Environment Justice Matters- Vol 2. Issue 11

Webinar Series

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

Week 8 of the series saw rich discussions on how to build climate-resilient and inclusive infrastructure for Bengaluru. A major theme that emerged was the need to plan infrastructure for all sections of society, utilising consultative processes from the ward-level up. Read our previous session reports here.

ESG Features 

  • The Principal Bench of the Karnataka High Court headed by Chief Justice Mr. Abhay Shreenivas Oka passed a landmark order directing constitution of district-level lake protection committees across Karnataka by amending and vastly improving an earlier order of the Court in ESG’s PIL for decentralising lake governance. The earlier judgment of April 2012 had directed such committees be formed in urban areas.  With the new order, all 40,000 lakes and their interconnecting canals are protected. They would need to be surveyed to establish their actual legal areas, encroachments and pollution points identified, a minimum 30 m No Development Zone demarcated around all lakes, and steps need to be taken with community involvement in rehabilitating all lakes and their canals (raja kaluves) based on principles proposed in the Justice N K Patil Committee reports on lake rejuvenation and preventing their privatisation

Public Health 

Mismanagement has been a defining feature of India’s pandemic response, and a recent white paper by the Indian National Congress takes the Modi government to task for this. Meanwhile, a former Union Health Secretary has joined the growing chorus calling for a simple vaccine policy to ensure accessibility: the central government must be the sole procurer. In a welcome but belated step, demands for evidence-based treatment protocols have finally been heeded by the Union Ministry.

Biodiversity 

Centre for Science and Environment’s ‘State of India’s Environment in Figures 2021’ states that over 90% of the area under India’s 4 biodiversity hotspots has been lost, along with 25 species of wildlife that have gone extinct. This press release for the report emphasises how factors like overexploitation of forests, habitat destruction, and climate change are leading to a record number of forest fires. 

Biodiversity is sometimes man-made: as is the case with the thousands of rice breeds developed by ancient farmers, and which have long met nutritional needs and become an intrinsic part of many cultures. Debal Deb recounts for Scroll how the decimation of Bengali folk breeds of rice is also contributing to a loss of culture, apart from eroding nutritional security.

Climate & Enivornment

CO2 in the atmosphere continues to break new records, reaching 419 parts per million last month, and news of the climate crisis continues to pour in too. The UNDP now backs claims of food and water shortages for 2 billion people by 2100 due to the melting of glaciers in the Hindukush Himalayas. Global heating is also decimating oxygen supplies in lakes, threatening wildlife and drinking water supplies. 

However, governments and organizations continue to ignore the impacts of climate and environmental deterioration, and invest in ill-advised initiatives that sometimes border on the fantastical (such as a project to revive the extinct river Saraswati into which ONGC is controversially investing its CSR funds, and the six-year-long flattening of hillocks in seismically sensitive Dehradun).  West Bengal, meanwhile, caught in what appears to be a hopeless situation being battered by cyclones and tidal waves, has chosen to plant 150 million mangrove saplings, whilst it is unable to account for the 50 million planted in 2020 after Amphan. 

Reminders on the growing fallacies in policy-making, such as this essay by environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman for The Wire Science highlighting the flaws of eco-restoration, are therefore timely–as are essays on the problems in tree-planting campaigns, the perils of geoengineering, and the undue focus on studies to determine the sources of air pollution.

The sinking of the chemical-bearing MV X-Press Pearl has become the biggest maritime disaster in Sri Lanka, with dead birds, turtles and even dolphins and blue whales beginning to wash up on the country’s shores.

Environmental Governance

The Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 is headed to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for review, as pesticide manufacturers have been demanding for months. In its current form, it is uncertain whether this significant bill will live up to the task of balancing the interests of farmers and the environment–in a world where Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring remains a timeless indictment of the devastating impacts of pesticides. 

