Vol 3. Issue 10
MoEF&CC Must Stop Destroying India’s Progressive Environment, Forest And Biodiversity Protection Jurisprudence
While the United Nations General Assembly finally approves its decision to make the right to a clean and healthy environment an integral part of human rights, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is doing everything to destroy India’s progressive environmental judiciary, and thus expose the nation to grave environmental destruction and human rights violations.
In a statement endorsed by individuals and organisations across India, the Indian government is urged to walk back from these disastrous proposals and stop bending to corporate pressures demanding weakening of environmental norms and laws. Instead, the Ministry is asked to play its due constitutional role to protect the right to life, health, environment and a secure future for all.
Webinar Series: ESG Imaginaries To Make Cities Work
The final session of ESG Imaginaries to Make Cities Work will look at Governance strategies that secure a city for all and into the future. We invite you all for the final session on 18th August 2022, 5:00 PM
- Reports Of Week 3: Mobility & Infrastructure, Week 2: Challenges Of Securing Urban Commons and Week 1: Waste And Governance
Indian Forest Act amendments
The MoEFCC proposes amendments to the Indian Forest Act that seek to decriminalise offences like kindling, keeping or carrying fire in a reserved forest without permission, trespassing or pasturing cattle or causing any damage by negligence in felling any tree in a reserved forest. The activities mentioned above will draw a fine instead of imprisonment as was the previous punishment. This trend is seen in the environmental law amendments too and can be termed as a monetisation of crime to replace imprisonment. The question to be asked is whether carrying a fire for protection or grazing through a forest by forest dwellers is even a crime at all. The amendments are open to public consultation upto the 31st of July 2022 and can be viewed here.
Meanwhile, the Ministry also notified the ‘2022 Forest Conservation Rules’ – under the Forest Conservation Act on June 28, repealing the earlier 2003 Forest Conservation Rules. These new rules will be placed for approval before both the houses of parliament . It has been widely argued that such a move by the Ministry is illegal and detrimental to the rights of the forest dwellers enshrined in the Forest Rights Act 2006. Member of Parliament and Former Environment Minister Shri. Jairam Ramesh issued a statement calling Prime Minister of India “Adivasi Virodhi Narendra Modi”.
The ecologically and socially disastrous proposal for a massive new port-township-airport-power plant in the Great Nicobar islands spells the death of over 8.5 lakh trees, diversion of 130 square km of forest land and dredging of 300 hectares of land from the oceans. The project ignores the massive damage to biodiversity of the region, the disturbance to endemic Nicobar Megapode habitat and nesting ground of the leatherback turtle, and at the same time will affect 1700 indegenious people living in the region.
Providing access and participation to forest dwellers enabled through the FRA 2006 has seen great success in a remote Odisha tribal village that has helped regenerate parts of the forest and also shut down a paper mill that was causing damage to the ecosystem.
What can a comparative perspective on COVID19 responses tell us about the future of crisis governance and, more broadly, the relationship of democracy and expertise?
The @CompCoRe_STS project organised the first (semi-)in person meeting at @HarvardSTS . Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao of ESG are part of this network and writing the India paper as part of a 50 country study on how COVID was managed, an international research effort led by Prof. Sheila Jananoff of Harvard Kennedy School and Prof. Stephen Hiltgartner of Cornell University.
Leo Saldanha also spoke in a Roundtable on ‘Law, Expertise, and Human Rights” at the Science and Technology Studies Summer School held in July 2022 at Harvard Kennedy School. The note on this roundtable can be read here.
Protests against Peripheral Ring Road(PRR) and other projects
As the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) pushes to build the 73.5km Peripheral Ring Road, farmers and landowners are gathering in protests over the method of compensation. The project will result in the felling of over 32000 trees, affecting several lakes and also the TG halli reservoir. ESG had questioned the PRR project from when it was initially proposed, and has called for it comprehensive public review. When the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board conducted a public hearing on the PRR on 13th July, it was termed as a mockery of democracy as the hearing was held after the arrest of protesting farmers.
“How can you hold a public hearing by arresting the farmers who are losing the land for the project? Farmers were protesting the BDA’s decision to pay a pittance for their lands instead of the rightful compensation” said Ramesh, a farmer who was arrested while protesting
Rather than steps being taken to reduce the environmental damage from the project, BDA seeks to cut down more trees and acquire more forest land after a realignment was proposed. As the length of the project was increased from 65kms, in 2020, to 73.5 kms now, almost 3000 more trees are to be felled than the earlier estimated number of over 33,000.
