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Mr Javadekar Do You Really Believe Your Justification Of The Aarey-Felling Was Justified?

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The controversy surrounding the Aarey forest in Mumbai majorly revolves around how the removal of the forest would lead to a decrease in oxygen, loss of livelihood of the indigenous Adivasi community, and increased flooding. Major news outlets have been calling Aarey as Mumbai’s “green lungs” and so have the protesters. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) has claimed that it has taken up afforestation measures to compensate for the loss of trees, but is it that simple?

The Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had drawn a parallel with the Delhi Metro, saying that citizens of Delhi initially protested against the felling of trees too, but that afforestation measures (5 for 1) resulted in the growth of the forest cover and development of a robust transport system.

Delhi’s forest cover has remained static for the past eight years. Despite annual sapling planting drives taken up by government agencies, the forest cover has hovered around 20% in Delhi. There are usually no follow-ups after the saplings have been planted and as a result, most of them die. A study by Indiana University found that unless early intervention is undertaken to ensure the survival of planted street trees, tree mortality would significantly nullify the benefits expected by afforestation.

Hypothetical benefits and cost over a tree’s lifetime. Image Credit: MDPI.com

Afforestation is usually not the answer to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, as found by researchers in Europe. Forests evolve over time into complex systems of interdependence among flora and fauna. A study of one of the largest afforestation programs in China found that it actually increased the carbon stock of the region as monoculturalism of pulpwood forests took over natural forests. Simply planting a single kind of tree and expecting it to compensate for the loss of an actual forest is hubris that can be expected only from politicians who have no actual knowledge of the field they work in.

The Aarey Forest also supports the indigenous Warli Adivasi communities who have been living here for generations. Adivasi communities already bear the brunt of relocation and displacement due to government projects. They make up 40% of the total families displaced by construction projects while only making up 8% of the population.

Relocation efforts are at best, barely sustainable and often end up pushing them into poverty. They also have a codependent relationship with the forest which should not be undervalued. Compensatory afforestation offsets and relocation of the indigenous forest communities have often been the playbook of governments past, who want to push through developmental projects with as little scrutiny as possible.

In its current state, the Mumbai Metro is producing more CO2 than it reduces because of increased ridership. This is primarily because “most of the commuters shifted from other forms of public transport like buses and trains which use less energy per capita as compared to the Metro.”

As opposed to Delhi, where the majority of people shifted from using private vehicles, 75% of the people in Mumbai were already dependent on public transport before the metro came along. Once the entire system develops though, the reductions in CO2 emissions will outweigh the emissions released by the metro.

A metro system can bring numerous advantages to a city like reduced pollution, time savings for the riders, and a drop in the number of accidents, both fatal and otherwise. In a country like India, where a person dies every 17 hours due to a fatal road accident, public transport systems like the metro can mitigate a significant amount of road fatalities. It also reaps economic benefits for the city as was estimated by a paper that estimated the economic rate of return on investments in just Phase I and Phase II of the Delhi Metro to be 24%.

Real sustainable development and not the government’s version of it can only be enacted when the concerns of all stakeholders are considered. Yes, a major metropolis like Mumbai would benefit greatly from a robust metro system. Also, the Aarey forest forms a vital part of Mumbai’s ecosystem, from supporting the Adivasi communities, to preventing flooding, and providing vital green cover. Only evaluating the forest on the basis of its CO2 absorbing capabilities represents a gross lack of understanding about the intricacies and benefits of a forest ecosystem.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured Image credit: Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images; Mehul Bhanushali/Facebook.
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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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