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Lessons To Learn From Aarey: We Mustn’t Fall For The ‘Metro Vs Trees’ Argument

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One of the most influential philosophers of the twenty-first century, Ludwig Wittgenstein warned us how language can mislead and trap our thoughts. Author Amit Bhaduri relates this with how “We are rendered far too often of this warning when we are dubbed ‘anti-development, ‘romantic environmentalists’ for our proposal for alternative development.”

MUMBAI, INDIA – OCTOBER 2: Residence of Aarey colony and Aam Aadmi Party members protest against Maharashtra govt. for tree cutting to make Metro shed construction at Aarey Colony, on October 2, 2018 in Mumbai, India. The activists filed a petition to stop the indiscriminate premature felling of trees inside Aarey Colony till permissions have been obtained to construct metro car shed/metro station. (Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Recently, in the hearts of Mumbai, hundreds of trees were chopped for the construction of a metro station in a no-development, eco-sensitive zone that is Aarey Forest. This lead to thousands of people marching on the streets to protect their environment while the State of Maharashtra was clearly adamant about the construction being pro-development.

We have been aiming for development since Independence, switching to a fast-track in the recent decades of globalisation, and yet, India remains at the 177th position out of 180 countries in the Environmental Protection Index. Our vast population has no access to potable water and the crisis continues when major cities in the country witnesses intense levels of air pollution that deprive Indians of clean air.

If there is a dire need to protect our Right to Life granted to us under Article 21 in the Indian Constitution, then we probably cannot foresee the Right to Development which ensures a dignified life. But, the need here is that development should be fulfilled in an equitable manner such that both environmental and developmental need of the present and future generations is met. An appropriate methodology should be formulated to restore the environmental values of forests which are unavoidably diverted for other uses.

There is no harm stating the fact that development does disturb ecology and creates some imbalances between the two. The problem becomes acute and disturbing when development takes precedence over fragile eco-systems as witnessed during the felling of trees in the Aarey Forest. But, this conflict can very well be resolved with the right prudence and positive policies, and a harmonious balance can be maintained.

Environment concern at the global level was shown by organising a conference in 1971, in Stockholm. “The U.N. Conference on ‘Human Environment’ as it was called, alerted the nations to the growing threat to the very survival of the human race and civilization as a result of the mindless destructions of the environment.”

Back in India for the purpose of environmental protection, the government of India initiated various steps at different times at the Legislative and Executive levels. Our policy framework consists of constitutional mandates and legislative measures of the central and state governments, and some provisions under Articles 47, 48, 49 refer to the problems and directives to the government. Some of the directive provisions incorporated in the constitution as a result of the forty-second Amendment Act, 1976, includes Acts 48A, 51A. These provisions contain a clear mandate to the state and to the citizen to protect and improve the environment, and therefore, they constitute the basic policy framework for all the legislative and executive programs.

It would be reasonable to assume that the inclusion of environment protection as a fundamental duty was to involve the citizens as partners with the government and its policies. Therefore when one witnesses the imposition of Section 144 when people come to protect their environment, one can call it a violation of the Constitution.

The success of the ‘Chipko Movement‘ clearly asserts the thesis that the best way to protect, conserve, and manage the environment is through people’s participation at the local level. Public participation is a continuous, two-way communication channel where the role of the legislative body is equally pertinent. In recent years, both central, as well as state governments, have enacted laws with specific thrust on control of environmental degradation.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the role of the judiciary in the Aarey Forest case where the Bombay High Court refused to declare Aarey Colony as a forest and rejected the bail plea of 29 activists who had participated in the peaceful vigil against the tree-felling and were detained by the Mumbai Police. Meanwhile, the same judiciary, at the Apex level, accepted the PIL and restrained the authorities from cutting any further trees, but by then, according to news reports, 1,500 trees were already cut.

Before an assessment of the dynamism of the judiciary and its efficacy in the field of environmental pollution control is made, it is essential to understand the relevant contours of the problem and to have a general survey of the policy framework within which courts are to operate. Judiciary is charged with the duty of the interpretation of laws and that too in such cases which are brought before the courts, therefore judicial judgments at best can have only marginal impact on the larger question of environment control or development goals.

This all boils down to the need to understand that seldom can homogeneous decisions be made in terms of environmental protection. It will be mostly influenced by a powerful commercial and business concern. There is a need for an environmental policy keeping in view the country’s development policies. Decisions relating to environmental issues should be taken in a non-political atmosphere and the environmental dimension must be built into all policies, plans, programs, projects, and decisions.

The explanation for the gap between intention and reality lies, to a great extent, in the realms of politics. Pollution control has become a major issue of public policy. The environment and the vulnerable cannot be “sacrificed at the altar of development.” Environmental conflicts are not anti-development in any sense.

Hence, the entire debate, from Twitter to TV shows, on making a choice between trees vs metro stations can be called problematic and as diverting grievances. The time has come to examine every project from an ecological point of view, and where there is a conflict between environment and development, there is a need to decide in favour of the environment. Environmental protection needs to be built into the development process, for the time is ripe for a new ‘eco-beginning‘.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Mehul Bhanushali/Facebook, Twitter.
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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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