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Report Reveals How Clashes Over The Environment Are Worst In India

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By Manupriya,

There are more environmental conflicts in India than any other country, and more clashes are over water (27%) than any other cause, according to the recently released Global Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas).

India has 222 listed conflicts–in proportion to population, there are many more–followed by Colombia and Nigeria with 116 and 71 conflicts, respectively, according to the EJAtlas, an interactive map of 1,703 global ecological conflicts, categorised by cause, such as water management, waste management, fossil fuels and climate justice, and biodiversity conservation.

With India currently facing the worst crisis in a decade and on course to becoming “water-scare” within nine years, as IndiaSpend reported last month, the scale of the conflicts listed in the Atlas further indicate a worsening situation.

The EJAtlas is a work-in-progress and hopes to add more cases over the coming years.

Most Water Conflicts In Himachal Pradesh, Most Over Hydroelectric Projects

The conflicts over water are most evident in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, and most are related to hydroelectric projects, often planned without considering needs and consent of local communities.

Similar conflicts have been recorded in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Mizoram, Orissa and Sikkim, among other states.

There are other kinds of water-management conflicts. In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, locals objected to a municipal corporation partnership with a private company to build a pipeline and augment water supply, because prices were to be decided by the company. Another example involves use of groundwater by Coca Cola, a beverages company, involved in five conflicts with local communities protesting bottling plants (one in Jaipur, Rajasthan, one in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, one in Plachimada, Kerala, and two in Mehdiganj, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh).

Dams are persistent sites of conflicts, especially when they are being built and commissioned, said Sailen Routray, an independent researcher based in Bhubaneshwar. He has worked extensively on water issues and conflicts.

“Almost all inter-state conflicts in India over river waters surround dams, and the consequent water allocations to warring states,” said Routray. “There should be no more investments in big- and medium-sized dams in India. Similarly, work should stop on the river interlinking plan, as this plan has the potential to increase inter-state water conflicts manifold.”

Other Environmental Conflicts Arise From Expanding Economy

Most Indian conflicts listed in the EJAtlas appear to be a consequence of the country’s expanding economy.

For example, the raging underground fires in the Jharia coal mines in Jharkhand–an exclusive storehouse of prime coking coal–were first seen a century ago, started spreading in the 1970s and, currently, more than 70 mine fires are underway, polluting air, water and land and devastating the health of locals.

Several conflicts centre around garbage dumping sites, such as Deonar in Mumbai, Sultanpur and Bandhwari villages near the national capital region, Kodungaiyur near Chennai, Eloor in Kerala and villages around Bangalore. Across India, more than 3 million truckloads of garbage is dumped without being treated, as IndiaSpend has reported, a manifestation of growing urbanisation.

Conflicts have also erupted at construction sites of new airports, seaports and other big infrastructure projects. The common theme running through most conflicts is loss of right to land or livelihoods of local communities.

More Conflicts In India Than The Atlas Lists

Although the EJAtlas lists 220 environmental conflicts in India, there are many more.

“You should realize that 220 is in proportion to population,” said Joan Martinez-Alier, Professor of Economics and Economic History at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and director of the EJAtlas project. “India has more cases than any other country because good work has been done on the EJAtlas by our partners at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and also obviously because India is the country with the largest population in the world.”

“India is average in terms of environmental injustice and conflicts, we would say,” said Martinez-Alier. “The situation regarding environmental injustice is bad overall.”

He attributed conflicts to a growth in “social metabolism”, prompted by economic expansion. “Materials and energy are extracted from new places and transported far away. Mining expands and reaches new frontiers. Hydroelectricity expands and reaches villages in the Himalaya,” said Martinez-Alier.

The High Environmental Costs In States That Supply Raw Material

Environmental conflicts are global, but India differs from other developing countries in South America or Africa on one crucial point: External trade.

“Despite being a large country, India does not import or export too much,” said Martinez-Alier. “Most of the extraction of materials in India is for internal consumption. But there are conflicts between states. Sometimes, about water rights. And, sometimes because some states (like Odisha, Jharkhand) become providers of raw materials for the rest of the country at very high internal social and environmental costs.”

A comparison of the states shows that some of them have indeed borne a larger share of environmental conflict.

The National Green Tribunal’s Successes Aren’t Enough To Stem The Tide

In recognition of rising environmental disputes, the Government of India in 2010 established a National Green Tribunal to serve as a fast-track court for such disputes, but the tide of environmental conflicts is not ebbing.

“NGT has played a good role (in delivering environmental justice),” said Swapan Kumar Patra, one of the Indian contributors to the EJAtlas. In an unrelated paper, Patra and V. V. Krishna, professor at JNU and the other Indian contributor to EJAtlas wrote: “Since its inception, NGT has given many fast-track judgments in various cases and has passed several orders to the respective authorities like ban on illegal sand-mining, against noise pollution in Delhi, preservation of biodiversity of Western Ghat Mountains, wildlife protection in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, suspended many environmental clearance and so on.”

However, despite NGT’s intervention and rising participation from affected locals, environmental injustice in India is on the rise.

“The problem lies in the way our governments perceive environmental issues,” said S Ravi Rajan, faculty member in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “The Indian government (present and past) has failed to understand that economic growth is not inimical to environmental justice. In India, the laws are good, with a robust rights regime, and yet we have failed to deliver. China, in comparison, has a weaker rights regime, but they seem to have done a much better job at bringing down environmental abuses than India has.”

The question, however, is not how to avoid the conflicts, said Martinez-Alier, but how to profit from the awareness of so many conflicts–”in order to move to an economy which is more sustainable and also more socially just.”

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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