As another year comes to an end, it is only appropriate to look back and reflect on all that has happened this past eventful year. 2023 has been a special year for ESG as it marks 25 years of the organisation’s efforts in securing environmental and social justice for all! ESG has worked with a range of marginalised and vulnerable groups across India in the past 25 years, and has been in the forefront of struggles to secure voiceless ecosystems from ruin.
All that ESG has achieved over these years would not have been possible without the invaluable help, support, and solidarity received from numerous individuals and organisations across the country and the globe. We are especially grateful to our readers who continue to be our most staunch supporters in all our efforts. This issue of Environment Justice Matters is a special one and ESG could not be happier to share the highlights of all the remarkable events that transpired this milestone year.
ESG turned 25!
April 2023 marked 25 years of ESG and its efforts in securing environmental and social justice! To celebrate the giant feat, ESG hosted a two day silver jubilee commemoration at the Infosys Science Foundation on 27th and 28th April, 2023. The event included an exploration of ESG’s interventions over the years, commemoration of the local community heroes, and announcement of the Dr. Shirdi Prasad Tekur Memorial Fellowship, a series of intellectual panel discussions and the launch of the new ESG logo! View the full coverage of the event, pictures and videos here. ESG’s 25 year journey was also covered in Citizen Matters where Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao engaged in an exciting conversation which can be viewed here.
Reclaim and Turn Inclusive Bengaluru and its Blue-Green Commons
The workshops for the year began with the first one on reclaiming our commons that are ever threatened by privatisation and accessibility hurdles. Over a day-long session, inhabitants of the city, old and new, introspected on the changes that the city’s public spaces have undergone over the years and discussed how we can reclaim them and turn Bengaluru into a healthy, sylvan, inclusive, and accessible metropolis. Read the full report of this workshop here. A compendium of ESG’s past and ongoing efforts with reference to this subject can be accessed here.
Read Leo Saldanha on the need for inclusive urban commons as he speaks to Deccan Herald on the fencing of MN Krishna Rao Park. Read Bhargavi Rao’s critique of the tree plantation efforts and the loss of urban greenery here.
ESG at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale!
ESG and Art By Children initiative of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022 organised interactive, informative, introspective and insightful workshops to help build wellsprings of collective imaginaries and hope, to triumph over disempowering anxieties of prevailing climate crises. Read the report here.
Global Webinar Series on Tackling Air Pollution
With air quality worsening across India, ESG has initiated a series of webinars drawing upon the expertise of an interdisciplinary panel of leading experts and decision makers from across the world in a series on Tackling Air Pollution. The first of the webinar series was organised on March 8th, International Women’s Day, focusing on Role of Science, Public Health, and Governance in Tackling Air Pollution. The report can be accessed here.
The second webinar was organised on 6th April 2023, which assayed steps taken by different countries to respond to air pollution, the kind of provisions required to tackle air pollution in India, and analysed if India would join the community of nations in acknowledging this human right as fundamental to its action plans tackling air pollution. The full report is accessible here, and the video recording can be found here.
ESG at the United Nations Human Rights Council
Leo Saldanha was invited to speak in a side-event of 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, United Nations on “Realising the Right to Housing in the Climate Crisis” which was held on 9th March, 2023. Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, prepared a report on the topic. The discussion can be viewed here. Leo Saldanha emphasised the critical importance of protecting housing of the poor, farmers and pastoralists, fishers and adivasis (indigenous people) who are extensively threatened with displacement and dislocation by draconian laws and policies. He highlighted how city expansion, infrastructure development, tourism (such as on Loktak Lake), even national security and solar parks, are all reasons for displacing and making millions homeless across India.
Helping Communities in Distress
ESG helps farmers of North Bangalore
2023 has been a fateful year for the farmers of 17 villages in Bangalore North who were faced with the forced acquisition of their farmlands for creation of the Dr. Shivaram Karanth Layout by the Bangalore Development Authority. ESG has been supporting these communities in their fight against the acquisition and for securing fair compensation through petitions and campaigns which were signed by over 2500 individuals and organisations. To make matters worse, the compensation offered was under a draconian and repealed colonial 1894 land acquisition legislation. The fight for fair compensation continues. However, the damage has already been done to the lives and livelihoods of these farmers.
ESG also assisted farmers in challenging the environmental clearance granted to the project before the NGT, Chennai. However, the case has been dismissed by the Tribunal on grounds of delay. The farmers argued that they had no way of knowing the EC had been extended, when even Panchayats were not informed by Karnataka State Environment Impact Assessment Authority or the BDA. The dismissal has been challenged and is pending before the Madras High Court.
