Environment Support Group

Environment Justice Matters- Vol3. Issue 3 | Sidestepping Climate Change Accord Commitments in support of Mega projects |Amulya K. N. Reddy

Vol 3. Issue 3

Loktak lake

The biodiversity rich very large freshwater lake in Manipur is threatened by massive infrastructure  projects promoted by  Manipur and Indian Governments dubiously claiming it is within the framework of law. This has been resisted by local fisher communities for years. In a very significant development, Manipur High Court reaffirmed on 25th February, its  17th July 2019 order (in Court on its Own Motion v. State of Manipur & Ors.) that no development will take  place without the Court’s approval in the Loktak Wetland Complex region. This was in response to a plea from All Loktak Lake Areas Fishers Union – Manipur (ALLAFUM) to be allowed to be party to the proceedings and submit their concerns against the project.  ALLAFUM, Indigenous Perspectives (Imphal), and Environment Support Group (Bangalore) welcome the 25th February 2022 order, and have called upon Wetlands International  to direct its South Asia office to withdraw the Integrated Management Plan on the basis of which these infrastructure projects are promoted. The organisations state this will help create space essential to initiate the process for formulation of the Brief Document in right earnest and in keeping with the principles of the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, amongst others.  

Climate Justice

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) Working Group II (WRG II) report — ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’.   For India, the consequences are terrible, as this summary details. According to New York Times, Time Is Running Out to Avert a Harrowing Future.

Meanwhile, a new study published in Earth’s Future indicates low-income countries are experiencing more heatwaves compared to high-income countries, a gap that will widen with time. Further, the impacts disproportionately affect low-income countries, like the double cyclone in Madagascar in January-February which affected over 2,00,000 people.  An article in Feminism in India highlights how disparitites affect women worse and suggests national policies need to focus on gendered vulnerabilities created by climate change

The Paradox of Renewables

A key strategy promoted to tackle climate change, especially from the North, is to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and shift to renewables.  Which, as Thea Riofrancos argues in Foreign Policy, is fraught with serious inconsistencies even if this involves  shifting the mining of minerals critical to the renewable energy transition to the Global North. ”Global north onshoring does not repair the forms of environmental harm disproportionally meted out in the global south”, he argues. Besides, this would create new problems which primarily affect oppressed populations within affluent countries. 

A study by Centre for Financial Accountability on Delhi’s WTE plants highlights, popularly promoted solutions could be far worse as “costs to public health, money and resources make it clear that investment in waste to energy projects is an investment in public harm and is actually a waste of energy”.  Which indicates the lethargy in attending to the mess in solid waste management  is symptomatic of  failure in urban governance.  

As Bhargavi S. Raoof ESG highlights in these Reuters investigations, “Communities impacted by solar parks are rarely consulted or informed about the plan or its impact”. Such transitions, Leo Saldanha points out, “has become a race to the bottom in terms of regulatory relaxations as states vie with each other to attract investment”.  The stark injustice of such transitions is brought into sharp focus by Gajner’s village head Kumhar who wonders “How unjustifiable is it that the government is destroying our environment – besides denying grazing land to our livestock – and saying we are doing it for climate change?”  

Sidestepping Climate Change Accord Commitments in support of Mega projects

As the Government of India pursues inter-linking of rivers, and has made budgetary allocations to various river linking projects, tribal leaders from across Gujarat are opposing the Par-Tapi-Narmada river linking project, which also received Budgetary support. Involving construction of seven dams, this mega project will submerge around 7,500 hectares of land affecting 75 villages and displacing more than 35,000 villagers. 

People of Gondalpura, Jharkhand are mounting resistance to coal mining by Adani Enterprises Ltd, which was favoured in the 2020 coal block allocations. This mega mine is likely to displace over 4000 people besides causing severe environmental pollution. 

