For an election that can make or break the main contenders for power in Bihar, no one seems bothered about environmental issues.
The ever increasing pollution in the Ganges, people hit hard by arsenic, fluoride and iron content in drinking water, rising air pollution and falling rainfall — issues that affect millions — have been given a go-by as Bihar readies for the third round of the five-phase assembly election.
Political parties and top leaders are harping on economic development, job quotas, beef, shooting prices of food items as well as caste equations to woo voters.
Neither the BJP-led NDA of Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor the Grand Alliance of the JD-U, RJD and Congress led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar appear to take up green issues.
With star campaigners from Modi to BJP president Amit Shah and Nitish Kumar to RJD chief Lalu Prasad trying hard to target youths by promising development including jobs to education, green issues have been missing from the campaign.
Yet, pollution is a major issue for millions all over Bihar.
In places like Patna, Buxar and Bhagalpur districts, pollution in the Ganges is worrying everyone.
According to Gangetic dolphin expert R.K. Sinha, over the years disposal of untreated waste has been the major cause for growing pollution in the river considered holy by Hindus.
Six major drains carry untreated water directly into the river in Patna.
“Any development cannot be sustainable by ignoring environmental concerns. If our water and air are polluted, what kind of development are we talking about? Development minus environment is like fish without water,” said Ranjeev, a green activist.
He warned that the neglect of green issues will cost the people of Bihar dear, particularly the poor, in view of climate changes.
“A large part of Bihar is in the Himalayan terai area, which is most vulnerable to climate change. The poor will face livelihood problems but surprisingly it is not an issue in the election campaign,” he said.
Another environment activist, Mahender Yadav, said some green issues were mentioned in some manifestos but were not raised at public rallies.
Rampati Kumar, CEO of the Centre for Environment and Energy Development(CEED), said environmental issues were the real challenge.
Rampati Kumar told IANS that the political class had forgotten green issues.
“It is a sad part of our elections. If only politicians raise green issues and talk about them, it will certainly create awareness and help the environment to take centre stage,” he said.
Ranjeev said climate change was going to hit agriculture.
“Today, the central government is stressing the need to import pulses to get over the pulse crisis. But when climate change will hit the farming communiy, how many food items can we import?”
Patna, Bihar’s biggest city, has over two million people and noise levels are very high. But few legislators appear to be bothered.
“The vehicular pollution is the biggest health hazard for all. But there is no cry for CNG in Patna,” said Ranjeev.
This year Bihar received nearly 29 percent deficit rainfall, leading to a drought like situation in over two dozen districts.
Thanks to pollution-induced weather changes, Bihar has already faced one drought after another.
“It is a bad sign. Bihar is still an agrarian state where most people depend on it for livelihood.”