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ELAW partner Norma Alvares of the Goa Foundation has won a tremendous victory in India.  The Bombay High Court ruled that the Grand Hyatt Hotel was illegally constructed in the protected Coastal Regulation Zone, which prohibits development within 200 meters of the sea coast and 100 meters of tidal rivers.

Grand Hyatt Hotel

Grand Hyatt Hotel

The Goa Foundation first filed this case in 2007 and fought for 7 years to show that the Grand Hotel Goa falsified plans and constructed the hotel in blatant violation of the law.

Norma says: “The Grand Hyatt victory is significant because it has shown that although the international corporation deliberately cheated and tried to defeat the coastal law – by substituting the approved plans with fake ones, by colluding with the government officials to make all the project files disappear, and abused the court process by repeatedly filing applications and appeals to delay the hearing of this case – the law finally caught up with them: their shameful fraud now stands exposed and they face the prospect of the same fate that ordinary Goans who illegally constructed in the prohibited Coastal Regulation Zone were compelled to do, namely, demolition of their illegal structures.

A three-judge panel will now consider what is the appropriate remedy for the Grand Hyatt’s violations. Norma will be asking the court to order the Grand Hyatt to remove the hotel and restore the coastal zone.

Congratulations to Norma and the Goa Foundation for winning a huge victory, strengthening the rule of law, and protecting India’s invaluable coastal zone!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director

Workers at the Cashew FactoryThe holiday season is upon us, whether we are in summery Goa or wintery Eugene or elsewhere around the world. Recently three of us from ELAW’s US office traveled to India for the 2012 ELAW Annual International Meeting. Among the many extraordinary experiences and stories of courageous and creative work being undertaken by our partners was a quick visit to a local cashew factory. We all wanted to purchase cashews–they tasted amazing!–but I was struck most by the sheer amount of work being done there…and I got curious.

It turns out that every cashew takes quite a bit of time to harvest, roast, shell, clean and package. Although there is some dispute about where the most cashews are produced now (India, Nigeria, and Vietnam are all vying for greatest production in 2012, depending on what source you read), cashews are originally from Brazil. From there the species went north into Central America, and the Portuguese traders brought seedlings to Mozambique and eventually other countries in eastern Africa, and to Goa, India. Not, interestingly, for the cashews–but because the trees were good at stabilizing sandy soils. Now, although it is one species, the cashew varieties are many: those from Kenya, India, and Panama all taste wonderfully different.

Removing cashew shellsCashews are in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac and–curiously–mangoes. Like its relatives, it is full of chemical irritants. Happily, the chemical irritants are found in the shell, not in the nut itself. So if you have never seen a cashew shell (you almost certainly haven’t), and you’ve never gotten a poison-ivy like reaction to cashews, that’s because someone else removed that shell for you. In fact someone–or more than one person–did quite a bit of work for you to enjoy that nut. The nut grows below the cashew apple, which itself can be eaten or fermented into feni–a strong and wonderful regional alcohol that our Annual Meeting hosts encouraged us to taste in Goa. The cashew actually has two shells–an inner and outer one. The outer one must first be roasted off to burn away the poison-ivy-related toxic oils. Then the inner shell must be removed, either by roasting again, or boiling. Only after that can the delicate cashew nut be removed and dried for eating or shipping. Note that you can buy “raw cashews” but you won’t be eating raw cashews: they almost certainly have already been roasted twice!

So there you have it. Lots of work and individual attention to each cashew. National Cashew Day (really, such a day exists?!) on 22 November has already passed but the holiday season is full of cashews. Most of us think about cashews as part of the standard fare at a holiday party–as part of baked goods, or salted, mixed in with other nuts. We eat them so casually, without thinking about where they came from or what it took to get them to us.

But the next time I eat a cashew, my mind will connect back to these hardworking women in the factory in Goa and I will be more mindful of and more grateful for where this wonderful food comes from. And I pledge to buy cashews only from companies that are also thinking about the hardworking employees, and using fair trade and fair labor labels. Look for them! And if your store doesn’t have them, demand them!

Heidi Weiskel
ELAW Staff Scientist

On the 45-hour journey home from Goa to Eugene, I have some time to reflect on all that we have seen and done this week with colleagues from around the world. The ever-accelerating pace of environmental destruction in the South, driven largely by consumption patterns in the North, is keeping my colleagues busy. At the meeting, Belizean attorneys advised Ghanaian, Ugandan, and Kenyan attorneys about the coming wave of offshore oil drilling. Indian colleagues helped their counterparts in other parts of Asia strategize about beating back coal-fired power plants and mines that threaten terrestrial ecosystems and access to clean water. We all shared notes about building strong organizations and recruiting and training the next generation of advocates, to keep this vital work going.


Chimgee reaches for the sky

One morning before the workday began, we hiked together up to a viewpoint overlooking the Western Ghats, the mountain range that runs along this southwest coast of India. The Western Ghats are a biodiversity hotspot: home to 139 species of mammals, over 500 species of birds, and over 5000 species of plants. As we admired the view and celebrated the morning, the resident naturalist at our retreat center brought us back to another reality, saying hundreds of dams are planned for this area, as is the world’s largest nuclear power generation plant.

Chimgee Dashdorg, a friend and colleague from Mongolia, reached for the sky and said: High places like this in Mongolia are sacred because we draw energy from the sky. We all follow her lead – with the knowledge that, for these battles we are fighting, we need energy. We draw energy from each other, and from the natural world, as we move into our workday.

A few years ago, an Indian friend in Eugene introduced me to the poetry of Rabinindrath Tagore, the Indian poet laureate. As we worked together in Goa, I was reminded of these words by Tagore:

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Group Shot

The work of the members of the ELAW network is like that bird, singing out of commitment to preserving the integrity of the natural world, and each individual that lives in, depends upon, and appreciates that world. Some of the challenges that we face are grim – a growing human population on a warming planet with fewer and more polluted resources. But our work is protecting pieces of the fabric of biodiversity while we at the same time do the slower work of systemic reform.

And gathering once a year to share strategies, build the network, and even to draw energy from a mountaintop, rejuvenates us. In spite of the long journey, I find myself excited to get back to work. Thanks to our Indian hosts for grounding us in that place, and facilitating our work together!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

Rahul Choudhary

Rahul Choudhary of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) works in a small group session on valuing damages and compensating victims of contamination

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!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

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