Environment Justice Matters| Environment Day | Vol3. Issue 7

Vol 3. Issue 7

Every Day is Environment Day

At Environment Support Group(ESG), every day is Environment Day.  And it has been the case for us ever since the organisation was founded, 25 years ago. Yes, it is the 25th year of this initiative and we hope we are doing our bit to be grateful for the incredible opportunity of being a part of this living planet.  

Every day at ESG we invest our time and energies to be aware of and assist our fellow travellers on this planet to be alert to our magical aliveness as Earth journeys through the cosmic expanse.  We are conscious that life as we find all about us is absolutely – a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y –  rare in this universe (or multiverse if you’ve been watching recent Hollywood movies).   

As the world commemorates another Environment Day today, there is a lot to be worried about. We have all been terrible shipmates: squabbling with each other over our possessions; holding on to more than we need; grabbing what we don’t need violently, and feeling great about that; finding ways to dominate each other – our diversities in race, colour, religion, ideology are not celebrated, instead used to control and abuse each other. All of which creates turbulence that is our rocking Earth ship.

Caught as we are in this difficult situation, we don’t slow down to observe wonders all about us: bird calls are drowned by traffic and TV; our minds are busy consuming what we are incessantly fed and as a result we aren’t aware our mind spaces are keen to discover meditative spaces which can help us connect meaningfully with each other – without devices; we eat to merely stay alive, not celebrate our aliveness; the biodiversity richness of our food is being homogenised and turned into unhealthy plasticised crap; our rivers, forests, lakes, grasslands, beaches, the sky even, are mere commodities for accountants to fix their monetary value and compute costs of fixing the damage done to them, and not, as should be, poetic imaginaries of our souls.  And this situation is designed to benefit profit raking transnational corporations who only live by quarterly return on investments, and won’t look up to see what’s going on all over.  

As multiple conferences are held world over in an attempt to bring convergence of intent, thought and action to fix maladies innate to prevailing developmental paradigms and their goals by which human progress is measured now, we continue to explore ways to nurture our collective energies to live lightly and caring for each other, and in ways future generations too will have a chance to be amazed by the wonders of Gaia.   

We invite you to join in this journey for hope and peace where life breathes well and healthy. 

-ESG Team 

ESG Features

An Officer to Save Each Lake: ESG efforts to protect lakes and other such water commons gains strength

In a major decision of the Karnataka High Court, every lake in Bengaluru will now receive protection from a designated official.  This protection extends to lakes, kaluves and such other water commons.  The consequences of this decision can serve as a model for community based protection, ecologically wise rehabilitation and decentralised governance of water commons in a region which is intensely urbanising, where water stress is magnifying and where traditions of community maintenance of these built water harvesting zones are fraying sooner than we can imagine.  

For over two decades now, ESG has been advocating processes by which our water commons – lakes, kaluves, ponds, wells, and such other wetlands – can be protected and rehabilitated by local communities and local governments so they can be transformed into socially inclusive functional wetlands that extend water and ecological security.  A key outcome was the unprecedented 12th April 2012 decision of Karnataka High Court in ESG’s Lakes PIL (WP 817/2008) by which District/Municipal Lake Committees were to be established to decentralise lake governance to the district level.  As responses of the administration in implementing the judicial order and consequent Government Orders  were tardy, ESG intervened in a PIL initiated by Citizens Action Group (WP 38401/2014) and invited the attention of the Principal Bench of the Karnataka High Court to the abysmal state of our lakes and other water commons – which we argued is essential because of the lack of transparent and accountable ground up governance

Principal Bench of the High Court headed by Chief Justice Mr. Abhay Oka heard this PIL from 2019 to 2021 and evolved a remarkable jurisprudence directing State and Local Government agencies to work together with the public through a decentralised lake governance mechanism as envisaged in WP 817/2008 orders. The court particularly directed Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP – Bangalore’s civic agency) and the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (constituted by a 2014 Act of the Karnataka Legislature) to ensure there are coordinated efforts to reclaim encroached areas of lakes, kaluves and such other water commons in water stressed Bengaluru. 

Earlier this year hearings of this PIL resumed before the 2nd Divisional Bench headed by Justice Mr. Alok Aradhe. Two key problems came up for the Court’s consideration: it was unclear which agencies are responsible for reclaiming encroached lakes and there was no clarity about the specific officers of these agencies who would be duty bound to implement Court directions and statutory norms.  In effect a major gap in regulation of lake governance was recognised.

