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Issue 7

Activity, Art and Activism: Anjali Dalmia’s Experiences as an Environmental Activist

Anjali, why did you choose the environment over everything else that might have come your way?

I have realized over time that this question of why did you choose to work in the environment is actually a privileged way of thinking about it. We are privileged to be apolitical. And it’s the same thing with social or environmental work – social and environmental justice, in general, is very tied together. I would say in that perspective, it’s not a choice, it’s something that we all at this point need to be working towards because it is impacting everyone yet only a handful of people are working for it.

You talked about environmental justice and that brings me to my next question: environmental justice and sustainability are terms that are often thrown around. If you were to define these terms, how would you do so?

I don’t want to say that I have a very strong definition or a complete understanding of either of them. To address them or to start de-tangling them is like reorganizing the entire world from scratch. I think that’s why they are loaded terms. 

The way I have been trying to navigate environmental justice for the past few months has largely been tied to social justice. Who is the justice actually for? What does it mean for different communities? The term justice itself is very subjective – it means extremely different things to different people. For example, certain communities’ rights over the Commons is justice for them, but when you look at it from a caste angle, Commons are a place where there’s a lot of caste discrimination against Dalits. That is not justice in that case.

Overall, if I were to think of the term, it would largely mean local governance and self-determination of how people would like to use their surroundings, their resources and how they would shape their community. Another important part of environmental justice is looking at our economic structure, which is left out very often but it’s very much a root of our behaviours and the way the world functions right now. Looking at human desires and behaviour is also, I think, a very important part of environmental and social justice. That’s how I would begin navigating it, I wouldn’t say that’s a definition. 

When it comes to sustainability, it’s a term that I am trying to figure out because it brings into question – what it means to sustain and at what level does that sustenance happen? Sustenance for different groups of people are different, depending on their socio-economic, cultural background etc. and in many ways, I do feel that sustainability is a large buzzword. For example, sustainable development is another term to make ourselves feel good about the development that we are doing. I am not a hundred percent convinced by the word, so I don’t prefer to use it that often. It’s the bare minimum that we do to feel like we are working towards something, which is also good.. I think sustainability works at a largely individual level to that extent but it doesn’t address the fundamental socio-economic – class, caste differences. 

What motivated you to start Yugma Network? How is it different from other organisations working for environmental justice?

Yugma wasn’t something that any of us ever intended to start. The Environmental Impact Assessment Movement that we undertook is really what set off the plan for Yugma. We worked towards translating information and discussions into local languages with the help of young people in different regions, to have a broader reach. We realized the dearth of environmental organisations in local Indian languages since most of them are in English and only reach a small section of society. We met amazing people that genuinely wanted to contribute to the environmental movement and we decided to continue working even after the EIA movement. For us, the goal is always to bring out the voices of those people who are directly affected by a lot of the projects that are happening. 

To answer your second question, I think it goes back to the model of scaling-up versus scaling-out, not in the sense of within the organizations but as collaborations. I want to move back to doing things smaller within the community, forming strong bonds with people who are also doing related work. That is a value we try to imbibe in Yugma.

Mobilisation by youth organizations to ensure environmental justice has significantly increased over  time. What do you think inspires these movements?

One part of it is the community spirit. Secondly, I think a lot of it is awareness –  that motivates young people, especially because they feel they’re making a difference. The biggest thing for me and a lot of young people is the concern for the kind of world that we are going to grow up in. When you start internalizing it, it does get scary sometimes. There lies this concern for our rights, our present as well as our future, for other humans and non-humans both. Especially in recent times, I think a lot of movements have been shaped by a gradual disappearance of democracy in the country and I think there’s a lot of anger around the way that our rights are slowly being taken away; it has led people to mobilise and act on it. 

Why do you believe people look at the environment as an ‘issue’ distanced from their daily lives?

I think people fail to see the connection between their human conditions and the environment.I think a lot of it is shaped by common discourses, media and marketing in general. 