“My grandfather received a notice on land acquisition 18 years ago, and now I am standing before you. This project has caused hardships for farmers. Youngsters like me want to take up agriculture, but you are snatching away our land,” said Vijayakumar, during the public hearing on the PRR.
Farmers in Channarayapatna hobli of Devanahalli taluk, near Bengaluru, are protesting against the proposed Haralur Industrial Development project, which will adversely impact 3,000 people and will force 387 families to become landless. The families here depend on sericulture and integrated farming for livelihood and are not interested in parting with their land to give way for an industrial project.
In Securing Skilled Jobs for the Present and the Future,Bhargavi Rao, trustee at ESG, writes of the shifting skill needs in the country, the problems associated with acquiring farmlands for Renewable Energy(RE) plants and the challenges faced by the youth of the nation:
“While a shift to RE is desirable, provided that the manner in which it is produced is truly green energy, it is not necessarily as clean as it is claimed given its massive impact on rural and pastoral economises, its irreversible degradation of land and water resources, and also its adverse impacts on biodiversity and wildlife.”
In an article written by Anirudh of ESG, an overview of sustainable transition into renewable energy was discussed. The ecological impacts of large scale solar utility parks, the impacts of production of components required for the setup of renewable energy parks and a few examples of how these impacts can be minimised were highlighted.
The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 provides a global overview of progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, using the latest available data and estimates. The report tracks the global and regional progress towards the 17 Goals with in-depth analyses of selected indicators for each Goal.
The World Economic Forum released the Gender Gap Index 2022, and India is ranked at the bottom of the list: 135 out of 146 countries. On the health and survival subindex, India ranked the lowest at 146th place, while its score improved in the Political Empowerment subindex. The report reveals that it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap. The cost of living crisis, especially post pandemic, is expected to hit women the most.
The Supreme Court of India, on June 3, 2022, directed that every national park and wildlife sanctuary in the country will have a mandatory eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of at least one kilometre starting from its demarcated boundaries.This judgement, suggests this commentary in Mongabay, works as a relief to reduce pressure on associated flora and fauna.
India has designated five new wetlands of international importance, taking the total number of Ramsar sites in the country to 54. The new sites are Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Karnataka, Karikili Bird Sanctuary, Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest & Pichavaram Mangrove in Tamil Nadu, Pala wetland in Mizoram and Sakhya Sagar in Madhya Pradesh. As per the Ramsar Convention on wetlands report, the wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests, with 35% of the wetlands lost from 1970-2015. Meanwhile, the Loktak Wetland Region is increasingly under threat from a variety of developmental projects pushed by the Government of Manipur, quite in contrast to expectations of conservation demanded by its status as a Ramsar site.
Inclusive cities: Access to urban commons
In a positive move, following complaints by gig workers and civil society, BBMP chief commissioner Tushar Girinath issued an order to keep all the parks in the BBMP jurisdiction open from 5am to 8pm barring a 3 and half hour window between 10am to 1:30pm for maintenance. ESG has argued that : “It is a grave public health need, especially for children, elders, pregnant women, and parents with tiny tots, that they need to be in open spaces. Post pandemic, there has been a spiralling increase in depression, and a major contributor is lack of access to open spaces.”
Parks need to cater to multiple needs of the city, and remain inclusive to the city’s informal workers and pourakarmikas as a place to relax and eat food mid day. However, the maintenance time mentioned in the order of 10am to 1:30 pm is a crucial time when gig workers and pourakarmikas require access to the park. These workers begin their day’s work early in the morning and need to break for food or rest during the time 10:30 am to 11:30 am. Ideally, the maintenance window could be staggered and/or shifted to a time of lesser usage, such as 1:30 to 4:00 pm, when it is also likely that toddlers are unlikely to use such spaces.
Street vendors form an important part of the socio-cultural and economic life of cities from time immemorial. Traditionally, these vendors have been a part of our lives. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 recognises street vending as a legal right to livelihood.This paper: Right to the city – The Street Vendors Act of 2014 and the Collective Struggles of Women Vendors examines the relationship between the struggles for the right to livelihood, urban spatial governance, and legislative intervention in New Delhi. It foregrounds the voices of women street vendors in New Delhi. The concerns observed in 2010 in A brief study of Street Vendors in the city of Bengaluru by ESG also relates to challenges faced by street vendors.
A pathetic situation in Raichur where access to clean drinking water is not guaranteed by the City’s Municipal Corporation as one more person dies due to consumption of contaminated water. While the unofficial record puts the toll at 7 deaths and several others are hospitalised, officials claim that only three have died from water contamination. ESG, as part of Community Access 2000 project in Raichur, developed a strategy to prevent this fallout, 20 years ago. And you can see the report here.