Through March and April 2022, this Division Bench issued various directions to resolve this vexatious situation.  And on 2nd June 2022 the Court issued orders affixing designated officers to be responsible for each and every lake of Bengaluru, a decision that  will have unprecedented, substantive and transformative impact on the future of lake governance in Karnataka.

To ensure this direction is operationalised with due dispatch, the Court focussed its attention on reclaiming historical Begur lake (known to be in existence for a 1000 years) and Subramanyapura lake from various encroachments that it noted. Following is an extract of the order:  

“It is not in dispute before us that in view of notification dated 23.05.2016, the Executive Engineers of the BBMP are the designated officers in respect of Subramanyapura lake and Begur lake as has been stated in the said notification. It is also not in dispute that the encroachment exists in the tank area of the aforesaid lakes which is required to be removed by the designated officers in accordance with the procedure prescribed under Section 22 of the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority Act, 2014. Therefore, it is directed that the designated officers shall initiate proceedings for eviction of unauthorised occupants of Subramanya lake and Begur lake in accordance with the proceeding prescribed under Section 22 of the Act and shall take steps to remove the encroachment. A report in this regard shall be submitted before this Court by the designated officers of the BBMP within a period of six weeks from today. The Additional Advocate General assures this Court that all assistance for removal of encroachments shall be provided to the designated officers if a request is made to the State Government on this behalf.”

(See also various directions of the Karnataka High Court to protect Begur and Subramanyapura lakes.)

A significant outcome is that there is now no uncertainty on who must act against encroachments and upkeep of lakes. Every lake in Bangalore has a designated official who must respond to public complaints of encroachments, pollution and misuse of these precious commons.  This official is also cast with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with  orders in WP 817/2008 and various laws protecting commons and an indicative list includes Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority Act, Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, various municipal and Panchayat raj laws, etc.  

For lake communities and civic groups this decision will be a huge relief.  They can now focus their energies  on working with this officer to ensure each and every lake and its watershed is protected without pollution and encroachment. 

ESG & KSLSA Seminar: Decentralised, Socially Inclusive and Ecologically Wise Protection & Rehabilitation Of Lakes, Kaluves & Water Commons Of Karnataka

On May 17th, Environment Support Group and Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) co-organised a seminar on “Decentralised, Socially Inclusive and Ecologically Wise Protection & Rehabilitation Of Lakes, Kaluves & Water Commons Of Karnataka”. The seminar was an opportunity to assess how far we have travelled in extending water, socio-economic and ecological securities to communities across Karnataka following the path-breaking 11th April 2012 verdict of the Karnataka High Court in the ESG Lakes PIL (WP 817/2008). 

Hon’ble Justice Shri B. Veerapppa, Judge of Karnataka High Court and Chairman of KSLSA delivered the keynote address. A special address was delivered by Hon’ble Justice Shri. N. K. Patil, retired Judge of the Karnataka High Court and former Chairman of KSLSA. The seminar involved interventions by leading representatives of key departments and regulatory agencies of the State Governments, subject experts, representatives of lake protection committees, etc.

The detailed report of the seminar is accessible in English and Kannada along with news reports of the event here. Video recording of the seminar is accessible on ESG’s Youtube channel.

All Saints Church Saved for Posterity

At a time when there is depressing news all about, we share good news with you: All Saints Church, a living heritage of Bengaluru which completed its sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years) a year ago, is safe from Bengaluru Metro construction. The sacred grove of the church, abutting the church, was where an underground station of Namma Metro was proposed. This meant at least 100 heritage trees that created an extraordinarily beautiful sacred grove of the church would have been felled. Along with this destruction would have been destroyed generations of memories and the divinity of the space. Arpana, a special school for autistic children, would also have met the same fate.

Almost four years of peaceful protests, complaints to the European Investment Bank (EIB), Bank piloted reconciliation meetings between the Congregation, Metro authorities and ESG, and subsequent direct engagement, the campaign turned successful. The land to be finally acquired for the Metro construction project was reduced from 4582 sq. m. to a mere 166 sq. m. of permanent acquisition and 218 sq. m. temporary acquisition. Only 7 trees will now be translocated/felled as against 100 trees proposed for felling per the original proposal. An agreement to this effect was signed between the Church and Bangalore Metro in January 2022.

A church, a heritage, its memories, its sense of space, and the biodiversity are saved for generations to come. Read how this remarkable campaign turned into a success when such news is rather rare today  here.