In people’s minds, cutting a forest is much more of an environmental issue than for example, destroying a wetland. And it’s just because we have grown up seeing the forest or the tree as a symbol of the environment. Even though destroying a wetland may have way more of an impact perhaps on the local ecology of that area. To answer what is an environmental issue, you also have to ask the question of, whose perspective are we looking at? Who is defining this issue? Discourse is shaped by those directly affected by it, and by what the media itself chooses to focus on. 

Yugma Network recently became a member of YAStA (Youth Action to Stop Adani), which had largely declared the week (27th January – 2nd February) as the Global Week of Action. Could you tell us a little bit about how Yugma got involved in the project?

Yugma was part of one of the organizations who conceptualised YAStA. The larger message that we are trying to address is the general corporatisation of our lives, resources and livelihoods. It privatizes a lot of what used to happen out of goodwill or through a community. It ties into the way our economic structure is tied to environmental and social justice because it gives a lot of power to a handful of people who are accumulating a lot of profit and that becomes their main motive to do things. Our reason for joining YAStA was to raise our voices against this injustice and this taking away of our rights. Despite communities not wanting certain projects, corporates go ahead with it. Coming from an urban space, I think we do have the privilege of having access to a lot of resources and tools which we can help to put out a lot of this information.

This Global Week of Action has listed down concerts and webinars as part of the programme. How do events like this and ‘Pass the Mic’ contribute to the movement?

Sessions of music, films, and art are mediums that make it easier for people to engage with issues that might seem daunting  at first.  The other thing is that art and culture bind people together and create a community, just like protests and movements do. 

I think it’s really important to pass the mic to those who are affected by these issues. The point is to let those who are working towards the issue, or are directly affected by it, talk about what they are facing and are working towards. That is largely what we mean by passing the mic. If we have the means to create a platform, we would like to create and share that platform with other stakeholders. 

Why do you think art and activism is the way to go about it when there are already various laws enacted and jurisdictions in the direction of environmental protection and conservation?

I would say the first question to ask is do we even have laws and jurisdiction to protect the environment. When I say environment, I am including communities, people, rights, everything in this. Because if you look at a lot of our laws, for example, the EIA, it is there to assess the impact that something might have on the environment and the local community. But the purpose with which the law was put out was to ease things for businesses. Unfortunately, that’s the case with a lot of laws in India –  they’re poorly formulated, go unrecognised by many, and are rarely upheld by courts. 

The other thing is that a lot of these environmental laws are built within the economic system. So they are looking at how to 5 acres of land so that we can use the 15 over there for something else. This is where art and activism become so important. It’s the way to hold these authorities accountable. I think activism is very often taken in the wrong way that it’s just holding up signs and protesting or marching to places, but I would say that even education is a part of activism, state policies are a part of activism, even having conversations is part of activism. Activism just means being an active citizen. From that perspective, art and activism can bridge that gap in our environmental laws right now. Is looking out for our surroundings and other humans and non-humans, only the states’ job? We can’t just say “it’s in the laws, so everything will run smoothly”. As individuals, we have a large part to play in ensuring that we have environmental and social justice. Even if the laws were good, I would say you still need activity, activism, and art in any community.

Anjali is a co-founder of the Yugma Network, The Project Amara (sustainable menstruation for all), and PLANT: People’s Living Archive of Native Trees. She also works with SAPACC (South Asian People’s Action for Climate Crisis) Maharashtra & Youth and was the Environment Minister of Ashoka 2020-2021.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 6

2020: A year to forget or remember?

2020 was poised to be a landmark year for the global environmental movement. The locus of change was supposed to emerge from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (CoP26), which was expected to reverse the trend of inaction in environmental protection by getting countries to pledge to enhanced emission reduction targets and establish clear frameworks and plans for meeting them. Ironically, this much-awaited (and delayed) meeting of world leaders was shut down by a global pandemic whose roots, we are now told, lie in environmental degradation, particularly dwindling forest cover and industrial agriculture

But one must be wary before equating 2020 as solely the year of the pandemic. From bushfires in Australia to oil spill in the Arctic to the series of flash floods that ravaged the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, a flurry of natural disasters have quietly made their appearance in the background, declaring that climate change is here and now.

