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Climate Activism In Times Of Social Distancing: From EIA To Dibang Valley

WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

Countries in some parts of the world have managed to flatten the curve of rising infections, but, what about flattening the curve of rising environmental degradation?

Climate strike on Lodhi road, New Delhi on 20th September 2019

Climate strikes all over the world gained momentum in 2019. In September 2019, global climate strikes all over the world witnessed large scale participation. The protests which took place on September 20, 2019 were the largest climate strikes in human history with about 1.4 million people participating in Germany, 300,000 people in the UK and Australia, and around 250,000 people in New York alone. These protesters have been demanding climate action from their governments. They demand  a complete shift to renewable energy and implementation of policies for environmental conservation.

While it hasn’t been easy to change the attitude of policy makers from one of apathy and denial to one of acknowledgement, the pandemic and the consequent social distancing measures make it harder. It has become tough to register their protests in public and demand climate action by coming out in large numbers. Thus, the climate movement has gone completely virtual and seems to be raging on, as it attempts to bring within its ambit more and more environmentally-conscious citizens.

Many video conferences are being held to increase awareness among people and initiate dialogue around the climate crisis and its various facets. This initiative has given rise to new collaborations among different organisations working around environmental issues. The virtual world makes it possible for environmentally-conscious citizens from all over the world to connect, strategize and share experiences with each other.

The COVID-19 crisis has made people from all over the world more conscious about the wide ranging consequences of environmental destruction and mismanagement. It has made people realise that we are not equipped to deal with  various problems related to environmental degradation such as rising air pollution, shrinking agricultural land, depletion of freshwater resources, spread of infectious diseases, increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters, rising sea levels and various other issues.

At the same time, this wake-up call is being  blatantly ignored by our government. The government is making many environmentally harmful decisions. In April 2020, the Environment Ministry cleared the Etalin hydroelectric project in the Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The project will result in felling of 2.7 lakh trees in the biodiversity-rich Himalayan area.

The project had been in consideration for many years by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and had faced opposition from locals in Arunachal Pradesh, especially the local tribals. The government has used the nationwide lockdown as an opportunity to give their nod to a highly controversial project which will have irreversible consequences for the environment.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 on March 12, 2020, which would replace the current notification of 2006. The EIA notification of 2006 is used to regulate clearance given to various projects such as dams, highways, ports, airports, mines, thermal powers plants, etc.

The EIA provides the mechanism for taking into consideration the views of various people who would be affected by the proposed projects. The new EIA notification threatens to change India’s environmental protection and regulation policy in a way that could have disastrous consequences for the ecology and lives of people affected by these projects:

  • The most controversial clause of the notification is that it seeks to approve projects that have failed to achieve environment clearance by giving them a chance at post facto approval. This means that approvals for projects might be given even if the project had been started without having achieved prior environmental clearance. It is worth noting that earlier the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ruled against post facto clearance.
  • The proposed EIA also seeks to dilute the public consultation process by a number of means. Firstly, it reduces the time period from 30 to 20 days for the submission of responses on a public hearing for a project seeking environment clearance.This is problematic because people in many parts of the country might not have easy and quick access to information. They might not be able to determine the consequences of a proposed project within such a short period and therefore would be unable raise their voice against it in a unified and well informed manner. One must note that this would be especially true for tribal communities living in remote areas, who make up a large proportion of those who have been historically displaced by developmental projects in the country.Secondly, the draft says public consultation is exempted for projects involving modernisation of irrigation projects, buildings, construction and area development projects, inland waterways, expansion of national highways, projects involving national security and defence and other “strategic conditions” determined by the central government. The central government reserving the right to choose which projects are of strategic importance might have detrimental consequences for the environment, wherein this power might be misused.
  • The new notification requires the project developer to submit a report once in a year,whereas the earlier notification required them to submit a report every 6 months. This extended period could prove harmful as, in case of non compliance, the damage inflicted might become irreversible by the time the authorities become aware of it.

    Climate strike in Bhalswa landfill,New Delhi on 22nd September,2019

These steps by the government prove that environmental activism has a long and difficult path ahead of it, before our politicians even acknowledge the looming environmental crisis and start acting in accordance with rules of environmental law and start taking climate action.

It is necessary for us to recognise the limitations the current pandemic puts on the climate movement. It has become harder than before to communicate, mobilise and have public discussions with people in remote areas and people from underprivileged backgrounds who do not have access to the internet and telephone services. Communities such as those of farmers, fish workers and tribals are the ones who are directly and severely affected by the environmental policies of the government and thus they have an instrumental say in public discourse on such issues.

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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.

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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.

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        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.

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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

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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.

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