Cubbon Park Wetland destruction by Bangalore Smart City Stayed

Karnataka High Courts directives and statutory powers came together in a decision of the Karnataka Tank Conservation Development and Authority (KTCDA) in staying controversial civil work being undertaken by M/s Bangalore Smart City Ltd. in the city’s iconic Cubbon Park.  Against popular opposition and expert opinion, the company has been reengineering the water landscape of the park into a theme park effectively destroying the Raja Kaluve that gathers water across the park and leads it into a kalyani, the vestigial remain of Sampangi lake which is now Kanteerava stadium.  ESG filed a formal complaint with KTCDA based on which the regulatory agency stayed ongoing construction by Smart City and has asked for records relating to the violations.   

Pandemic Blues

Pandemic Blues a remarkable essay by Suprabha Seshan, conservationist at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Wayanad and Trustee at Environment Support Group, first published in a special issue on the pandemic in Turkish in Jineoloji, a publication of the women’s movement of Kurdistan, has been republished now in Local Futures.  In this essay, Suprabha interweaves narratives about the intricate web of life, the amazing resilience through which this life force springs back when left undisturbed and how capitalist supremacist mindset is the cause of destruction.

Salaam to Coal Miners of the Country

As an unprecedented and prolonged heatwave is sweeping across the Indian subcontinent, and we thoughtlessly reach out to our fans and air conditioners to keep ourselves cool, it is essential that we remember coal miners who are slogging through impossible, even inhumane, conditions to keep the energy supplied to us, writes Bhargavi S. Rao, Senior Fellow/Trustee of ESG in Centre for Financial Accountability blog.  Listen also to a podcast Bhargavi comperes with Dr. Neeti Rao of Public Health Foundation of India discussing the health condition of coal miners on the occasion of World Coalminer’s Day.

Other News

Environmental Jurisprudence

Excellent news! An extended full bench of the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government to find an alternative site if it wants to build the modern international airport in Nijgadh, Nepal. The court cited massive damage to the environment, biodiversity, local communities and wildlife that the project would have caused, and also cited proximity of the project site to the Parsa National Park, a biodiversity rich forest corridor, as a key reason for this decision.

Developments in environmental jurisprudence in India reflect a mixed response from the judiciary. It is observed that on the one hand the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is interpreting sustainable development in a way that gives more importance to environment and precautionary principle while on the other it allows ex-post facto environmental clearance to industries by using Polluter Pays principle with imposition of fines on industries for environmental damage. While the former is in favour of protection of the environment, the latter is in favour of protection of developmental interests. Loss of livelihoods has been cited as the reason by the Court for allowing ex-post facto clearance. Is it not possible instead to explore innovative solutions that can save both livelihoods and safeguard the environment? 

Photo by R Ramesh Shankar

A study by Anna University confirms serious ground water pollution due to leachates carrying high levels of heavy metals from the illegal landfill at Perungudi in Tamil Nadu. This pink water is now draining into the sea and is indicative of flagrant violation of all environmental norms and lack of regard for human rights. 

In a serious dilution of environmental clearance norms relating to expansion of Coal power plants, the Union Environment Ministry has relaxed the mandatory compliance norms for coal mining expansion projects citing higher demand for coal to meet power demands for cooling homes and business through the heatwave sweeping north India.. But the Coal Ministry prefers to counter these claims stating the crisis is a result of non payment of dues to Coal India Ltd. by the States and not shortage of coal.  

The question of an environmental clearance for the Jal Marg Vikas Project (Ganga Waterways Improvement Project) has been put off 14 times by the National Green Tribunal.   This could encourage promotion of such mega projects with widespread disturbances in livelihoods and destruction of wetlands, such as the Loktak Waterway improvement project in Manipur which local communities are staunchly opposing. 

Climate Change

A significant report by the  Philippines Commission on Human Rights focuses on climate accountability from the world’s most polluting countries. The report commissioned in response to petitions from survivors of the Filipino typhoon has called out the world’s most polluting companies for the damage they cause globally. It points out that these companies which continue to expand destructive coal, oil, mining, sectors are spreading misinformation and engaging in ‘wilful obfuscation’ of climate science. This remarkable report is expected to impact climate change law and policy in the Philippines and possibly may influence similar efforts globally.

The State of the Global Climate 2021 report by World Meteorological Organisation reports massive internal displacements: 75% of displacements are attributed to climate events such as tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Meanwhile, by CUTS International, Institute for Competitiveness and Institute for Studies in Industrial Development report that this is affecting India’s competitive capacity.

