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By Amending These 6 Laws, The Govt. Is Poised To Wage A War Against The Environment

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By Oishimaya Sen Nag:

Maatu hamru, paani hamru, hamra hi chhan yi baun bhi… Pitron na lagai baun, hamunahi ta bachon bhi
Soil ours, water ours, ours are these forests. Our forefathers raised them, it’s we who must protect them.
– Old Chipko Song (Garhwali language)

Image source: wikimedia commons
Image source: wikimedia commons

The relentless war between Industry and Environment began almost 300 years back in India, when 363 valiant Bishnoi villagers in Rajasthan, headed by a brave lady, Amrita Devi, laid down their lives striving to save forests threatened to be slashed down by the then Maharaja of Jodhpur. The movement inspired future protests such as the Chipko Movement of the 1970’s, headed by the renowned Garhwali environmentalist, Sunderlal Bahuguna. “Economy is Ecology”, was the slogan of the 1970’s Chipko movement.

Today all such movements are muffled in the rapid pace of India’s development. India is losing 135 hectares of forest land daily as per the data acquired through a recent RTI petition. The 2012 Red List reveals 132 species of Indian flora and fauna as critically endangered and thousands more lie precariously on the thin line between endangered and extinct. Forest area of India has plummeted to a meagre 24.01% of the total geographical area of the country. Compare this with the bursting human population, and a bleak picture of India’s ecological future is derived.

Currently, the Indian Government is set to amend 6 environmental laws of India, namely, the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 and the Indian Forest Act 1927. The amendments will be made on the basis of the report submitted by the TSR Subramanian Panel, which was set up last year to review, and suggest amendments for these environmental laws. The amendments are likely to come into effect by October this year.

Last year, after the BJP Government rose to power in the Centre, 650 ‘green clearances’ were given to projects, worth thousands of crores, within a span of six months. Union Environment Minister, Sri Prakash Javadekar said in an interview: “We are giving clearances without even looking at the faces of project promoters”. He claimed the clearances were handed out ensuring there was no adverse impact on the environment. This new policy of the Government is in sharp contrast to that of the Congress-led UPA Government which faced criticism for long-term withholding of economically significant projects which needed ‘green clearance’ .

The new amendments to the six environmental laws have been initiated by Narendra Modi’s Government keeping the above policy in mind. Speedy clearances to new project proposals will follow under the new norms. The red-tape bottleneck of projects will be prevented. Earlier, several levels of reviewing were mandatory to clear a project as ‘clean’ for the environment. By implementing a single comprehensive clearance system, the present amendments will ensure such ‘time wasting’ procedures are eliminated. Public hearing and local involvement in the clearance system will be significantly diluted, so will the renewal policies of projects. Tribal consent for using forested lands will no longer be needed. This would definitely benefit industrialists as they will now have less to complain about.

The real-estate sector will also welcome the amendments as forested patches, not under Government records, will be available for initiating new projects. The definition of forests itself will be amended to make large patches of forested lands free of forest laws. Stringent forest regulations will be diluted to make forestry practices more feasible. Involvement of the private sector in afforestation projects is also being considered by the Government.

Thus, with the above reforms, the Central Government in India aims to achieve rapid industrial and economic growth.

However, most environmentalists are not pleased with the Government’s ambitious goals. They point out the following discrepancies in the proposed new policies:

• Less stringent project clearance norms coupled with diluted public involvement and renewal policies, may result in a permanent damage to India’s wild habitats. Aggressive exploitation of wild habitats may lead to species extinction.

• Speedy and easy clearance norms may result in irresponsible handling of pollution standards by industries. This may choke our already polluted water and air with more toxic matter.

• Tribals and other locals inhabiting forest lands would lose their say in matters of encroachment of their lands by the private sectors. Their livelihood may be severely affected.

• Many productive forested lands in India are not on Government records, due to conflicts between revenue and forest departments, and varying state laws. Now, those forests may become vulnerable to be chopped down by the private-sector and the flora and fauna of those regions will be lost.

Thus, in India ‘progress with tears’ seems inevitable if the Government is not cautious about the thin line between imminent development and destructive carnage. Penchant for progress should not digress into regression of ecology.

In this context, a quote by Gandhiji reminds us: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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