ESG helps fisher communities in Manipur
ESG has also been helping fisher communities living in Loktak Lake, Manipur, who have been trying to intervene in a suo moto PIL of the Manipur High Court to bring to the Court’s attention the massive impacts on their livelihoods and the environment due to various mega projects – tourism and infrastructure – proposed by Manipur Government with tacit support from the Union Government in the Loktak Wetland Complex. However, the All Loktak Lake Area Fishermen Union Manipur (ALLAFUM) have been denied their right to intervene and the Court held that the communities came too late and thereby cannot seek remedy to their fundamental rights being encroached upon by these massive projects which will irreversibly impact their lives and livelihoods and the ecologically sensitive wetland designated a Wetland of International Importance per the UN Ramsar Convention.
ESG’s Education Initiatives
ESG x Azim Premji University
Three groups of undergraduate students from various disciplines studying at Azim Premji University interned with ESG for a week each through May 2023. Each group had a dozen students and spent a week studying three distinctive, but interrelated, topics: Green Hydrogen and its Implications, State of Biodiversity Conservation in India, and Bengaluru’s Climate Action preparedness. Invited to demonstrate their learnings, the three student groups have put together statements on what they discovered during the course of their internship about the state of affairs. You can find the statements here.
ESG x University of Washington (Seattle)
On 31st July and 1st August, 2023, a diverse group of students from the University of Washington (Seattle) visited Environment Support Group as part of their experiential learning programme coordinated by Prof. Anu Taranath of the University’s English Department.
Day 1 of the programme had Leo F Saldanha & Bhargavi S Rao take students through ESG’s work on various environmental and social justice concerns, as well as the story of Bengaluru’s growth. Day 2 was held at the beautiful United Theological College, Bengaluru campus, where students reflected on how they perceived India and the world through their varied experiences.
ESG x Srishti School of Design
21 students from the Srishti School of Design (MaHE University) visited ESG for a one day workshop on appreciating the complexities of advancing environmental and social justice on 25th August, 2023, in a course led by their faculty Mahesh Bhat. The ESG Team took turns interacting with the students, walking them through various initiatives advanced by ESG and the environmental justice challenges addressed. While the focus was on design thinking, the fundamental question of locating fundamental rights central to such pursuits of learning and engagement enriched the learning process.
ESG at the Bishop Cotton Boys’ High School
Bhargavi Rao was invited to speak at the Bishop Cotton Boys’ High School on World Environment Day, in particular addressing complex environmental impacts due to plastic pollution. She drew attention to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, inspired as it was by a photograph taken of the Earth on February 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1, and reiterated students’ role in ensuring the secure future of this Pale Blue Dot.
ESG x Keystone Foundation
ESG was also involved in a training program with individuals from remote forest communities from Wayanad. The programme aimed to provide an experiential exposure to understand environmental governance. The participants were engaged in workshops, field visits, interactive discussions to help understand how decisions are made and by who? They were also encouraged to share their own experiences from their regions which helped them learn how decision making procedures are diluted and dodged. The key learning was to be aware and engaged at the local level and hold decision makers accountable.
Bhargavi S Rao conducts a course with IMPRI
In August 2023, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi (IMPRI) conducted a course on Understanding the Nuances of Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: Impact and Way Forward. Bhargavi S Rao led the discussions on Climate Justice & Equity during Week 4 of the course, highlighting India’s ambitious climate goals and raising concerns about land allocation for RE projects. You can access the report of the course here.
Bhargavi Rao also spoke on the Socio-economic, Ecological and Health Implications of Land Diversions to meet Renewable Energy Targets at the monthly Colloquium Series held by the Ramalingaswami Centre, PHFI, on 22nd November, 2023.
Reviving the Handloom Sector
On 26th June 2023, All India Federation of Handloom Organisations, of which ESG is a part, had submitted a letter to the Hon’ble Chief Minister suggesting the setting up of the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Vastrodyama’ to liaison between the market and producer organisations as a key intervention to revive the Handloom Sector, which has been flagging for attention for decades. The letter was signed by several eminent personalities from various sectors. In an unprecedented step, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Karnataka Shri. Siddaramaiah recognised the potential of the handloom sector to create green livelihood opportunities for thousands, and made exemplary provisions in the Karnataka Budget 2023-24 that he presented on 7th July 2023. Read more here. Also see “Silver Lining to Distress’ by Bhargavi Rao published in News Click.
