Vol 2. Issue 19
An Appeal for this Festive Season
Greetings of the Dasara season.
We start this News digest with an appeal. An appeal for your support. For ESG.
Despite the unprecedented challenges the pandemic imposed on us, we have continued our work with diverse communities across India.
Our core work of advancing environmental and social justice, in which we have been engaged for over two decades now – through intersectional, interdisciplinary and intersectoral efforts – continues.
- Advancing inclusive ground up participatory planning to build Climate Action Plans for the metropolitan area of Bengaluru, which we hope could serve as a model for other cities and districts to similarly develop their climate action plans.
- Advancing deeply democratic governance of lakes as commons (there are over 39000 lakes in Karnataka) in collaboration with district/municipal lake protection committees across the State of Karnataka, with oversight from the Karnataka State Legal Services
- Working to secure the rights of indigenous fisher communities who live on Loktak lake of Manipur and to ensure the wetland is protected from maldevelopment
- Building legal and community support to secure rights of Pourakarmiksa/Safai Karmacharis who maintain the cleanliness of India’s cities and villages and promote strategies for decentralised governance of solid waste management and public health
- Promoting farmer and consumer-friendly agroecology
- Advancing democratisation of environmental laws and policies of India and assisting the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India in critiquing proposals to amend Forest Conservation Act and EIA Notification that promote industrial and commercial interest over human rights, environment and protection of forests and forest rights
Our committed and energetic team is keen to assist vulnerable communities nationwide and support various national and international environmental justice efforts. The challenge is in finding the necessary financial resources to back initiatives.
We invite you to contribute to ESG in any manner you can, occasionally or regularly.
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On 9th October 2021, the floating village Champu khangpok at Loktak Lake, Manipur celebrated World Migratory Bird Day organised by All Loktak Lake Areas Fisheries Union Manipur (ALLAFUM) in partnership with Ngamee Lup, Pumlen Pat Khoidum Lamjao Kanba Apunba Lup, Environment Support Group and Indigenous Perspectives. Renowned ornithologist Dr. S. Subramanya spoke on the critical importance of protecting wetlands like Loktak for protecting and conserving water birds, as he highlighted the wetland is a habitat of the Central Asian-Indian Flyway and East Asian-Australasia Flyway for migratory birds. Local activists in Manipur asserted the importance of the community to stand up against corporate bodies and private companies which are intent on developing the lake into a mega tourism destination.
In a significant development, the Project Director of Urban Development Department of Yadgir district, Karnataka in a letter to all commissioners of urban local governments in the jurisdiction urges them to strictly follow directions issued by the Karnataka High Court in WP 817/2008 (Environment Support Group and anr. vs. State of Karnataka and ors.), which includes the Justice N K Patil Committee Report and its guidelines, as also multiple other reports that the High Court has cited as an essential reference. The officer has highlighted the critical importance of forming lake protection committees to protect all lakes from encroachment and pollution, as directed by the Court, and to employ the Karnataka Tank Conservation Development Authority Act to ensure they remain protected for posterity. Yadgir’s example needs to be emulated just about everywhere.
ESG also joined in issuing an appeal to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri. B. S. Bommai, that the responsibility of the State Government is to protect Constitutional morality, not to protect criminals. This statement was endorsed by former judges, leading writers, civil society and trade union representatives, film actors and cultural icons condemning the recent spate of attacks against minorities and dissenters in Karnataka, which attacks the Chief Minister appeared to be controversially condoning.
UN Summits on Climate and Biodiversity
COP26 on Climate Change
As the world prepares for yet another Conference of Parties (COP) to develop effective mechanisms for tackling climate change, the 26th actually, this time at Glasgow, 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom joined the peoples of the world in expressing irritation over the non-action of world leaders in addressing inclusively and competently humanity’s greatest crisis: “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.” After much dithering about participating in the COP, including calls for boycotting this year’s conference over various exclusions, various people’s movements and networks have rallied together to organise a parallel People’s Summit for Climate Justice.
COP15 on Biodiversity Convention
Nearly 3,000 delegates participated in the COP15 talks on the U.N. Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) held in the southwestern city of Kunming (11-15th October), with almost 2,500 connecting online. This COP adopted the Kunming Declaration and committed to negotiate an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework that can bend the curve of biodiversity loss.