The past year has shown us just how vulnerable (in all senses of the term) we are to the effects of crises. Not only did pandemic force the world to its knees, it showed us just how much the effects of any disaster will be disproportionately distributed among the global populace. Nowhere could this be more clearer than in India where tens of millions of ‘impoverished essential workers’, a combination to be found only in our times, were the hardest hit from the ordeal.   

But forcing the world to sit at home and question its priorities, it seems, has worked counterproductively. As the world looks to reopen, not by choice but as an inevitable consequence of our economic models which will not allow any break in production, mindfulness and caution will be thrown out of the window.

Countries looking to make up lost money (and time) are already hacking down green barriers and environmental protection laws with increasing ferocity. This trajectory is blatantly obvious in India which unfortunately also happens to be one of the most vulnerable places on earth to the effects of the ecological crisis. Measures to help the country “get back on its feet”, like encouraging greater use of coal, fast-tracked (and often bypassed) environmental clearances and the mindless assault on forests, wetlands and other ecosystems will only serve to ruin us further.

Too little, too late

But despite the extent and seriousness of the crisis, it is staggering how much of humanity and particularly those in power have tended to treat the crisis: unimportant or worse, as non-existent. International negotiations and climate agreements never fail to disappoint. Even if one were to digest the ridiculously conservative estimates and targets set in these pacts, the fact that most are non-binding and do not carry a strong accountability framework demonstrates their seriousness.  

Developed countries or those most responsible for the crisis have failed to pay even half of the annual $100 bn pledged for financing climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries. This is despite the fact most estimates strongly suggest that we will need to pump in at least twice or thrice as much to make a difference. 

Time and again, the problem of “too little, too late” has been the norm in international climate agreements. It is then hardly a surprise that we have not met (or close to meeting) even a single target set in the last 30 years and have breached almost every limit set by these agreements

Where do we go from here?

What prevents strong mobilization and action towards fixing climate change and the overall ecological crisis? The opposition to the Green New Deal, a pro-environment legislation in America by the Republican party is a strong indicator of what is to come in the coming years. 

Conservative politicians, many of them funded by fossil fuel industries, have gawked at the amount of money required to fix the problems created by these companies in the first place. a climatically unstable world will bring economic damage far worse than the proposed budget. Instead, they have expressed faith in waiting for grand technological solutions that will solve all our problems at the turn of a switch. 

Investing or mobilizing to prevent a full-blown crisis does not make “economic sense” to many. In other words, the present course must be maintained for as long as possible since the crisis is inescapable. 

The problem, however, is that it imagines climate change as a series of apocalyptic and earth-shattering events that we are so used to seeing in popular fiction and cinema. But instead, the effects of climate change will play out in far more complex and perhaps, insidious ways. Its effects will not just be limited to the natural world but will also produce deep schisms in our everyday political, social and economic lives. Further, it puts the lives of billions, mostly the marginalized and the poor at the greatest risk, not to mention the loss of unimaginable amounts of natural, social and cultural capital. In short, hurtling towards a world where natural systems will be fundamentally altered will prove humanity’s greatest folly.

The proposition that climate change is irreversible will be the biggest fight of the environmental movement in the coming years. This fear is reflected in the choice of theme for Earth Day 2021 – Restore the Earth. It draws attention to the fact that enough and more can (and should) still be done to restore the Earth’s ecological balance. Wilfully (and conveniently) ignoring it is to commit an act of grave injustice towards humanity.

A year to never forget

While 2020 has certainly been a long year, it would be a terrible mistake to forget the things it has taught us. For starters, the pandemic has shown our political and economic priorities for what they are: twisted and skewed towards the elite. The climate change movement is gathering momentum and interest around our impact on the environment is at an all-time high. 