In order to operationalise the provisions included in the budget, the All-India Federation of Handloom Organisations conducted a meeting at Environment Support Group on 26th July, 2023. Read the report of the meeting here.
On 6th August, 2023, on the occasion of National Handloom Day a public interaction on “Handmade Fabric for an Earth Friendly Future” was held at Ragi Kana. Sharadha of Desi Trust, Vrunda Sekar, and Bhargavi Rao and Leo Saldanha of ESG discussed various aspects of reviving the handloom sector.
ESG’s Campaign for Democratic Governance of Bangalore
Soon after the 2023 Karnataka elections, the new Government, led by Deputy Chief Minister D. K. Shivakumar invited real estate developers and CEO’s of IT/BT companies to imagine the future of the metropolis, thereby slipping into the comfort zone of relying on the views of the rich and famous, as was attempted controversially and disastrously before. This move has been criticised by many including ESG. The aspirations of working classes, trade unions, trader and commercial networks, education and health networks, pourakarmika workers unions, child protection networks, women & LGBTQ community, civil society and educational networks, etc. to conceive the future ground up taking into account everyone’s aspirations, has been sidestepped. Keeping this in view, ESG initiated a public campaign demanding the setting up of Constitutionally-mandated democratic processes to reimagine and institute governance, administration and people-friendly processes to ensure inclusive development of Bengaluru metropolitan area.
Leo Saldanha in ‘Why Bengaluru Badly Needs a New Governance Approach’ published in the newly recast Frontline, wishes “de-growth became a guiding light to Bengaluru’s development, helping it transform to sustainability and helping address the massive disparities of development seen across Karnataka”, an article meant to suggest ways for the new Congress Government in Karnataka to ensure the next 5 years is marked with inclusive development addressing needs & aspirations of all constituencies.
ESG Celebrates Independence Day!
Bahutva Karnataka, a civil society network that works to ensure values of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, which form the bedrock of the Constitution, organised a spectacular event on the eve of India’s Independence at the iconic Airlines Hotel. ESG actively took part in the event and displayed various posters along with other organisations.
ESG’s Efforts to Stop Dilution of Environmental Laws
The controversial Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 were passed by the Lok Sabha on 25th and 26th July 2023 respectively despite concerns raised by the public on India’s biodiversity and socio economic security. Read the details in ESG’s press releases here and here. The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, of which ESG is a part appealed to members of the Rajya Sabha to reject the Bills, highlighting how the FCA Bill would result in easing forest diversion for extractive development; commercialise, commodify and privatise forests; extinguish community rights and control over forests; and deny fundamental rights of all communities within 100 kilometres of India’s borders. Further, the BDA Bill would advance biopiracy, bio loot and bio extraction, and contribute to rapid and irreversible loss of biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge and rights. The appeal was endorsed by over 1900 individuals and organisations.
Yet, in a shocking turn of events, the Rajya Sabha passed the controversial Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 on 1st August, 2023. The move has been criticised by Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) Sri Jairam Ramesh, who released a statement on the retrograde implications of the changes made to the Biodiversity Act and Forest Conservation Act.
Read Leo F Saldanha’s article on the Bills and their impact which was published in the Frontline here.
Sachin P S & Nidhi Hanji of ESG also wrote a compelling article on the dilution of the biodiversity act in the context of the B.t. Brinjal case that was published in Counter Currents. Read the article here.
ESG at the We20 Summit
Hundreds from across India gathered in the HKS Surjeet Bhavan of the CPI (M) in New Delhi to participate in the WE20 Peoples’ Summit organised by the Working Group on IFIs between 18-20th August 2023. The Summit was a critique of the G20 process under India’s Presidency, in which ESG has set up discussions. As the summit got underway, with a range of workshops and cultural events, drawing leading figures from multiple sectors, on the morning of 19th August the Delhi Police swept in with a massive battalion and attempted to shut down the Summit. Unfazed, the workshops continued. The police ensured no one was allowed in by throwing a massive police cordon. The summit had to be closed by noon on Sunday as the police literally forced it shut. See the We20 Peoples’ Summit Declaration: People and Nature over Profits and Statement protesting police action. Read the report of the We20 Summit here.
The implications of the Modi administration preventing any critical engagement with the G20 process are analysed here as a ‘democratic backslide’ (The Wire); that, perhaps, ‘Modi Government is scared of the truth’ (The Wire); and was also globally covered in Washington Post.
