Environment Justice Matters Vol. 4 Issue 02
Reclaim and Turn Inclusive, Bengaluru and its Blue-Green Commons
ESG organised a workshop to introspect how Bengaluru metropolis’ blue green commons can be transformed into healthy, sylvan, inclusive and accessible spaces. With intersectoral participation, the conversation focused on how communities could work creatively and collectively to reclaim Bengaluru’s commons and thus make the city more liveable. The workshop focused on a range of concerns including lack of accessibility and functionality of open spaces, poor design and improper planning, restrictions on fundamental freedoms, constant disruption of the flow of life due to never ending constructions, bias favouring richer neighbourhoods over those of working classes and the poor. The importance of protecting the living heritage and heritage structures and
enhancing biodiversity through direct citizen participation in decision making was reiterated throughout the workshop. Several battles fought to reclaim commons in the past were discussed to identify pathways for future action. The full report of this workshop is available here.
A compendium of ESG’s past and ongoing efforts with reference to this subject can be accessed here.
As we focus on commons, the importance of protecting ecosystems and landscapes to conserve biodiversity they host and also for sustaining ecosystem services they provide has been classified for India. Researchers found that only a fraction (~15%) of such priority areas fall under India’s extant Protected Area network, and several landscapes of high importance have been omitted from all previous assessments.
Meanwhile, BBMP – Bangalore’s civic body and Bangalore continues to disregard rights of street vendors and evict them, in blatant disregard of Street Vendors Act and Supreme Court’s guidelines in Bombay Hawkers Union v. BMCwhich hold street-vending as part of a fundamental right. BBMP has in recent weeks evicted street vendors from multiple areas: Church Street, Banashankari Metro Station and Jayanagar and elsewhere.
In brighter news, the Greater Scaup, a rare duck species, has returned after 94 years in the Hubidak area of the Loktak Lake in Manipur. It is hoped that this might help preserve this ecosystem and protect it from a rash of mege developments proposed to make Loktak a major tourist destination.
In Ghaziabad a wasteland has been turned into a massive lake within 3 years due to the efforts of one Mr. Rajnish Kumar, a resident of the city. He undertook the project to create employment through fish farming for the locals and also further environmental causes. Meanwhile, a high-altitude lake, Yaya Tso and its watershed, has been proposed as Ladakh’s first biodiversity heritage site (BHS) after multiple rounds of consultations between the village stakeholders and SECURE Himalaya project.
The CPCB reported (Central Pollution Control Board) that the number of polluted stretches identified along the rivers in India has gone from 351 in 2018 to 311 in 2023. But this does not signify an improvement because the number of most polluted stretches continue to be in the same condition. An NGT appointed-committee has directed officials to ensure minimum environmental flow (amount and quality of water flowing in freshwater ecosystems) in the Delhi stretch of the river of the Yamuna through inter-state coordination. And what set out to be a statement of immense progress has turned out to be a disaster: the luxury MV Ganga Vilas cruise venture got stuck in mud, and is also said to be endangering habitat of the Ganges Dolphins.
Meanwhile, due to the required diversion of 1,165.66 hectares of forest land and felling of over 280,000 trees, the Etalin hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh has been abandoned for now. The fact that the project has not been completely shelved and asked to reformulate plans begs the question if this is only a temporary relief.
Environmental Impact of Development
In Malaysia, residents of Sungai Ara have won their final appeal against the Penang island municipal council’s (MBPP) decision to allow a developer to construct a housing development on a sensitive hillside. Judge Nallini Pathmanathan of the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled that the local government’s acceptance of Sunway City (Penang) Sdn Bhd’s request for planning clearance violated the Town and Country Planning Act of 1976 and was thus null and void. This judgement comes in the wake of the Joshimath disaster in Uttarakhand, where horrific land subsidence is destroying dozens of homes and other infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a ministerial panel has recommended that environmental approvals for new infrastructure projects, like trains, roads, and electricity lines, with project expenditures over $500 billion would be expedited under the Pradhan Mantri Gati Shakti initiative. This despite well established fears that rushing environmental approvals will result in disaster.
In Bengaluru, communities impacted by Dr. Shivaram Karanth Layout continued to protest the formation of the development, which they consider deeply unjust, on their lands.
The NGT has refrained from imposing a levy of INR 750 crores as environmental compensation on the Jharkhand Government for improper solid and liquid waste management, as the Government reports to have allocated INR 1,114 crores for waste management. The Tribunal observed that there was a requirement for a paradigm shift in handling this situation as the administration is facing impending issues related to waste management, which could lead to the detriment of the environment and public health.
Clean Energy – is it really clean?
India auctioned its first sovereign green bond worth INR 8000 crore on 25th January, 2023 and a second auction of another INR 8000 crores will be held on 9th February, 2023. These bonds are used to raise funds for green infrastructure and renewable energy programs like solar, wind, and hydropower, which is expected to reduce the nation’s carbon intensity. Meanwhile, SEBI has also issued guidelines on green bonds. The latest entrant in promoting renewable energy is Odisha which released its Renewable Energy Policy, 2022. The policy promotes, among other things, development of solar parks.
However, there does not seem to be much attention paid to how these shifts have their own structural problems ESG has always argued that mega power plants, even if they are renewable, ruin large expanses of habitable land and generate large quantities of waste. And there are growing concerns about the overwhelming and uncritical investment in solar.
The uncritical promotion of renewables has also morphed into promotion of electric mobility with the Central Government extending the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles scheme till 2024. It is reported that India sold 1.04 lakh EVs in the current fiscal year. But there are questions raised about the environmental viability of EV’s with a new study of how the world’s cobalt is being produced.
In the wake of the Hindenburg Report on the stock manipulation and accounting fraud by the Adani Group, the S & P Dow Jones Indices announced that it would remove Adani Enterprises from its widely used sustainability indices, thereby making its shares less appealing to environment-conscious investors.
A recent study into Verra, an organisation which manages the world’s leading voluntary carbon markets program, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program and its voluntary carbon offsets, has revealed that more than 90% constitute phantom credits and do not represent genuine carbon reductions. As a result, the Australian local body councils have been instructed to stop investing towards carbon offsets and treat it only as a last resort.
And, as always, the rich seem not at all interested in cutting back their consumption, evident in how gap between carbon emissions between rich and the poor is widening.
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