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Draft EIA 2020: Is Environmental Justice A Myth Or Reality In Darjeeling Hills?

The Environment Impact Assessment, as the name suggests, is a planned intervention by the state that guides Infrastructure Development Projects in mitigating the impact that it could possibly have on the Environment and other socio-economic, cultural, and human-health factors. 

The powers vested under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, led to the genesis of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, which was first introduced in 1994. Since its inception, this subordinate legislation has been amended many times. The primal notification that was conducive to the ethos of environmental protection has been gradually diluted in the fullness of time.

Nature is an existence devoid of human influence. The natural calamities have transformed from its innateness to be socially constructed through daily human intervention either for need or greed, collective interest or commercialization, or monopolisation. Thus, they are making impacts of natural calamities like landslides, earthquakes, no longer natural but a byproduct of human activities and manipulations.

Representational image.

The current EIA Notification, in its draft form, is controversial for the implications which may follow. And while the vulnerable landscape is congenital to the hills, we have our own set of distinct environmental concerns vis a vis the draft notification.

The ‘one size fits all’ narrative of the Draft EIA Notification,2020, will have severe repercussions in the hills. The yardsticks that attract the EIA Notification application have been kept uniform for the hilly regions and the plains. The threshold is kept at such a high that it excludes construction projects, which may have a potential impact on the mountainous region, from the ambit of an Environment Impact Assessment. 

The draft notification severely erodes the foundations of an Inclusive Environmental Governance Regime by diminishing public consultation in the establishment of many development projects. The construction and extension of highways in the Border Areas, which comprises areas falling within 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India, are now kept outside the ambit of Public Consultation.

For other projects that mandate public consultation, the period within which the public is supposed to file their responses against the establishment of projects has decreased to 20 days from 30 days. EIA should ideally secure sustainable development goals through public participation, wherein informed public opinions are accommodated. Therefore, public participation should be encouraged, which further transforms into a legal framework regulating development activities.

The draft further states that no information about Defence, Security, and other Strategic Projects will be available in the public domain. Without denying the importance of strengthening the defence and security infrastructure, the lack of definition given to ‘other strategic projects’ makes room for ambiguity and arbitrary actions. Consequently, the government can now declare any project to be strategic and avoid furnishing the details about such projects to the public.

Our region, being crowned with hills and blessed with pleasant weather, has a great influx of tourists every year from all parts of the world. The local populace is highly dependent on the tourism sector for economic assistance. The potential of developing our region as an eco-tourism hub may be severely affected by unprecedented and unethical forms of infrastructural developments, which may further add to the already existing issues of congestion, scarcity of water, problems of waste management, etc.

The river Teesta is of major significance to the people in the hills of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Sikkim. The river has been subjected to an unprecedented number of River Valley Hydropower development projects amidst the fact that Teesta lies in a high seismic zone. The areas parallel to it are prone to rampant landslides. Due to its extremely controlled flows, the river level has risen to be almost at par with the highway that runs parallel to it, causing submergence of a large area and increasing threats to life. The draft fails to recognise the need for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all the hydropower projects on a particular river and maintains its Single Project Assessment practice. 

The draft consists of many more intricacies that are inclined towards the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rather than Environment Protection.

The importance of infrastructure development in the hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong is very well known to us. But the question remains, should we let the externalities in the disguise of development cripple our environment when we’ve already missed the bus?

Vacay Workers: The Vacay Workers is a volunteering organization based in Kalimpong. They are currently working to formulate a recommendation document with regards to the Draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020, to be sent to the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change before the 11 of August 2020. You may also send your inputs to them at vacayworkers@gmail.com

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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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