Bannerghatta’s Land Rights
It took over 60 years of consistent struggle for Hakki Pikki and Iruliga tribes in Ragihalli State Forest, part of the Bannerghatta National Park, in the south of Bengaluru, to secure their natural and fundamental right to land. Madhu Bhushan, friend of ESG, and others from SIEDS have committedly and consistently worked with these marginalised tribes over the past three decades to clear several hurdles that were thrown in the way.
On 12th August, 114 families received comprehensive rights of ownership and cultivation over 2 acres of land in the denotified forest area, on the condition that it cannot be alienated or its land use changed. This is historic in more ways than one and serves as a socio-ecological fence against the advancing metropolis. Member of Parliament D K Suresh played a remarkable role in removing all hurdles and rending historical justice to these communities. Read a note on the significance of this transformation. Read the press release here. Read more information here.
In the centre of wars in the Middle East, the Kurds are fighting in Kurdistan for a new paradigm based on ecology, women’s freedom and radical democracy, a model they call Democratic Confederalism. To understand this new paradigm, Bangalore International Centre (BIC) & ESG organised a talk on 16th July, 2023 by Nilüfer Koç and Neena Gopal on Understanding Kurdistan. Watch the discussion here and read the report of the same here.
Jacaranda Tales Film Festival
In October, Environment Support Group, in partnership with Bengaluru Sustainability Forum, Karnataka Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi, Mount Carmel College, Kriti Film Club, Bharat Gyan Vigyan , Samiti-Karnataka,Gamana Women’s Collective, organised Jacaranda Tales Film Festival – a conference on “Climate Change and Climate Resilience” on October 6 and 7 at Gandhi Bhavan and at the Mount Carmel College auditorium on October 9 and 10. The festival saw various impactful films on climate change along with interesting film discussions and panel discussions on various topics. Report of the festival will be out soon.
ESG Celebrates the International Day of Democracy!
Millions enthusiastically took Karnataka Chief Minister’s invitation to read the Preamble of India’s Constitution on International Day of Democracy on 15th September, 2023. At ESG, we decided to proudly display the Preamble on our workspace for all to read.
Evolving a Participatory Climate Action Plan for Indian Metropolises
Environment Support Group, supported by the Commonwealth Foundation, is in the process of evolving a socially inclusive, deeply democratic and participatory climate action plan for Bengaluru! As a part of the project, ESG is holding consultations with various marginalised groups, ward committee members, academicians, civil society group and the general public to identify key climate challenges and potential strategies.
The first of the series of consultations was held with senior citizens on 28th November, 2023 followed by a consultation with the Landfill Impacted community at Mavallipura and a consultation with the sex workers community. The consultations revealed how climate change specifically affects these vulnerable communities, and facilitated the identification of potential solutions to the same which could be incorporated into a ward-level climate action plan. Read the reports of all consultations and stay tuned on the upcoming consultations/workshops here. The project has also been covered in Deccan Herald. Read Bhargavi S Rao’s article on the need to engage senior citizens for climate actions plans here.
Milestones in ESG’s PIL Initiatives
ESG’s fight for better waste management
Another year of the decades-long court battle to address the waste management problems in the city has passed with some progress. Leo Saldanha, appearing in person, has vehemently debated the various issues that present in this case. From appraising the Court of the deaths that have occurred due to the landfill at Mavallipura, to filing charts summarising the important orders of the Court and their compliance, and submitting detailed research on the problems of plastic waste and seeking its regulation. With the current focus on the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, the BBMP filed another status report and the Karnataka Pollution Control Board has also filed Memos & Reports. On 11.09.2023, debates on increasing the penalties for violation of rules and charging user fees took place in Court. Leo Saldanha also pointed out that participation of civil society in the entire process is imperative. Taking this into consideration, the Court passed an order on promoting public awareness and adopting a citizen centric approach to the problem. Access all court filings and orders here.
Protecting and Reviving Lakes and Raja Kaluves
Several developments have taken place this year in the PIL for reviving the city’s lakes and raja kaluves. Starting with the Subramanyapura Kere, the State has undertaken to complete the rehabilitation and resettlement process; however, the status of the same remains unknown. Mallathahalli Lake, J P Park and Hosakerehalli Lake were successfully protected against encroachments, and construction of statutes and toy trains. ESG contributed by surveying these lakes and producing reports. Several powerful orders were passed through February & March to protect these lakes and remove the encroachments.
The pre-monsoon and monsoon showers that led to massive floods and even the drowning of a woman in a flooded underpass. Bhargavi Rao explains why Bengaluru floods every time it rains, on India Today’s So South. She also went on Radio City 94.3 to discuss the importance of rehabilitating water commons to build water and ecological securities, and also save lives and livelihoods.
