Three year itch

  • 14/11/2002

the ruling National Democratic Alliance (nda) government has completed three years in office. Which is quite an achievement in itself. And the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp)-led government has promptly come out with an achievement report, patting itself on the back for what it claims are a string of "successes'. But really, what does the nda government have to show for itself in the areas of development? The key question is whether mere survival is enough to prove good governance.

Take for instance, the question of local people's rights. The report, Milestones of Success, speaks of people's participation in forest management, with legal back up accorded to joint forest management committees and institutionalisation of forest development agencies, which would cover 775 forest divisions. The forest cover, it claims, has increased by nearly 4000 square kilometres. But what is new? The Joint Forest Management programme is an ongoing effort. The question for this government is to move beyond the you-participate-in-my-programme attitude and give local communities greater rights over decision-making and the forest produce. Instead, the lackadaisical and indifferent attitude of this government to critical issues of forestry has meant that tensions between people and forests are increasing.

Likewise, though the report boasts of the role of local communities in "participatory conservation' under the national wildlife action plan, and the wetland conservation programme places thrust on "increased participation of stakeholders', there is nothing but empty rhetoric. This government needs to be told that learning the right words is no substitute for action.

And mouthing the right words is no help either. For all that prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been saying on the need to involve local communities in management of water, it is still a top down approach that the government adopts, with no people's participation visible at all. Above all, it is the mindset of the government machinery that needs to change towards local community based water management strategies.

On pollution control the BJP-led government unabashedly takes all credit for improvement in ambient air quality in metro cities, especially Delhi. But it fails to remember how it opposed the introduction of compressed natural gas (cng) fuel for the city's public transport or how the committee it set up to sabotage the efforts to cleaning up air pollution has done, what it was meant to: propose a road map for clean fuel and automobile technology which is so weak that it will only lead to hell.

The nda government may well survive the remaining two years. But that is not proof enough of good governance. This government and whichever government comes after it, must up the development agenda at the top of its action programme. As yet, we see too little.

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