Individuals, interest groups, expert coalitions and civil society organizations are finding new ways to think about the crisis, mobilize, generate change and push for sensible, long-term action. Children and young adults, in particular, are finding their voice and seeking answers  to difficult questions in order to secure their future. As with any struggle, there are silver linings, albeit small and scattered. 

The scope for change is massive, but the window of opportunity is limited. As another round of negotiations begin in November 2021, it is up to us to force action and consequently, ensure that by remembering 2020 we do not ever repeat it.

Picture Credit: bertknot

Rohit is student of history and sociology from Ashoka University. Currently he is a Mother Teresa Fellow and working to be an educator at Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 4

The 5G Conundrum: Can we achieve carbon neutrality?

On 13th October 2020, Apple unveiled its new lineup of iPhone 12 phones in its virtual Special Event. Like other Apple release events, this too garnered great attention. But this time, fans were divided over Apple’s decision to not include the charging brick and earphones from further on. 

Apple’s website claims that the company’s decision to revamp its packaging and not include the charging block and earphone is one step among many towards their goal of making all products carbon neutral by 2030. But the introduction of 5G into its devices raises an important question. Is the company really contributing to offset carbon emissions, even beyond its sale to the consumer?

These new iPhones will be the first smartphones from Apple that feature 5G connectivity. Samsung released its first all-5G smartphone in March this year. Companies like Google and Nokia followed suit. As technology continues to rapidly progress, in the next few years or maybe even sooner, mid-range and low-end smartphones from other companies will surely include 5G.  Like Apple, these companies will also advertise their phones’ 5G feature. Assuming that the use of 5G will be widespread, it is pivotal that we look at how sustainable it is.

According to an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report, 53.6% of the global population or more than 4 billion people use the internet. From sending emails to searching, all of our actions on the internet result in carbon emissions. To allow data transmission on such a large scale, enormous amounts of energy is required to operate servers, cloud services and run data centers. The carbon footprint of this, along with what results from the usage of our devices, results in colossal units of greenhouse gas emissions. BBC reports this amount to be almost 1.7 billion tonnes every year. 

Conversations around carbon emissions rarely examine the effects of internet data centres. According to a 2019 Greenpeace report, the internet conglomerate, Amazon, backtracked from its commitment to using 100% clean energy to operate its data centres as it expanded. It was found that Amazon’s data centres in Virginia were powered by only 12% of renewable energy. When WIRED reached out to Amazon for comments, it received no reply from the web service giant. 

Events like these create anxieties for a world that has been ravaged by several disasters due to global warming which has been a direct consequence of exorbitant levels of carbon emissions. 

The dilemma posed by the need to have more technologies is concerning not just for big companies and environmental organizations but also to the average person. In June 2018, CBS reported that wireless companies in the US would have to install 300,000 new transmission antennas for the rollout of 5G connectivity. The reason for this is because the higher frequency requires antennas to be closer for optimum usage. This was alarming to some residents in Maryland, as they were concerned that increasing the number of transmission towers would drive down the property values in their neighborhoods. While this was the prime concern, residents were reluctant to have these towers installed in front of their homes also because of possible health risks these towers posed due to radiation, although most studies found no correlation. 

It would not be pragmatic for us to look at only one end of the internet consumption chain. Much of the onus to create a sustainable internet also falls on the consumer. 

Our addiction to social media, video streaming, tending to notifications and other habits online necessitate faster connections. For instance, in the last decade, online video streaming has shifted from a standard 480p quality format to much higher resolutions. These require considerable bandwidth. A study found out that online video altogether spawns 60% of the world’s data flow and emits more than 300 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

Important stakeholders in terms of video streaming are Over-the-top (OTT) media services like Netflix. Such streaming platforms have revolutionized the way we have been consuming media. The releasing of television shows at one go allows for people to binge-view content. Much like social media, it is incredibly easy to get addicted to Netflix. 