Like most places in Karnataka, Bengaluru’s lakes are constantly being polluted and “(t)he idea of using lakes as support systems for drinking water was receding” says Leo Saldanha in an article by Frontline that extensively discusses the current state, the history and the ecological aspects of the lakes in Bengaluru. Meanwhile, BBMP has taken up the initiative to revive 26 lakes in the newer parts of the city. Public opinion was sought in preparation of DPRs to ‘develop’ 16 of those lakes, a consultation held with barely two days notice, and thus failed to generate any public interest. Despite the massive amounts of money spent in rejuvenating lakes by BBMP, a study by ActionAid points out that the average number of mass fish kill incidents in lakes is on the rise in Bengaluru.
Peter Gleick discusses ways to manage water efficiently and increase water delivery services by using a concept called the soft path for water. The soft path seeks to improve the overall productivity of water use and deliver water services matched to the needs of end users, rather than seeking sources of new supply. The current water management system is a hard path referring to centralised physical infrastructure that is ecologically damaging, socially intrusive and capital-intensive projects that fail to deliver their promised benefits. Soft paths are decentralised systems built through participation of communities.
BBMP segregates only 30 percent of its waste, and is far behind smaller cities.This situation has required the Supreme Court, Karnataka High Court and National Green Tribunal to intervene, and this also includes penalties imposed on Palike to get things organised. ESG has assisted adoption of progressive and publicly inclusive methods of waste management and the documentation is accessible here.
Mobility: Low ridership of most Metro systems in Indian cities
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs submitted its report on ‘Implementation of Metro Rail Projects – An Appraisal’ in May 2022. The report highlights riderships in Indian Metro systems has major gaps between ridership projected in DPR and the actuals. The report also observes that efforts have not been made to include effective feeder transport systems to improve first and last mile connectivity although it is mandated by the Metro Rail Policy 2017. The Committee recommended the setting up of Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority in States to manage urban land transport, and the operationalisation of National Common Mobility Card to allow integrated payment systems across transports.
Governance today: Arresting the voices of those who question injustice
A petition demanding the withdrawal of “trumped-up FIR” against Medha Patkar and other trustees of Narmada Nav Nirman Abhiyan(NNNA) has found support globally. The statement highlights that insensitive and baseless allegations are being levelled to malevolently denigrate the Trust for supporting tribal families and their children during COVID 19. NNNA and Medha Patekar have stated that they are ready to counter all allegations with facts.
Earlier in June 2022, Teesta Setalvad was arrested a day after the Supreme Court decision rejecting the Zakia Zafri’s plea against SIT’s refusal to file a case against Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the anti-muslim violence. Teesta Setalvad, a leading human rights activist and lawyer has, as part of Citizens for Justice and Peace, consistently to bring justice to the victims of 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad arrested her without a warrant and soon after former Director General of Police Shreekumar was also arrested. Sanjiv Bhatt, another senior police officer, has serving a life sentence on charges of murder, which is widely held as a case fabricated against him for his efforts to expose what he said was a criminal conspiracy involving senior political leaders that resulted in the death of thousands of muslims in the 2002 riots. The UN Human Rights Office had raised serious concerns over the the arrest and detention of Teesta Setalvad and two ex-police officers and called for their immediate release.
Apart from using the legal system to target activists, governance in India has been resorting to extra-judicial ways of punishment following the pattern of demolish and punish by conducting bulldozer-led demolitions. This runs the risk of erosion of the trust and public legitimacy of the justice system by making the rule of law arbitrary by politicised functioning. Similar patterns of demolition had been noticed in Jahangirpuri in Delhi and Khargone in Madhya Pradesh. Such arbitrary State action makes a mockery of all fundamental principles of modern day jurisprudence and the rule of law and reflects an intolerance towards democratic dissent.
Podcasts and book review
In a podcast, HARDtalk: Will the world stand up for China’s Uyghurs, Nury Turkel, a prominent Uyghur activist in exile and chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, talks extensively about the oppression faced by the Uyghur community due to the dictatorial regime currently present in China. He calls for International support while he highlights some of the major social injustices faced by them, among which was the enslavement of members of the Uyghur community in the production of Solar panels. While some countries such as the US have banned the import of solar panels based on these allegations, others continue to import.
A Climate fiction reading list can offer a glimpse of the futures that may await us. “And these novels aren’t just valuable for their predictive potential. They also can provide a way of understanding the avalanche of climate data by putting relatable characters in circumstances that are typically depicted by graphs and heat maps.”, says Neelima V
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