Environmental Law and Regulation

Historic day in the campaign to beat plastic pollution” is how the United Nations described the 2nd March resolution to End Plastic Pollution. This is a legally binding agreement endorsed by 175 countries.  With plastic production being half a trillion dollars business today, and likely to double in the next two decades, such commitments will test the resolve of every government – local, regional and national, and also of transnational corporations in taking highly damaging plastics out of our environment and thus saving human health and nature for posterity. The treaty has already been condemned as insufficient by scientists and environmentalists globally, who have called for really serious commitments to ensure plastic is kept out of the web of life and our bodies to save present and future generations and global ecology.

Not just dams and mines, even afforestation projects are ravaging communities and the environment. In the name of climate change mitigation compensatory afforestation is seriously jeopardising adivasi women who directly depend on such forest for their self-reliant livelihoods (Atmanirbhar), but are arrested and harassed as “trespassers” on their own lands diverted undemocratically to such schemes. Meanwhile, as governments dither on implementing forest rights, the Indian Parliament is informed that over 13 lakh hectares of forest land (including reserved forests and protected areas) are encroached. Which activists say is a false statement as it includes forests with claims that are yet to be recognised as per the Forest Rights Act 2006.  The Government asserts many claims are bogus, as with the case of Shivamogga district of Karnataka where over  half of 90,000 forest rights claims have been rejected till date.

Indian Express’s investigation reveals serious non-compliances with environmental and forest clearance conditions imposed in approving six mega projects (including Ken-Betwa river linking project and the Dibang Valley Hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh) exposing  weak regulation.  The Indian Government, meanwhile, is promoting a single window clearance system prioritising business interest over that of local communities and the environment. 

A positive development due to the intervention of National Green Tribunal is the formulation of a first-of-its-kind set of guidelines for ash pond siting, design and engineering standards and the need for public health and risk impact assessments in India. Maharashtra Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray acknowledges severe fly ash pollution at the Nandgaon thermal power plant, following which the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board directed the remediation of its 258 acre ash pond. Maharashtra has also decided to conduct a comprehensive study on the phasedown of ageing and polluting coal power plants.

Public Health and Environment 

Coca-Cola – the world’s largest plastic polluter –  has pledged to make 25% of its packaging globally reusable by 2030. But activists are skeptical, pointing to a string of broken promises by the company. In its latest report on plastic waste, As a Greenpeace Mediterranean study reports, southern Turkey has become a major dumping ground for waste from Europe. “According to Eurostat, the amount of plastic waste sent from Europe to Turkey has  increased 196-fold since 2004.6 Turkey imported 656,960 tonnes of plastic from Europe  in 2020.7 Of this amount, 209,642 tonnes came from the UK alone, a 36% increase from  the previous year. Germany was the third biggest exporter with 136,083 tonnes, which  was an increase of 102% from the previous year.”  

In what is disturbing news, a new study reveals active ingredients from medicines have polluted most of the world’s rivers and freshwater sources. Chemical pollution from pharmaceuticals not only harms wildlife and in a serious challenge to public health increases antibiotic resistance. Urban sewage is increasingly contaminated by disposed medicines and residues in human faecal matter, and is thus competing with industrial leaks. 

In a major threat to the health and sovereignty of India’s food systems German company Bayer has sought permission to cultivate its next generation of Bt Cotton seeds in India.  Considering how Bt Cotton seed oil is in widespread use, such as by Nagpur Haldiram’s,  this move needs critical review.

Urban Biodiversity

A Citizen science project from Delhi reveals how the smallest of ponds in the heavily built region support biodiversity. Meanwhile, in a not at all welcome move in Bengaluru, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has decided to set up parks inside 36 lakes of the city. This is in blatant violation of the guidelines formulated by the Committee led by Justice NK Patil and accepted as binding by the Karnataka High Court in its 2012 judgement in Environment Support Group v. State of Karnataka (WP 817/2008).  

Sustainable Transport 

The Karnataka Government has approved the Bangalore Peripheral Ring Road at an estimated cost of Rs. 21091 crores.  But this has brought farmer leaders, such as Srinivas of Mavallipura, to question if  Bangalore Development Authority is in India or in British India, as it intends to acquire land under the highly exploitative 1894 British era Land Acquisition Act, instead of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.  This when it is well documented that expanding road infrastructure through such projects is likely to cause more traffic congestion instead of alleviating it, and contribute to unmanageable urban sprawl,  as this 2014 Wired essay analyses from the Los Angeles experience.  

