Environment Justice Matters- Vol 2. Issue 8

Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan- Making it Participatory and Inclusive

On March 22nd, World Water Day, ESG began a new webinar series: “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan – Making it Participatory and Inclusive”. This webinar is being organised in the backdrop of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (Bangalore’s civic body) making commitments to bring the  metropolis to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. ESG has taken initiative by envisaging this process as engaging diverse sectors and communities in evolving this Plan, including representatives of various government and regulatory agencies, and then representing it for the due consideration and adoption by the civic agency. Reports of earlier webinars as part of this series, along with video recordings, are accessible here. We welcome you to join in subsequent sessions of this critical series, every Monday,  6:00 – 7:30 pm. The next session will be held on 3rd May 2021 and will focus on “Securing Clean Air and Inclusive Mobility for Bengaluru”. Register here to participate.

ESG Features

Recently Bangalore became the only city in the world to have the dubious distinction of proposing to set up a crematorium in a landfill for “disposing” bodies of those who passed away from Covid-19. The site chosen was Mavallipura landfill, about 30 kms north of Bangalore. Following two representations to the BBMP from ESG (read ESG’s here and here), the civic body of Bangalore which had chosen to go ahead with this insensitive and illegal decision, was forced to reverse it after ESG moved an intervention in the Karnataka High Court against the decision (see the Court’s order here). 

In Manipur’s Pumlen wetland area, the indigenous people who were recently threatened with eviction by the Deputy Commissioner of Kakching District, wrote to the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister of Manipur and many other dignitaries of the country and the state demanding the plan to declare it a protected reserve be withdrawn as it would  render them homeless – when all corners of the country are reeling under Covid infection and deaths, and there is lockdown everywhere. The communities asserted their right to protect, conserve and continue to live in the wetland complex. 

Bhargavi Rao and Leo Saldanha of ESG were part of a fact finding committee initiated by Delhi Solidarity Group to investigate  a case of land grabbing by Azure Power in Mikir Bamuni Grant  village of Nagaon district of Assam.  The report highlights how Karbi and Adivasi farmlands have been dispossessed of their rightful land by illegal and fraudulent means to set up a solar power plant.  The region is in the middle of a well known elephant corridor. Read the report of the FFC here:       THE ANATOMY OF A SOLAR LAND GRAB – Report Of A Fact-Finding Committee.    

The impacts of utility scale solar parks are analysed by Shrestha Chowdhury of ESG in   Pavagada solar plant shine, but at what cost? In which she discusses the price pastoral and farming communities are paying for wider energy security.  

Public Health 

Lack of leadership and preparedness in dealing with the pandemic has pushed India’s health system to the brink making India’s encounter with the second wave the worst such surge in the world. In this video, Indian political economist and commentator, Mr. Parakala Prabhakar explains how lack of accountability in the political system has led to the unfolding covid carnage. Similarly, Ashish Kothari of  Kalpavriksh explains in Are we listening to the lessons taught in the first year of Covid-19?, how the central government has been reluctant to enable and promote local self-reliance to fight the threat of livelihood insecurity resulting from how the pandemic has been handled.

Amidst acute shortage of the life saving gas, 22 covid patients in the Indian city of Nashik were killed due to an Oxygen leak. Meanwhile, the oxygen crisis is also being used to push for the reopening of the infamous Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, a toxic plant that had closed in 2018 following massive unrest due to its  environmental and social impact. In some more disheartening news, Bengaluru’s Apollo Hospital has been booked for illegally blocking beds and extorting money from family members of the deceased.  There are, of course, positive stories of resilience and extraordinary work done by communities across India, as in the case of AMUL using its plant to produce much needed medical oxygen. 

The Union government’s confounding vaccine policy will exclude millions of India’s poor from accessing the vaccines. Meanwhile the pandemic continues to overwhelm Indian health systems as a ‘Triple mutant’ variant with a higher transmissibility is reportedly spreading. This, when recent research confirms that novel Coronavirus is airborne. Meanwhile, alongside the impacts of the pandemic on mental health, a study conducted by NIMHANS warns that rise in temperature will further stress the mental health of Bengalureans.

The virus will continue to shape the geopolitics of the world in years to come according to a US intelligence community report. Besides the economic fallout, vaccine nationalism and self-serving intentions of big pharmaceutical companies, promoted by Bill Gates, is feared to deepen disharmony among nations. ed covid patient. 

This article   presents a range of inspiring stories from the western Himalayan region of India that highlights the importance of building local self-sufficiency to overcome unprecedented challenges posed by a pandemic.

Climate

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization has stated that the climate crisis intensified in the year 2020 even though economies across the world slowed down due to lockdowns. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the Biden administration has released its climate finance plan to help developing countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which many claim is a new era of climate geopolitics

Ahead of the climate summit, European Union has given a legal commitment to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050. In India, MoEF has released the first ever climate change assessment report that warns of alarming trends for the country’s natural resources and biodiversity. The state of Karnataka, including Bengaluru Urban, has been categorised as moderately vulnerable in such a report. 

Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change continue to become evident through record breaking instances of forest fires in the Indian subcontinent and melting of icebergs in Antarctica. According to a study, massive melting of glaciers has even led to the displacement of the earth’s axis and is only getting worse due to the climate crisis. 

A new Google Earth timelapse feature helps understand how climate change has affected our planet over the last 37 years. This when community practises across the globe continue to present hope, like this ingenious system of farming in Bangladesh which provides insights into adapting to climate change as a means of countering its adverse impacts. In a bizarre development, the developers of the ‘whitest paint’ claim global warming can be reversed  even if 1% of Earth’s surface was covered in this paint.

Biodiversity 

Global Warming is a worry across the planet, but nowhere more so than in the Arctic where habitat changes are occurring at a speed far quicker than native species have the capacity to adapt.  While pandemic induced global lockdowns have made 2020 “the year of the quiet ocean”, biomedical waste in tackling the covid  pandemic is posing  serious threats to the wildlife and the environment. 

Around 24bn tons of fertile soil, which support a quarter of the world’s species, are lost every year through intensive farming alone. A “Poor Man’s Rainforest” calls for saving soil biodiversity, and to make food systems earth friendly, supporting climate healing. 

A new study on countering wildlife trafficking in Africa  has classified different types of wildlife traffickers and sellers, a method that is perceived as  helping both conservationists and law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile in India, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a committee to examine the feasibility of under-grounding overhead power lines to save the Great Indian Bustard – a  critically endangered species which is dying by the dozens caught in overhead power lines.

Energy

To bring the economy on track, countries, especially in Asia, continue to rely on the use of coal. According to latest assessments, carbon emissions will spike in 2021 due to heavy use of coal. Such moves will jolt climate action goals and require countries like China to shut down nearly 600 coal-fired plants  in order to meet its net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2060. 

Meanwhile India’s efforts of transitioning to 450GW of renewables is being uncritically applauded and that without questioning the massive human rights violations and environmental destruction  associated with such ‘just transitions’.  In an interesting technological  development, a new study reveals how using a system of chilled panels can save up to 45% of air conditioning energy requirements in 60 of the world’s most populous cities, and also help buildings become more ventilated and COVID proof.

Agriculture

Farmers are continuing their protests  against Farm Laws at Delhi’s borders, taking all precautions necessary to ensure they’re safe from the pandemic’s second wave. They are being forced to brave the covid crisis in order that they can forestall an even graver one – the corporate takeover of agriculture  that the farm laws facilitate. Meanwhile, farmers in Punjab are worried that the majority of wheat produced is not being procured, as the state government lays blame on the Centre for not extending adequate support. 

As common coffee species Arabica and Robusta face the threat of lower yields, thanks to climate change, cultivating a recently rediscovered climate-resilient species Stenophylla could help secure the livelihoods of 100 million coffee farmers worldwide. 

Environmental Governance

Under President Bolsonaro’s government the Amazon forest has seen record breaking illegal deforestation activities. Yet, Bolsonaro has chosen to reduce the number of environmental fines handed out to ranchers. Research led by the University of Leeds has found that some of the SDG Targets will inevitably cause damage to forests. For the forests of the Indian subcontinent too, all is not well. The unrelenting fires in the forests of India and Nepal have begun to acquire worrying proportions. Yet this has not stopped MoEF&CC from attempting to amend the Indian Forest Act 1927

The environment ministry has also amended the EIA notification 2006 to allow several industries, including some polluting ones, to expand capacities on the basis of a dubious self-certification declaration. In Goa, the Goa-Tamnar Transmission Line has raised concerns of adverse impacts on Karnataka’s ecology and wildlife, The severe environmental crisis due textile industry, which is not only water extractive but also leads to severe water contamination due to dumping of untreated textile effluent, is once more a matter of grave concern.

In Bangalore, lake rejuvenation continues to face roadblocks. Despite BBMP’s orders, road engineering divisions and regional offices continue to waste resources undertaking a model of lake ‘development’  which contributes very little, or nothing at all, to lake rejuvenation. 

In an interesting move, public representatives in Ladakh have shunned the national level bidding of minor mining blocks highlighting threats it poses to the ecology, economy, culture, and future of Ladakh. 

In some good news, NGT ordered Vedanta Ltd subsidiary Talwandi Sabo Power Limited (TSPL)’s coal fired power plant in Mansa, Punjab to pay multi-million dollar compensation to counterpoise the large-scale damage caused by the highly toxic emissions and fly ash to the village’s agricultural land and environment.     

Law & Society

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had said in February that our world is experiencing a pandemic of human rights abuses. “The Pandemic’s Chilling effect on Free Speech” accounts for major regression in democatic movements globally. Meanwhile, PEN America lists India in top ten democracies involved in crushing dissent and free speech. Consequently the country again slipped further down in the Press Freedom Ranking. Ramachandra Guha explores how such decline has coincided with the expanding personality cult of our Prime Minister.

