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How Much Has The Modi Govt. Been Able To Protect The Environment?

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Just days ahead of World Environment Day 2017 came news of America’s dramatic withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. The decision by US President Donald Trump drew much criticism from a long list of world leaders, as well as multiple Silicon Valley CEOs like Elon Musk (Tesla Inc, SpaceX). Trump’s argument? The Agreement lays an unfair burden on highly developed nations like the US, while countries like India are simply cruising along on foreign aid, without really fighting climate threats.

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, India has backed the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, recognising the inequalities between the Global North and South in causing and being able to mitigate climate change. And, fortunately, we’ve stuck to our guns this long. And even as Trump prepares for the four-year-long exit process, India marks this World Environment Day by renewing its pledge to the Paris Agreement.

But Trump’s remarks do prompt a discussion about how well (or badly) India has managed its environment. The past three years under the Narendra Modi government have indeed seen a number of striking developments in this respect.

One Step Forward But Way Too Many Steps Back

The Centre for Science and Environment calls Modi’s policy a “mixed bag.” This is because there appears to be a lot of promising stuff in there. For example, the UJALA Scheme, under which 238 million energy-efficient LED bulbs were reportedly distributed nationwide. With Upendra Tripathy heading the International Solar Alliance, India is taking a big lead on strengthening renewable energy. In fact, 2014 saw a 91% increase in grid-connected renewable energy, when compared with 1991. And under our UN Climate Pledge, we intend to source 40% of our electricity from non-fossil sources. But there are plenty of spanners in the works. LEDs will be of little use to 92% of rural households that aren’t even connected to the grid. We are still largely dependent on coal and thermal power, so really it’s no surprise that, last year, pollution in big cities like Delhi, Lucknow and Patna were nothing short of deadly.

Laws Are Flimsier Than Ever

The revision the E-Waste Management Rules of 2011, and the introduction of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules of 2016 were two positive reforms in the law, but others betray the government’s bias for profit over people. For example, green clearances: rather than staggering these, the NDA-led government has in fact accelerated them. They’ve become easier to do too, since online forms for environmental clearance became operational in July 2014. A report by Hindustan Times last year said that “[w]hile the UPA rejected 11.9% projects due to wildlife concerns, the rejection rate during NDA rule has been less than 0.01%.”

Yet another example of callousness when it comes to forests has been the ‘incentivising’ of forests for industrial use! The government has directed state forest departments to give over 5,000 to 10,000 hectares of ‘degraded’ forest areas to private sector entities. Of this land, only 10-15% will be made available to local communities.

But perhaps the most blatant example has been the utter destruction of the Yamuna riverbed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘World Cultural Festival’ this March. Damage control will cost over ₹42 crore, and take 10 whole years. The National Green Tribunal and Centre both permitted this after a compensation fee of ₹5 crore was paid. Even then, the government failed to pull up those involved.

Major Projects Moving At A Sluggish Pace

The Clean Ganga Mission was an important initiative by the Modi government, for which 20,000 crore was set aside until 2019. But unlike its vehement cousin, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it has all but fizzled out. Not only has spending on the Mission been negligible, but all 21 proposals under it are yet to be implemented. It had a 13-point agenda, of which only three have been achieved – surface cleaning; setting up Ganga Grams (model villages); and creating the Ganga Task Force. And it was today that union water minister Uma Bharti admitted it would take another decade to actually clean the Ganga.

Transparency And Participation Missing

A placard reading "Go Back Monsanto" next to baskets of vegetables
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A report by Business Standard reveals how government permission for genetically modified (GM) crops has been under wraps, not just limited but obliterating any chance of public engagement on the issue of food security and health. But even when it’s not in secret, things look daunting. GMO giant Monsanto made a deal with the Maharasthra government during a Make In India program, which has been a defining initiative by our current government. Despite the company’s dubious history, as well as several warnings from scientists and activists both, there appears to be a push for GMOs in India, without so much as a chance for ordinary citizens to react.

Where Are We At, In The Fight Against Climate Change?

India is among the 147 countries that have signed the Paris Agreement. And it it has been suggested that Modi himself has taken a personal interest in combatting climate change. After all, he did approach a surprised R. K. Pachauri in 2009 or a two-day seminar on the matter. Add to that, he made ‘energy and climate’ one of the five pillars of the India-US Strategic Dialogue in 2014.

But at the end of the day, here’s a few things we have to remember about our country: We are one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, globally. No matter how many new standards are put in place, “regular non-compliance” persists in the coal industry. It is time for our government, or any government in the world, to get much tougher on environment malpractices.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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