Such consumption has impacts on the politics of everyday life. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken’s research on the nature of spoilers of TV shows suggests that spoiling shows by revealing plots has shifted from being a faux pas to giving one social power. It can be deduced from this that people would not want to miss out on popular TV shows because of the cultural capital it allows one to have, and also, they would want to consume it as soon as possible so that they have the upper hand when it comes to spoilers. 

Since OTT platforms have supplanted itself as a prominent cultural fixture in these past few years, it is not surprising that 5G connectivity will provide greater convenience for the consumer to access a multitude of shows anytime, in high resolutions, across several kinds of devices including Apple’s new 5G iPhones. The demand will be fueled by more popular content and people will want to get in on it. The ramifications will include a much greater carbon footprint. 

Along with our subsequent shift to virtual reality, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated our internet habits. The carbon emissions from our internet use have skyrocketed due to this. It would be incredibly ignorant to overlook the implications of our internet use on the environment. The consumer is responsible to cultivate green internet habits and reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible. With companies like Apple pledging to be carbon neutral, governments and environmental organizations need to check whether they are actually achieving these agendas. As the 5G technology expands its reach, all stakeholders must assess whether it would really make a difference before signing up for new subscriptions. While Apple’s new packaging might be a step in the right decision, the company, along with other manufacturers, still have work to do in order to reduce carbon emissions. 

Nirvik Thapa is a student of Sociology/Anthropology, Media Studies and International Relations at Ashoka University. Some of his other interests include music, pop culture and urbanism.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

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Issue 3

A Life on Our Planet: an appeal to all of us, on nature’s behalf

The rusted insignia of the hammer and the sickle. Walls rotting, cracking into pieces like soil during a drought. Chairs sitting in abandonment. Among a sea of tattered books and a room of shattered glass, emerges the 94-year old naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David Fredrick Attenborough in his new documentary A Life on Our Planet. Standing in the ghost town of Pripyat, abandoned by civilization almost 60-years ago as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, David Attenborough begins an intimate address of his witness statement. 

He reminds us that while the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, “a result of bad planning and human error”, was a disastrous event in human history, it is only one tragic example from a long list of errors made by us. Human mistakes, perhaps no less harmful, continuously occur across the globe. These errors have overrun the natural world and led to a steep decline in the planet’s biodiversity. Just as Chernobyl did, is the Earth too heading towards becoming uninhabitable? 

Though Attenborough humbly appreciates how extraordinary his life spent exploring the wild has been, his experiences through time have taught him that the wild is finite and needs protecting. He describes how centuries ago humans had arrived at a stage where their “predators were eliminated and diseases were controlled.” Once we felt that there was nothing left to stop us, our wants grew endlessly and we kept exhausting the Earth in an unsustainable manner. 

The documentary highlights a trajectory of instances where the growing demand of our species has led to the ruin of the non-human world: deforestation of the Borneo rainforest, the decline of  Orangutans, animals pursued to extinction, overfishing, warming of the Arctic summers, depleting freshwater and the turning of coral reefs to white. While the bleaching of coral reefs is mistaken to many as a beautiful phenomenon, it is a tragedy draped in white as it signifies the dying of the reefs. But there’s more to the documentary. It isn’t just another story about the global decline of nature. 

Although the documentary begins by acknowledging how we have threatened the stability of our planet, it goes further to show that there is still hope for us. We stand a chance against our own mistakes if we find ways to live sustainably and reintegrate back with nature. Using the comfort of Attenborough’s voice to intimately describe his experiences in the wild, the documentary seems to invite its viewers to be concerned about the environment not out of guilt, but perhaps out of responsibility. The documentary attempts to evoke a sense of collective consciousness toward our planet’s climate crisis. 

