of what happens when government and citizens work together is visible in Koramangala where efforts are on to build a decentralised waste economy at the ward level. In the offing are a 40-ton biogas plant to manage the waste from a large vegetable market and a leaf pelletisation unit that will supply green fuel to government hospitals and Indira canteens.
Talking about the wider impact of the Green Manifesto, Balaram says that even if 50% of the charter’s objectives are achieved, there will be a significant impact that will make other leaders sit up and take notice.
Whether it’s the SWM Rules mandating source segregation of waste or KSPCB norms banning POP idols, Karnataka is doing fairly well on the policy front. The Green Manifesto seeks to elect to power leaders who are aware of the problems the state is struggling with today, their overarching nature and their impacts on health and well-being. It is the glass slipper that will help citizens identify leaders who are committed to the cause of sustainable development and willing to put their might behind achieving these goals.