Whatever happens in Glasgow needs to take note of climate change impacted communities most at risk, as in Samoa. And a greater part of the problem in addressing this unprecedented challenge is that most decision-makers do not yet realise how dangerously poised the world is. BBC News has helped close this gap with a useful reader.
Rains pound India
In India, rains that have not been witnessed by at least two generations are lashing across the south and western India over the past few weeks. Entire regions and various cities of Kerala and Karnataka are flooded resulting in heartbreaking accounts of entire families being washed away, or consumed by landslides. But there is, as yet, no acknowledgement in political decision making that this is how climate change wreaks havoc.
In a conversation with India Ahead News, Leo Saldanha of ESG discusses how the systematic destruction of the Western Ghats and maldevelopment are contributing to such devastating floods and landslides. Megacities like Bangalore, which grew too rapidly by over extracting groundwater reserves and with devastating impact on greenery, are paying a heavy price, reports a new study from Institute for Social and Economic Change. A particularly devastating result has been an extensive breakdown in the already weak infrastructure of the city, and its airport, and worse: housing complexes collapsing. See, here, here, here, here and here.
Finance and Environmental Justice
In the biggest ever leak of corporate and financial papers, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Pandora Papers “exposes a shadow financial system that benefits the world’s most rich and powerful.” Amongst them, de Laguiche, a member of Italy’s leading business family that owns the chemical giant Solvay. ICIJ reports that with stocks “publicly traded on the Paris and Brussels stock exchanges, Solvay is one of the world’s largest chemicals and plastics producers, with 110 industrial sites in 64 countries and 2020 sales of $11 billion. Its products include high-strength plastics for spinal implants and aeroplanes”. But this company did not have any scruples poisoning northern Italy’s town Spinetta Marengo with toxic discharges that exposed workers and local communities to cancerous chemicals and caused grave diseases and death. Besides, “the roster of people directing their money into offshore companies and trusts, the records show, includes prominent executives of chemical companies accused of major violations of environmental laws in countries including India and Russia”.
Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, film actor Jackie Shroff and biotech business magnate Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and family also feature in this list of the super-rich hiding their fortunes in tax havens. Keep your focus on ICIJ’s revelations in the coming weeks, as the trove of information is sorted, analysed and exposes blood money hidden away by the super-rich of the world. A quick view of what this means to all of us, watch Pandora Papers: An unprecedented leak exposes the inner workings of a shadow economy
Business as usual
Meanwhile, it is business as usual for oil companies. “Despite spills and air pollution, fossil fuel companies award CEOs for environmental records”, reports The Washington Post, Marathon Petroleum’s former CEO got a $272,000 bonus for surpassing environmental goals the same year the company spilled 1,400 barrels of fuel in an Indiana creek.
Systematic dilution of forest protection laws of India
The proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 has invited widespread censure for being focussed on promoting the interests of private landowners and industries instead of fixing the systemic ills that undermine the democratisation of the forest governance process. The Hindustan Times in its editorial raises major concerns over this proposal: that it comprehensively sidesteps Forest Rights Act, 2006, Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, while unabashedly promoting mining and infrastructure development into forest and biodiversity-rich areas, including by claiming security reasons.
While The Morning Context argues the draft forest law could actually end up spurring deforestation, the rushed move to amend India’s major forest protection law has also drawn criticism from Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Mr. Binoy Viswam. See also An “Unbroken History of Broken Promises” – Govts Violate Forest Rights from 2002 to the Present.
Draft EIA Notification Amendments in 22 official languages
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the first COVID pandemic related lockdown without a plan, which had devastating consequences, then Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had pushed through comprehensive amendments to prevailing EIA Notification 2006, and demanded public comments on the draft by mail, when postal services remained suspended. Such undemocratic efforts received nationwide condemnation and resulted in unprecedented campaigns demanding the draft EIA Notification 2020 be withdrawn, and such legislative reforms are proposed when life returns to normalcy for all.
But the Government was intent on moving forward with the changes, till a Delhi High Court order in response to a PIL first deferred the final date for public comments on the proposed changes, and eventually directed a reluctant government to translate the Draft into all 22 official languages of India. The Indian Environment Ministry took an entire year to comply with this direction and has recently put out 22 translations of the Draft EIA Notification 2020 for public comments by 15th December 2021.
Collateral changes are being proposed to ease mining in environmentally sensitive areas with further amendments in the Minerals (Evidence of Mineral Contents) Rules, 2015 and the Mineral (Auction) Rules, 2015 to facilitate identification of more mineral blocks for grant of composite license through auction. But the power to comment on proposed changes appears to be open only to business networks and mining companies.