In what is considered to be a rare occurrence, large parts of south India, Bangalore region in  particular, experienced lowest maximum temperature in May in over a decade.  This when the north Indian region is reeling from a heat wave with temperature soaring and recorded as amongst the highest in over a century. As heatwaves in the North and floods in summer in Assam summer cause havoc, Indian and Bangladesh Governments are found to be responding slowly and poorly. Rain in Antarctica in March is extremely disconcerting and a grave warning of the consequences of climate change. 

Forests

The Karnataka Chief Minister Mr. Basvaraj Bommai has shared that his Cabinet has decided to denotify  6.5 lakh hectares of deemed forests, and term them revenue land, thus opening them for all sorts of non-forest development. Close to 67 percent of the land in Karnataka that was earlier classified as deemed forests might no longer be considered forests due to this decision.  There is serious concern that  declassified deemed forest in the Malnad region constitute forests illegally encroached by coffee planters and now this will be handed back to them on a lease of 30 years. While planters are happy, farmers are wary that this decision comes on the heels of the government proposing to release common lands – gomala, gayarana, soppina betta, hallubanni – to private parties and institutions for industrial and infrastructure development. 

The Forest Advisory Committee of Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change  decided on  11th May  to allow felling over 2.8 lakh trees in dense subtropical, evergreen, broad-leaved forest and subtropical rain forest found in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley for the construction of a 3097 MW Etalin Hydroelectric Project, a joint venture of Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited (JPL). Expectedly, this mega project will result in extensive loss of valley forests and riverine ecosystems, and cause displacement of dozens of villages. 

Meanwhile,  a decision of  Madras High Court banning cattle grazing in forests, has drawn widespread criticism as this directly affects rights of farming, pastoral, adivasis and other forest dwelling communities.  A large number of organisations have protested this ban and urged the Court to reconsider its decision.

The Supreme Court recently issued an unprecedented order banning mining in all protected forests and declaring a 1 kilometre Eco Sensitive (No Development) Zone around them. The implications of this decision on reserved and other forms of forests needs close scrutiny, even as questions are raised if this is a step forward or weakening of guidelines prevailing in the 1990s that required a 10 kms no industrial development belt from the edges of protected areas.

Biodiversity

Photo credit: David Guttenfelder, Nat geo image collection

Solutions to tackle the climate crisis are causing conflicts and impacting biodiversity as large stretches of land are demanded for renewable energy projects, even as  lithium mining is placing  rare species and untouched desert ecosystems at risk. Yet, alternatives to building solar parks on roof tops of structures in cities, as part of agro voltaic efforts, are weak and rare.

The controversial Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has not been withdrawn by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests despite widespread criticism that it will serve as a death knell for the sovereign control of INdia’s bioresources, as Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI) argued in a Statement released last year.

Pollution

On World Migratory Bird Day (May 14) “dim the lights for birds at night” was the theme communicated globally.  Increasing light pollution is a serious threat to migratory birds as it disorients them and takes them literally to their death in the hundreds of thousands. Guidelines on light pollution are now laid down by the Convention on Migratory Species(CMS) and this needs to be followed sincerely and effectively across every overlit city and town across the world.

Air pollution was responsible for 16.7 lakh deaths in India in 2019 or 17.8% of all deaths in India, according to a recent report on pollution and health published in The Lancet Planetary Health. This is the largest number of air-pollution-related deaths for any country. A majority of these deaths were caused by PM 2.5 pollution, followed by household air pollution. Not far behind as a causative factor is lead which is released increasingly from unsound recycling of lead-acid batteries and e-waste pollution.

Polarisation Continues in Karnataka

A meeting of the Hindu Jana Jagruti was held in Rajajinagar, Bengaluru where speakers called out to attack minorities and turning India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. “They are taking over our country like a disease” said one speaker referring to Muslims. Disturbingly, this event was organised in a BBMP facility. 

Karnataka Government banned the use of loudspeakers from 10 pm to 6am citing a 2005 Supreme Court Order. The ban comes immediately after the row over the use of loudspeakers in the Azaan call at mosques. Muslim community leaders have appealed to the mosques to obey the Order and not to use loudspeakers for the early morning azaan.


Remembering Dr. Shirdi Prasad Tekur

Dr. Tekur, a dear friend and trustee of ESG, left us one year ago on 16th May 2021 after he lost his valiant struggle with Covid. 


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