Policemen leave for election duty ahead of the first phase of polling for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Prayagraj, February 6, 2022. Photo: PTI
- Atmospheric pollutants are on voters’ minds in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls in a few days, according to a survey.
- Respondents in six cities in the state said that political parties should address the issue of air pollution in the upcoming elections.
- At the same time, India’s only ‘green’ party is struggling to find a foothold in the state.
Kochi: Air pollution in Uttar Pradesh, home to seven of the ten most polluted cities in India, could be an election issue. According to a recent survey, a majority of respondents across six cities felt that air pollution should be addressed as an issue by political parties in the upcoming elections.
But despite this, India’s only national party with an environment-focused agenda – the India Greens Party – is struggling to find a foothold in the state.
Air pollution and UP
According to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) database, developed by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, the capital city of Lucknow has the highest level of air pollution in the country. Here, the level of particulate matter is 13 times higher than permissible limits set by the WHO. Residents of Lucknow stand to lose 12.1 years of life expectancy if pollution persists, according to the index.
While geological and meteorological factors (such as air movement) contribute to the higher levels of pollution in North India, human activities play a big part in this, according to AQLI data. Industries, vehicular pollution and emissions from thermal power plants are among the leading causes of dipping air quality levels across Uttar Pradesh.
To find out how people perceive air pollution in the context of the upcoming state elections, beginning February 10, Climate Trends, a Delhi-based communications company, and YouGov, a London-based data analytics firm, interviewed around 1,200 respondents in six cities in the state.
The survey, conducted in January 2022, found that a candidate’s position on climate change and air pollution could influence voters, according to The Hindu. Almost half of the respondents reportedly agreed that their city’s air quality is not good.
More than 70% said that vehicular emissions are the single biggest cause of air pollution. As much as 76% of the respondents agreed that air pollution should be the primary issue addressed by political parties in the upcoming elections as it affects health.
Indeed, Uttar Pradesh is one of the five Indian states that together account for over 50% of deaths attributed to air pollution in India, according to data published in The Lancet Planetary Health in 2020.
Awareness about air pollution was higher (88%) among respondents in the age group of 25-44 years, found the survey. More than half the respondents also said that planting more trees by the government can decrease air pollution. And almost all respondents (95%) agreed that climate change has an impact on the state’s economy.
The findings of the survey were released on February 4 at a webinar entitled ‘Is the Uttar Pradesh Voter Thinking About Climate Change?’.
Gaon Connection reported S.N. Tripathi, a professor at IIT Kanpur and a member of the steering committee on the National Clean Air Programme, saying at the webinar that awareness about air pollution is gradually building up in Uttar Pradesh.
However, the survey was primarily conducted in urban areas, where voting percentage is always lower than in the rural areas, the article quoted Pravin Kumar, resident editor of Times of India, Lucknow, who also participated in the webinar, as saying.
“Unless people in the rural areas are well informed about the issue, it is hard for climate change to become a poll issue in the Uttar Pradesh elections,” in Kumar’s words.
Green Party struggles
Despite the findings that the stands of political parties on air pollution and climate change could be crucial for the upcoming elections, India’s only ‘green party’ appears to be lagging behind in the run-up to the state elections.
The Uttarakhand-based India Greens Party (iGP) is the only national party with an environment-dominated agenda that is part of ‘Global Greens’, an international network of political parties and movements that collaborate to implement the ‘Global Greens Charter’. The charter is founded on six principles: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, nonviolence, sustainability and respect for diversity.
These parties prioritise policies pertaining to conserving biodiversity and addressing climate change as part of their political actions. The party has a presence in more than 20 states and Union territories, including Uttar Pradesh.
“If UP is part of the climate problem of India, it can very well be a part of the climate solution as well,” Suresh Nautiyal, founder of iGP, told CarbonCopy. “We understand the relevance of politics in mitigating climate impacts and that’s precisely why our politics is about issues like water, environment, ecological systems, agriculture, and everything that’s green.”
According to him, some of the issues that the party plans to raise in the state include farmers’ rights, the use of genetically modified organisms, health and sustainable living.
However, funding is an issue for the iGP to make inroads into Uttar Pradesh. The funds they have been receiving as levies, membership fees and donations are not enough for a sustained on-ground campaign, Nautiyal said. Work is therefore restricted to online campaigns, webinars and virtual meetings.
Meanwhile, all major political parties contesting in the elections in the state have claimed that environment and climate issues are a priority.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Naveen Srivastava told CarbonCopy, “All social welfare issues like climate change and environment have always been a political priority for us. It will, most likely, be stated in our poll manifesto as well.”
Air pollution found mention for the first time in party manifestos in the country in the 2019 general elections, according to IndiaSpend.