Today was the first day of the 2012 ELAW Annual Meeting, convened jointly by the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE), and the Goa Foundation. We have 43 participants from 22 countries here — a handful of new faces and a number of long time colleagues and friends.
Claude Alvares welcomed us to this beautiful place – the small state of Goa in Southern India. Goa is home to beautiful forests, rivers, beaches, wildlife reserves, and 60% of India’s iron ore. Claude and his wife and colleague Norma have been litigating against illegal mining operations in Goa since the late 1980s, and just achieved an impressive judgment from the Supreme Court stopping all mining in the state. The court recognized that all the individual claims pointed to a bigger, systemic challenge, and simply closed the door on the mines indefinitely. Until the legal problems can be resolved, these companies simply cannot continue. In addition to the problems common to mines the world over, such as water and air pollution and deforestation, Claude described how the mining trucks had all but taken over roads in the vicinity of the mines, rendering them impossible for the public to use. Many people have been run over and killed by the trucks, in addition to suffering contaminated water and air.
Ritwick Dutta talked about India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT), created in 2010 to hear environmental claims. The statute creating the NGT states that any aggrieved person can bring a claim to the NGT. Case law has since defined that to mean that any person may bring a claim because all Indian citizens have a duty under India’s Constitution to protect and improve the environment. The NGT turns cases around in an average of three months, which is the speed of light compared to other courts in India. And thus far, the NGT has ruled wisely on virtually all claims placed before it. The Supreme Court has issued an order transferring all cases that were filed since the NGT was created to the NGT, acknowledging the ability and capacity of that Tribunal to manage environmental legal matters. Although the NGT is issuing good, fair judgments and protecting India’s resources, Ritwick and his colleagues say that they need more horsepower to bring more cases to the NGT. Hundreds of hectares of forest are signed away each day, and the pace of development is accelerating all the time.
Our Indian colleagues are a terrific inspiration to us all. Welcome to Goa!