Such infrastructure that accumulates concrete and destroys open and green spaces will accentuate the ‘urban heat island’ effect, says Dr. J. Srinivasan, Professor at Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. In a public hearing conducted by the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike on February 15, the importance of ensuring mobility through affordable and accessible public transportation, was highlighted.    

Law and Society

The Hijab debate is a pretext for institutionalising state cruelty , argues Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Muslims, especially Muslim students in the state of Karnataka, are being targeted and this is resulting in violating their Fundmental Right to Education and Expression.  Meanwhile, Gurshabad Grover discusses another worrying development, ‘privatisation’ of policing functions in upscale locales of cities like Bengaluru, and makes a compelling case against private “security” firms that restrict free and equitable access to public spaces by enforcing the morality of the rich few in the guise of “securing” elite neighbourhoods. 

Soil and Sovereignty

In a special drive, Prime minister Narendra Modi flagged off 100 Kisan drones in different cities and towns of India to spray pesticides in farms across India. Kisan drones are being promoted as an advancement in agricultural technology to assist in crop assessment, digitization of land records and spraying of insecticides and nutrients, a move that completely damage the sovereignty now held by farmers over farm, soil, food & agrobiodiversity. Critics questions the benefit to farmers from the scheme and indicate that the true beneficiaries of the scheme are industries and crop insurance companies.

“Undeclared Emergency” Finding the Vocabulary to Articulate It

The crisis faced by Indian democracy according to some is inaugural. The only parallel to the democratic decline witnessed today is the emergency declared by Mrs Gandhi in June of 1975. If the benchmark is the emergency of 1975, how do we assess the contemporary situation? Is the language of undeclared emergency a useful one to capture the contemporary state of Indian democracy? In a discussion organised by Bangalore International Centre, these dimensions were probed by Arvind Narain (author of ‘Undeclared Emergency’),  Aparna Chandra (Associate Professor NLSUI),  Leo Saldanha and coordinated by Aishwarya Ravikumar (Researcher).

In remembrance of

In a fond recalling of the contributions of late Prof. Amulya K. N. Reddy,  founder of Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA) created in the Indian Institute of Science in 1974, Karthik Venkatesh  writes  “Amulya Reddy chose to imagine and practice a different science. To move away from the rarefied heights of academia and work at solutions that would directly touch the lives of ordinary people was a choice that he made. It was also something of a personal sacrifice. His stress on environmental sustainability at a time when it had still not come into popular conversation is an indication that he foresaw the destruction that blind devotion to ‘growth’ paradigms would bring. His was a life in science nonpareil.”

Too young to go

Anuradha Mathur, renowned landscape architect, has passed on.  Anuradha co-authored Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (2006), which they describe as “also about the power of landscape to determine the nature of a place and the eye through which it is seen”.  She also coauthored with Dilip da Cunha Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (2001), and  Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (2009), and was co-editor of Design in the Terrain of Water (2014). In 2011 and 2012 Mathur and da Cunha curated an international symposium titled In the Terrain of Water, held at Weitzman School.   

ESG is Hiring a Lawyer/Legal Researcher

Environment Support Group is keen to hire a lawyer motivated to work on complex environmental justice issues. The right candidate would be keen to work with local communities, and comfortable interacting with various levels of the government and the judiciary, and also willing to engage in policy research and capacity building projects.

The job requires working out of the ESG office in Bangalore, with willingness to travel to meet with communities we work with and to be part of field studies.  High level of competence in articulation (both speaking and writing) is essential in English, and spoken/reading in Kannada, Hindi and any of the schedule languages is a significant advantage.  The position requires commitment to work with ESG for at least two years.

Those who qualify are requested to send their detailed CV (with at least one reference) to < [email protected] > with the subject marked: Application for Lawyer/Legal Researcher position

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