The urban floods brought to light the dangers of encroached and destroyed lakes & raja kaluves which ESG presented to the Court by a memo. In August 2023, recognising the need for a collaborative effort in addressing the issues, the Court directed the BBMP and other authorities to formulate a comprehensive action plan for the protection and conservation of lakes and raja kaluves across Bangalore and Karnataka. A meeting of all agencies facilitated by Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) was held in which the ESG Team presented the various initiatives and Court directives for reviving lake systems. As a result, the State filed an affidavit detailing the complaining authorities, and the BBMP filed 3 comprehensive affidavits on the action plan for revival of lakes and storm water drains taking into consideration the various existing reports on lake systems. Late Hon’ble Mr. Justice N K Patil, who passed away earlier this month, leaves behind his legacy through his report on the preservation of lakes which is the authoritative text for rehabilitation of lakes.
ESG’s decades long efforts saving this lake, which is a candidate for the efforts involved in saving all lakes, was featured by Indian Express. ESG’s efforts also go beyond seeking judicial intervention. ESG raised concerns in a representation and report to authorities that the 112-foot tall Adiyogi statue to be erected by Isha Yoga Centre in Avalagurki village in Chikkaballapur District, is in all likelihood encroaching critical waterways of the Arkavathi River, a major tributary of Cauvery, which supports Bangalore’s drinking water needs. The issue is still under investigation.
The Blue Green Revolution of Karnataka
ESG’s effort in revitalising the lake systems for posterity has been documented in a book written by Leo Saldanha & Bhargavi Rao – “The Blue Green Revolution of Karnataka: Democratically Reviving Karnataka’s Lake Systems”. The book will soon be out in English and Kannada. Stay tuned on our social media, website and news digest for updates!
The Canary in a five part investigation (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) into how the UK government climate finance is aiding land grab in the name of solar park development, featured ESG’s efforts questioning governments and corporates who are reproducing the extractive nature of fossil fuel development in the promotion of renewable energy. In the fifth and final part of the series, Leo Saldanha explains how colonial-era laws and tactics are being used to displace agro-pastoral communities by terming Grasslands and landscapes on which agro-pastoral communities rely on for livelihoods, as “wastelands”, thus making it easy to divert massive tracts of land for mega solar parks.
Large-scale renewable energy projects, like the mega solar park at Pavagada in Karnataka, raise important concerns. An essay by Meera Subramanian published in the New Yorker explores the impact of this project on local communities and the environment, and enquires if this is the just pathway in causing transformations to sustainability. Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao’s views feature in this essay.
Bhargavi Rao critically analyses India’s top-down approach to renewable energy, which currently lacks proper planning and inclusivity. The renewable sector enjoys repeated environmental clearance exemptions, based on its proclaimed clean energy label. Yet, as the sector grows and exploits more resources, the need for regulations is becoming increasingly evident. Bhargavi has also been cited on the impact of the push for renewable energy on food security in another article.
Leo Saldanha analyses reasons for BJP’s phenomenally strong performance in Bengaluru, in stark contrast to the party’s rout across Karnataka in the recent state elections. Read his article, ‘Analysing BJP’s success in Bengaluru this election’ in The News Minute here. He discusses this also on Mirror Now TV.
ESG Seeks your Feedback
While 2023 has been a prolific year for ESG, we look forward to achieving much more in the coming year and will continue to share our work with our valued readers through this newsletter. Four volumes of Environment Justice Matters have already been published over the past four years, and we would love your invaluable feedback.
Please fill out this form to help us understand how we can improve your reading experience.
ESG, a 25-year-old organisation, continues to work with communities at risk and help them access justice through awareness, engagement and ensuring good governance at the local levels. We survived some of the toughest times through the years and this has been possible only because you believed in our work and efforts. Many of you have been silently supporting us and helping us do what we do. As the year comes to a close and we wish to do more of what we do and this will be possible only with your support.
Please refer to the page below to see how you can continue to support us and keep us going.[This issue of Environment Justice Matters was compiled by Yashaswini Sundar and edited by Nidhi Hanji]
A Happy and Safe New Year to all our Readers![Disclaimer: Environment Justice Matters (EJM) is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended for commercial use, and Environment Support Group (ESG) does not derive any profit from its dissemination. We make no warranties or guarantees regarding the accuracy, completeness, or suitability of the information provided. Readers are encouraged to verify any information independently before relying on it. ESG shall not be held liable for any errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. All photographs used in EJM are sourced from the internet.]
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