Throughout history, collective consciousness has played a role in bringing about change in different realms of society. In the environmental realm, such an instance of change is mentioned in the documentary when Attenborough describes how people’s perception towards the killing of whales was changed in the 1970s. Many environmental groups pushed the agenda against the whaling industry which sparked widespread public discussion on the issue. The harvest of whales was eventually made a crime as a result of the formation of shared consciousness revolving around the issue of whaling. 

Since the development of collective consciousness can have such a profound impact, it is natural to question how such consciousness is created in the first place. What unites people to form similar beliefs? Are there particular sources that help in the creation of collective consciousness? Have these sources transformed over time? How can we create a collective consciousness in today’s world? 

Before attempting to answer these questions, let us first look at the origin of the concept. The French theorist and sociologist Emile Durkheim was one of the first to coin the term. He recognised that while people had individual moral principles, they were often bound to one another by culture and shared a sense of solidarity with each other. 

According to Durkheim, the phenomenon resulted in a set of beliefs, ideas and principles which was shared collectively by many individuals in society. One of the biggest driving forces for the development of collective consciousness was the fact that it created a sense of belonging among people. 

Over time, the source of collective consciousness changed. In his book The Division of Labour in Society, Durkheim suggests that primitive and modern societies followed different models of solidarity. Primitive societies followed a “mechanical model”. People in such societies were united by shared beliefs, religious practices and ideas. This was a time when people’s attributes were homogeneous in nature, they didn’t work in different economic branches. Thus, people in primitive societies were mainly similar to one another. They shared unifying experiences.

The forms of collective consciousness we see today have been influenced by the attributes of modern society. Durkheim terms the social integration of such societies as “organic solidarity”. Modern economies are based on the division of labour and this creates a whole range of classes. People now have different jobs, believe in different gods, practise different religions and in general have very different experiences. However, since people have specialised roles in society, they are bound to be dependent on each other. The dissimilarity, the heterogeneity among people has created solidarity as a result of a high level of interdependence. 

Even though it seems that people now lead very individual lives, we still have found ways to express ideas and build collective consciousness. In the early days of modern societies, the advent of mass communication was one of the biggest sources boosting the dissemination of ideas widely and quickly. Different forms of the media gave us ways to not only to express our ideas but also created spaces where we could affirm them. While the media was initially used as a means to distribute ideas, it also became a means to influence the existing ones and create new kinds of ideas that shaped the consciousness of the collective. 

Even in the case of whaling, radio, television and print media were widely used to create the collective consciousness. Songs, films and literature on Whales grew to such an extent that Whales became popular personalities. People started viewing whales as creatures that needed to be protected. Thus, the media played an important role in building collective consciousness against whaling. This eventually led to the growth of anti-whaling activism. 

As technology progressed, we experienced a shift in the source responsible for the expression of ideas. In today’s world, that source is the internet. In the past, collective consciousness emerged from sources such as holy scriptures, traditional beliefs or big media houses. Now, with the power of the internet, all those with access to the internet have the ability to influence and shape the collective consciousness with varying degrees. Every element on the internet exists with the possibility of being a part of the collective consciousness.

David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet, has come out in times where the internet is perhaps the most important source for shaping the collective consciousness. But he started imparting his influence much before the advent of the internet. 

Back in the 1950s, people didn’t know what Pythons, Pangolins and most other animals looked like. He was one of the first people to bring documentaries of the wild and the natural world to television screens. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have regular access to television, we have grown up watching Attenborough’s documentaries and listening to voice. His appreciation of the natural world has been contagious and has inspired many. Thus, when a personality like Attenborough publicly immerses himself in ecological activism, he comes with the powerful ability to push the collective consciousness to care about the planet. 


Along with changing times, Attenborough too has updated by taking some of his activism online. He now uses Instagram to raise awareness about climate change. His latest documentary landed on Netflix, a popular streaming platform especially among the youth. Although his activism through these different platforms contributes towards the creation of collective consciousness towards the environment, it is up to us to manifest our consciousness in a way that can bring about change.

