The seven-phase general election is starting on Friday. But protection of environment and forests has not received the prominence it deserves in poll promises. We have a responsibility to protect our present environment and bequeath it to the next generations. The Supreme Court has recently declared the right to clean environment as one of the fundamental rights of the citizens under the Article 21 of the Constitution.

In view of climate change, we are experiencing increase in temperature and frequent recurrence of extreme climate events.

Forests are threatened due to habitat destruction. Forest diversion and development close to forests should be avoided for minimizing human-animal conflicts afflicting several States. Increasing the carbon stock of our fragile forest ecosystem is possible through promotion of assisted natural regeneration. Conservation of flora and fauna and sustainable use of non-timber forest produce in the forest will help in protecting livelihood of the tribals.

Protection of mangroves along the coast will act as bio-shield against storms and tsunamis. Agro-forestry has great potential and must be promoted in a massive scale for realising the national goal of 33 per cent green cover as well as improving the economic condition of dryland farmers.

Conservation of our wetlands especially in urban areas is need of the hour. They provide water supply and recharge groundwater. Rivers, lakes and tanks in the cities are getting increasingly polluted by sewage and garbage. Several lakes are being encroached with impunity in cities like Chennai and Bengaluru.

It is high time that a policy decision is taken to survey and demarcate wetlands in cities and their supply channel using GPS and declare them as protected areas under proper legislation. Several projects have been implemented since 1970 to clean up the river Cooum and Adyar in Chennai city without much success. Political will is required to implement river cleaning.

Urban forestry can play a major role in combating air, water and noise pollution through proper designing and upkeep. City parks are important for children, youth, women and elders. Any new city expansion project should be mandated to keep one-third of the land area under tree cover.

Urban roads have number of competing demands such as stormwater drain, water supply and sewage lines, electricity cables and Internet cables besides metro rail. Therefore, avenue trees must be planted in such a way that they do not interfere with these facilities while at the same time the trees get enough space for rooting and branching.

The environmental agenda for this election could be to:-

* Protect the existing forests and improve their density and promote the forest-based livelihood by 2030.

* Protect the urban wetlands from pollution and encroachment.

* Increase urban tree cover to more than 20 per cent of the city area through urban forestry and parks to improve the quality of life and increase green jobs in cities.

* Implement massive agroforestry to enhance green cover and mitigate ill effects of climate change and improve the farm income substantially.

* Check industrial pollution effectively and promote ease of doing sustainable business.

* Promote solar and wind energy, and e-vehicles to check the perils of climate change.

The writer is former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Tamil Nadu