The disregard for environmental impacts by industries is ubiquitous. In Delhi, the state government is seeking the closure of 10 coal-fired power plants citing the use of outdated polluting technology mechanisms, even as power plants have been pushing the central government to relax fly ash disposal norms

Globally, it is individuals, groups and communities who are questioning the impacts of dubious environmental governance. Rajasthani newspaper Rajsamand Bhaskar has exposed the poisoning of 875 acres of agricultural fields by toxic waste dumped by Vedanta’s HZL Zinc Lead smelter plant. A Thai village is suing a company for compensation for poisoning its waterways. Meanwhile, five Polish citizens are suing their government for failing to protect them from the impacts of the climate crisis. Such struggles are only intensifying. Recently, more than 100 activists were arrested at protests against the expansion of Line 3, an oil pipeline passing through indigenous lands and fragile watersheds in Minnesota, which is likely to receive governmental approval despite the Biden administration’s ambitious climate action promises.

The equivocation of governments on environmental action is also evident in the EU’s plans to impose import levies on steel, cement and aluminium produced in countries with lower green standards, while itself continuing to export waste to developing countries like India.

Energy

The critically endangered Great Indian Bustard is a magnificent grassland species and the national bird we never got. Its plight has cast the spotlight on the environmental cost of our ambitious renewable energy plans. In an April judgment welcomed by wildlife experts, the Supreme Court had ruled that power transmission lines (connected to many solar projects) in Gujarat and Rajasthan that are leading to the bird’s deaths in alarming numbers must go underground. As renewable energy companies contemplate seeking a review of the SC’s order, here is an explainer by Prerna Singh Bindra for IndiaSpend from 2018 on the threats that large-scale renewable energy pose to this majestic bird, and India’s grasslands. 

Agriculture

Although no longer in the headlines of mainstream media, the farmers’ protest continues, the largest sustained protest in human history. The documentary Declaration of Revolution explores the motivations behind continuing with a mass protest despite the odds posed by a global pandemic and a repressive state. In the backdrop of the farm protests comes a thought-provoking study that reveals pesticide use to be the leading cause of poisoning in India’s adults–and seems to lay the blame at the feet of agricultural distress.

Efforts to reach out to farmers must understand their diverse socio-economic conditions. The Government of Haryana’s scheme to save water is a case in point. The state is planning to increase the coverage of this scheme, started last year to incentivise farmers to switch from paddy to less water-intensive crops. But it has been criticised for not offering strong economic incentives to landless labourers and marginal farmers, farming on a contractual basis.

Urban issues

1,800 trees are slated for transplantation as a part of the Central Vista project, but experts are concerned about the costs and complications of the transplantation process. People’s Resource Centre’s upcoming documentary Riverfront: How Ahmedabad Lost Sabarmati on the ecological and social impacts of the Sabarmati riverfront (designed by the same architect who is redeveloping the Central Vista) might be a good illustration of the current divide between environmental protection and social equity, on the one hand, and “modern” visions of urban governance on the other.

Meanwhile in Bangalore, the administration seems to be finally waking up to the pitiful condition of the city’s lakes, with the District Commissioner directing officials to survey all lakes and clear encroachments. In a wise move, the BBMP chief commissioner has called off plans to aerially spray disinfectants over parts of the city, amidst concerns over its potential harm to environmental and human health.  

Communities & Livelihoods

More than 97 per cent of India’s population has gotten poorer compared to where they were in terms of income a year ago. About 2/3rds of the jobs lost during the last lockdown were daily wage workers. Stories of distress are also pouring in from the rural hinterlands, which continue to battle the second wave of the pandemic. 

In some parts of India, communities have to deal with long term consequences of abandoned mining as well, as in the case of several Goan villages which are suffering from grave water and livelihood distress, and in the total absence of any ecological restoration programme. Of Lakshadweep islands, across the Arabian Sea, marine biologist Rohan Arthur warns of the dual threat local populace is facing: from climate change and reckless ‘development’. In this backdrop, Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh, writes in this article for Scientific American where he explores alternative economic possibilities for a post-pandemic world.

OBITUARY

Leo Saldanha recalls the extraordinary legacy of Gandhian H S Doreswamy who recently passed away at the ripe age of 102 years, in Citizen Matters and Gauri Lankesh News.

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