The world and its super power declared triumph after ‘winning’ its war against terror; cricket histories were rewritten; and new, more horrfying scams came to the fore. Despite these sensational, ground breaking events, it was environment news, stereotypically considered niche (read boring) that refused to budge from its prime space in newspapers and television channels. Environment awareness and issues have entered the mainstream domain. What else would explain your familiarity with Jaitapur, Tehrigram, Singur, Nandigram? Here, aren’t these what your daily newspaper headlines have been looking like?
|POSCO gets clearance|
May 19, Paradip, Orissa: POSCO started acquiring land amid tight security even as 20 activists of the United Action Committee were arrested for blocking the move. On May 2, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had given the final clearance to the project. On May 4, activists alleged that the MoEF had ignored resolutions of two gram sabhas, that of Dhinkia and Govindpur, under the Forest Rights Act, refusing to hand over land. But these were termed invalid. In an open letter to Jairam Ramesh, a representative of the POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity accused him of turning Indian democracy into a farce.
May 11, Greater Noida, UP: Drama ensued as Rahul Gandhi was arrested by the UP government along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh for sneaking into Bhatta Parsaul village to meet agitating farmers whose land has allegedly been taken away. The Mayawati government has been planning developmental projects and residential projects in the area. On May 13, the Allahabad High Court provided relief to the residents of Sahberi village against land acquisition moves. Singh promised a “farmer-friendly” Land Acquisition Act on the same day.
Yes, we’ve all heard a lot about the Chipko movement of the 1970s. And how can we not mention Narmada Bachao Andolan, India's most controversial dam project till date? However, the big change in the game today is the fact that it’s not just a handful of activists and lobbyists who are fighting for social-ecological causes. It’s the common man. The transition has been brought about. Here, we bring to you some recent and important environment cases that have made us (and the ones in power) realise how critical environment is for survival
When the South Korea-based Pohang Steel Co. (POSCO) decided to set up a US $12 billion-plant in Orissa, little did it know that its ambitious project would have to face a long and fierce battle. Though they finally managed to get clearance, the struggle left many in the state and central governments red-faced. Here is what happened:
Activists allege that more than 70 percent of the people living in the villages (2,000+) had signed resolutions refusing to part with their lands. But these were brushed aside by the MoEF as fraudulent and invalid.
What would you have done if you were Minister Jairam Ramesh?
You sure love your summer vacations at hill stations, don't you? So what would you say if we told you that a brand new hill station has been planned in Maharashtra – the first to come up since India's independence. Tempted to visit? Sadly you cannot because its construction has been halted due to alleged environmental damage.
Allegations against Lavasa:
In late 2010, MoEF ordered Lavasa Corporation to halt further construction. However, in January 2011, it admitted that it would reconsider the project on its merits while imposing various terms and conditions to ensure that no further damage is done. These would include a 'substantial penalty' for violation of environmental laws.
What should 100 families of 18 villagers who are fighting against the project do now?
We are all witnessing, and more importantly participating in the mobilisation of our society – moving from the ‘Entitlement regime’ to the ‘Right regime’. We are not just concerned with what we ‘can’ get. Now, it’s about we ‘should’ get. This healthy shift in our democratic process has led to an overt linkage of environment to basic needs and wants.
Politics can follow. Shiv Sena, Congress, BJP and Trinamool Congress – all have jumped to the bandwagon, in an attempt to pose as champions of the environmental struggles of the people. This just reasserts the power and the force of such issues.
Now, for a case that is unfolding even as you read. And the Supreme Court, which had cleared POSCO in 2008, has taken a 'no compromise on environment' stand viz-a-viz Nirma Limited's proposed Rs 600-crore Bhavnagar cement plant. What happened?