After the interventions made by High Courts of Delhi and Bombay to ensure better supply of Covid related medicine and Oxygen, the Supreme Court bench consisting of the Chief Justice of India decided to take over issues related to Covid Pandemic from the High courts drawing severe criticisms by senior lawyers. On the other hand, High Courts of Bombay and Delhi mandated regulations for celebrations of Ramzan, capping the number of people to 50. Contrast this with how the HIgh Court of Uttarkhand placed no such  such restrictions  in the out of turn Kumbh Mela drawing lakhs of people.  

Women, ‘Domestic Responsibilities’ and Indian Judiciary’s Grand Patriarchy” draws attention to the degree to which the powerful are steeped in patriarchy and the long journey needed in addressing such structural violence. In another case of overreach, even abuse, of power, a man from Uttar Pradesh was slapped with a case under the Epidemic act for “creating fear among people” when he wrote on Twitter asking for an oxygen cylinder for his 88 year old relative. The Uttar Pradesh government continues to be vindictive of Dr. Kafeel Khan, and has refused to revoke his suspension angry with his extraordinary efforts saving scores of children a couple of years ago due to oxygen shortages in a public hospital. 

Urban Issues

Even as urban gardening has seen a resurgence with the pandemic, Bharat Dogra shares some insights into how it can be adapted to provide valuable services – such as enhancing biodiversity and improving food security. Urban greenery is also crucial in mitigating climate change  – with researchers in Sikkim documenting the carbon sequestration capacities of sacred grove forests in Gangtok.  

Based on a study conducted in one of Mumbai’s poorest wards, researchers observe that while addressing hunger is essential, it is simultaneously critical to build robust social systems which will assist them in becoming self-reliant. “How to create better cities when the pandemic is over ” addresses vulnerability of cities to pandemics and about integrating nature-based solutions in urban planning to make cities more resilient.

Even as Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd is reeling under a financial crisis, the Union Cabinet has approved two phases of Bengaluru’s metro project projected to cost a massive Rs. 14,778 cr. And a city that has no money to pay Pourakarmikas, and is struggling to afford vaccines, ICU beds, oxygen cylinders and life-saving medicines, somehow found the money to place these front page advertisements in all of Bangalore’s major newspapers.  

Communities & Livelihoods

Alarming news has come in from Manipur, with resident’s of the Pumlen Pat wetland receiving eviction notices to leave their floating homes in which they have lived for generations. This when new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) proves “People have shaped Earth’s ecology for at least 12,000 years, mostly sustainably”.  Meanwhile, in Orissa, civil society organizations are working to ensure adivasi children enter the formal education system, raising questions if this will result in erosion of their culture?

Podcast 
Ever heard of the racket-tailed drongo? These beautiful jet-black birds found in tropical forests are amongst the best mimics you can find in the wild. Samira Agnihotri, a researcher based in Karnataka’s Biligiri Rangana Hills has studied them for years. She has also worked closely with the Soliga tribe, an adivasi community from this area. Listen to her experiences in this enchanting podcast-interview with Derrick Jensen.\

Obituaries

Fr. Francis Guntipilly, a Jesuit priest, lost his battle to  Covid on 18th of April.  For decades Francis has been quietly working with landless and bonded labour, dalit communites and other vulnerable communites across Karnataka.  At Ashirwad  in Bangalore, Francis ensured the space was open to all progressive movements, and actively participated in them.  His infectious enthusiasm positively affected various relief efforts, be it to support communities affected by the Tsunami or Covid.  Never after power, in fact loathing it, Francis remained a man of the people, with the people and for the people throughout his life.  Ashirwad will never be the same without Francis.

Dr. Duarte Barreto, a social theorist and exemplary trainer, passed on.   From early 1970s, when he was part of a venerated team at the Indian Social Institute (ISI) , Bengaluru, Duarte was instrumental in challenging the belief systems and thought processes of an array of young people and guiding them to ideas of liberation theology and Marxian tools of analysis to study and intervene in social, political and economic systems and processes. Many of them took leadership positions in Dalit, Adivasi, fishing community, agrarian and labour movements and entities all over the country.He continued his sublimating role even after he moved out from the ISI. Duarte was the executive trustee of Foundation for Educational Innovations in Asia (FEDINA) since 1996. He was the Chairperson of Centre for Education and Communication (CEC) since 1994.

India tragically lost one of it’s finest journalists to COVID. In a career spanning over three decades, Kakoli Bhattacharya, wore many feathers in her cap: researcher, translator, news assistant, journalist, loving mother and wife. “Unflappable and warm, blessed with a power to persuade that few could resist, she was invaluable to journalists she worked with, write her colleagues at The Guardian.  Kakoli was partner to Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a close friend of ESG.

Another grave loss is of S G Neginhal, IFS (Retd), one of India’s most-loved foresters who played a crucial role in greening Bangalore, Delhi and many other cities across INdia.  He also was the author of several books documenting trees of western ghats and also cities. Neginhal was actively involved in various afforestation and research activities till his last days.  He was 92 year when he passed on, due to COVID.

One thought on “Environment Justice Matters- Vol 2. Issue 8

  • July 19, 2021 at 2:34 pm
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    They were the voice of the voiceless. Respectful farewell to Fr. Francis Guntipilly, Duarte Barreto, Kakoli Bhattacharya, and S G Neginhal.

    Reply

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