Recent stories from across the country illustrate how the existing forest protection laws controlled by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change are already very weak and promote reckly mining and industrialisation. In protest against opening up forests for mining, tribal villagers of Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forest area undertook an unbelievable 330 km historic march to Delhi to protest against the illegal grant of coal mining clearances in their forests which was done largely by forging Gram Sabha consents.
In Kerala, meanwhile, tribal communities recently enjoyed a rare and significant victory as the government agreed to abandon the Athirappilly hydroelectric power project across the Chalukady river that would have devastated pristine forests, destroyed the grand Athirapally waterfalls and displaced hundreds of tribal families. This was a cause late Latha Anantha had fought for till cancer took her in November 2017.
In Maharashtra, a PIL to declare regions as “critical wildlife habitats” is inviting opposition since such declarations are being pushed without determination of forest claims. This even as yet another scientific study, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes the case that “a “pristine wilderness” where rich biodiverse forests continue to thrive without humans present is a Eurocentric construct” reports Mongabay.
And in Bangalore, the proposal to develop ‘tree parks’ on forest land continues to draw widespread attention and criticism. This time, the opposition is against the Karnataka Forest Department’s move to turn the Jarakabande Kaval in north Bangalore into a tourist attraction and ‘tree park’.
A Landmark Recognition of the National Green Tribunal’s powers
The Supreme Court affirmed the power of the National Green Tribunal to hear cases related to environmental protection by taking note of media reports or on its own initiative – suo moto. The Supreme Court’s judgment is significant because it frames this power as necessary for the effective discharge of the NGT’s obligations to proactively protect the environment and act as an expert regulatory body. The court observed, however, that this power must be exercised within the confines of the NGT’s jurisdiction. This means that the case in question must be of a civil nature (as opposed to criminal) and related to substantial environmental harm that has occurred or is likely to occur, which is covered in certain specified statutes including the Environment Protection Act, the Forest (Conservation) Act, air and water pollution control statutes, and the Biological Diversity Act.
Landfills are back in Bangalore?
Despite multiple court orders over almost a decade, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike is intent on pushing the waste generated in the city into landfills, in clear violation of the directions of the Karnataka High Court. In a recent move, the civic agency proposes to open up the massive Mandur landfill which was closed down five years ago following protests from local communities. Two landfills in Mavallipura were forced shut as well due to protests and a combination of judicial and regulatory action. As long impacted communities were looking forward to a calm and peaceful life, they are now threatened with displacement to make way for housing projects by the Bangalore Development Authority, and without adequate relief and compensation and were forced to protest on Gandhi Jayanthi.
Groundwater supports most of India’s agriculture and drinking water demands. And yet there is very little attention paid to protecting the water reserve. An illustrated essay in The Conversation explains just how old groundwater reserves are and why we must do everything to protect it and use it wisely.
The holistic revival of a micro watershed in Boragunte-Gidadagalahalli provides hope in how intelligent use of traditional knowledge combined with modern understanding of agroecological practices can provide nourishing and healthy food protecting water, soil and biodiversity.
The much-neglected grassland ecosystems need enormous attention worldwide, and especially in India where they are still considered “wastelands”. Popular Mechanics explains “grasses act as ‘ecosystem engineers’ that modify their hostile, abiotic environment, leading to vegetation self-organization.” And that having a steady drip of gathered moisture means the area between these grasses can change their makeup and even support more robust ecological stacks including probiotic bacteria.
“There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”
Watch this interview with Maya Angelou
The People’s Forum (TPF) on BRICS is a collective platform of several people’s movements, networks and civil society organisations from across India. TPF will attempt to raise critical voices from below on social, ecological, political and economic concerns that are often ignored at inter-governmental processes such as BRICS. The TPF will not only monitor and analyse developments at the official and business arenas but also build solidarities across borders with like-minded groups to advance an alternative model of development that puts people before profit.
Inaugural Plenary- People’s Forum on BRICS, 2021
Date: 18th October 2021
Time: 5:30 PM India | 2 PM South Africa | 9:00 AM Brazil | 8:00 PM Hong Kong | 3:00 PM Moscow | 8 PM Beijing
Please pre-register here for Zoom Meeting Link:
Meeting ID: 928 8379 3677
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Environment Support Group (Trust)
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