December 11, 2008: The MoEF under A Raja gives environment clearance for the project
November 22, 2010: SC seeks a report from the ministry on whether the plant affects a water body near the plant
January 11, 2011: The MoEF states that if the conditions included in the clearance were followed, there would be no environment hazard
March 12: The MoEF issues a showcause notice and a stop-work order
March 16: The Gujarat High Court refuses to intervene
March 18: The Supreme Court orders a fresh environment impact assessment and asks the project owners to stop work till an expert panel gives its report to the MoEF
May 10: MoEF tells SC that the plant has violated environmental norms and should be shifted
If you were an SC judge what would your verdict be?
THE GM BRINJAL
Caution: This may spoil your appetite for your favourite dish, Baigan ka Bharta. Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal was at the centre of a major controversy recently with scientists sparring over its alleged ill-effects. Let us find out more:
What is BT Brinjal?
A gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis is inserted into the DNA of the vegetable to produce pesticidal toxins in every cell through an Agro bacterium-mediated vector, along with other genes like promoters, markers etc. It was created by India's foremost seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto.
Following protests against the introduction of genetically modified crops, including those by the All India Kisan Sabha, Navadanya and Greenpeace, India stalled the commercial cultivation of BT Brinjal on February 9, 2010. The MoEF cancelled its earlier approval and empowered the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee to take legal action against companies if any seeds were found in the market.
Let's draw up your daily diet chart.
What will you do if you found out that Endosulfan, a pesticide that has been banned in 80 countries is used, sometimes indiscriminately, on these crops? Don't despair yet. India has sought a 11-year phasing out period from the Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention for this pesticide but will continue to use the chemical on 23 essential crops including paddy/rice, wheat,coffee, tea, jute, apple, mango, cow beans, tomato, potato, chillies, onion etc. But on May 13, The Supreme Court banned its manufacture, sale and use. It has also asked an expert committee to submit a report about its harmful effects. The Centre for Science and Environment had been fighting for the cause for long. Also, due to the relentless efforts of the local civil society organisations in Kerala, the matter was brought to the notice of the national media.
How would you perform your duties as part of the expert committee?
We’ve all witnessed how the system and the law are in the process of handing over environment to us, the people. We have the power to implement our democracy and it is this transition that makes it even more important for us to play our role.
So, are you a convert already?
Got a story to tell?
Are you involved in a local society movement that is crucial but not ‘large scale’ enough to make it to the mainstream media? Do you think we need to know about any people’s movement overtly linked to the environment? Then this is your platform – do send us your story and we will feature it on our
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Along came Chhavi
How would you imagine the sarpanch of a Rajasthan village to be? What do you think would be the credentials of this elected representative? Well, now is when you stop thinking about clichés. Why?
Because we are talking about a woman who chose to break them herself!
Chhavi Rajawat, 30, is India's youngest sarpanch of a village called Soda, located 60 kms from Jaipur. She is a product of elite education institutes like Karnataka’s Rishi Valley School and Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College is the only village head with a management degree. She quit her high-flying corporate job to go back to her roots – her father and grandfather have both served as the village sarpanch.
Chhavi was a cause of major disbelief at a recent UN meet. International delegates could not believe what they were witnessing – an educated, electoral representative speaking about the role of civil society in fighting poverty and promoting development. And a woman at that too!
Why should the youth of today consider politics as a serious career? Can they bring about a change? How?
If people wish to see India develop and progress it needs to be done in totality – both in urban and rural sectors. All those who grieve about the conditions in India do not have a right to do so unless and until they also contribute towards making a difference.
Development is not the responsibility of the government alone. If the machinery does not work, then we, as citizens of India, are equally responsible for allowing it to rust and crumble.
Each individual has the ability to be that agent of change. One just needs to stop having a laid back attitude and act, instead of waiting for someone else to act for them! We all feel a change is needed. So why not act on it?
Are there any environmental movements that were successful in your area because of people’s participation?
Oh yes, our water conservation project. Apart from scarcity of water, the little ground water that exists had been declared unsafe even for the purpose of agriculture owing to high contamination and salinity. So conserving rain water was the only solution to safer drinking water.
Has the system become more responsive?
I sincerely believe it’s in the hands of the people to trigger any response. Some states have done better than the others but there is a lot to be done across the country, across all regions.