Shrishti is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In her free time, you’ll find her cooking, dancing or photographing.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

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Uncategorized

Should India’s environment laws give the State so much power?

By Mansi Ranka

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) rolled out the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in March 2020 and introduced changes to environmental governance for the country. These changes focus on making environmental clearance a swift and easy process while giving public consultation a backseat.

The draft has led to widespread public concern. About 100 environmental groups and individuals have opposed draft EIA 2020, calling it anti-environment and anti-people. One of the main causes for distress in the new draft is an exemption from prior environmental clearance to about 40 different industries like clay and sand extraction, solar thermal power plants and common effluent treatment plants. This ex post facto environmental clearance puts aside the primary goal of environmental protection to focus on achieving ease of business. In April, the Supreme Court held that such practice would be detrimental to the environment and that development must be approached through an “ecologically rational outlook”.

The other main cause of concern is the dilution of public consultation. The new draft exempts projects from the public hearing, an important opportunity for local communities to learn about the project and demand social obligations from them. This gives the corporations power to officially evade local development needs, which were anyway rarely met. environmentalists have accused the government of using EIA to expand their own political control by favouring corporations by legitimising environmentally degrading projects.

The new EIA draft incorporates systemic weakness into the law, making environmental violations the norm for corporations. The Ministry does not even pretend to see EIA as anything more than a bureaucratic instrument to make environmental clearance (EC) easier. 

Environmentalists have been arguing for the need to strengthen environmental law more than ever, as we are already experiencing climate change in the havoc wreaked by floods nationwide. The letter sent to the MOEFCC also proposes that we go back to the EIA 2006 notification. But in reality, that is not all that better either.

The MOEFCC is currently reviewing the public comments that they have received on the draft. Right now, it is important to think about what it is that will really help strengthen the environmental law in our country. How can the law ensure that big corporate profit does not override people’s welfare and environmental protection?

The state controls the distribution of state-owned natural resources. What is the safeguard against the exploitation of this power? What if the government allocates natural resources in a way that contradicts public welfare?

A similar question was brought up before the Supreme Court, in the 2011 public interest litigation after the 2G scam. The PIL raised questions about the State’s ownership of natural resources and their fair distribution. The judgement clarified the Supreme Court’s position on who distributes natural resources by saying, “Natural resources belong to the people but the State legally owns them on behalf of its people and …  is empowered to distribute natural resources.” So, the State has the power to decide what happens to natural resources. But on what basis does the state decide? The judgement goes on to say, “while distributing natural resources, the State is bound to act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust and ensure that no action is taken which may be detrimental to the public interest.”

Thus, as long as we trust the Indian State to “act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust”, we can be certain that it will distribute natural resources for the “common good”. The judgement concludes that the State should be the trustee or guardian of the people in general, and hence be responsible for natural assets.

Trusteeship is a Gandhian socio-economic idea, which holds that wealthy people should be the trustees and ensure the general welfare of the poor people. The theory relies on Gandhi’s conviction that capitalists aren’t beyond redemption and the wealthy could be persuaded to help the poor by becoming more egalitarian.

Now, the Indian State is supposed to act as this trustee and ensure common good. How does the state define this ‘common good’? Historically, the state has not acted in ways that can foster this kind of trust. The state has often wished to ascertain huge profits through corporations by allowing them to monopolise. This is obvious in the draft EIA 2020. The “common” good then becomes economic development by few big players. This is excluding the very people it was supposed to act as trustee for. And yet, the State can claim to handover natural resources for exploitation to a few players in the name of common good and public trust.

Furthermore, the draft EIA is pushing for people to be excluded from participating in this process, making the idea of common good paternalistic. The tilting of the scale to give the trustee unchecked power is possible under this idea of trusteeship. This is because in Gandhi’s theory it heavily relies on subjective goodness in the capitalist, the trustee, to act for general welfare. It is necessary to question this of trusteeship. Can the state function as a true trustee without mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency?

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).