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The Aranmula Boat Race takes place on the Pampa River, near the site of the proposed airport. Photo by Arun Sinha/CC BY.

The Aranmula Boat Race takes place on the Pampa River, near the site of the proposed airport. Photo by Arun Sinha/CC BY.

ELAW partners in India have sent good news! The Chennai Bench of the National Green Tribunal has shelved plans for a private airport in Kerala that threatened key wetlands.

ELAW partner T. Mohan represented community members in a David and Goliath battle that included a 100-day strike by local community groups opposed to the airport.

Mohan and Devika wrote to thank ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik:  “Many thanks to Mark who provided critical input on the Environmental Impact Assessment, deciphering google maps. His comments proved to be the death knell for the clearance.”

Conversion of rice paddy fields to make way for the airport threatened wetlands and fisheries in the Pamba River basin. The company says it will appeal.  We will keep you posted about this case.

Read more here:

National Green Tribunal judgement

Kerala Govt backs out of Aranmula airport project

Green Tribunal cancels environment clearance to Aranmula airport

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator

“Ultra Mega” is the term for 12 new super-sized coal-fired power plants proposed to meet India’s energy needs.

Communities near Cheyyur Lagoon are concerned about plans for an Ultra Mega coal-fired power plant.

Each of these 4,000 megawatt facilities is 20 times the size of an average coal plant. Each would release more than 25 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, at the same time that scientists are telling us we need to move quickly to stop damaging the climate.

ELAW partners Shweta Narayan and Nity Jayaraman are working to help communities in India find ways to meet energy needs without sacrificing lives and livelihoods through massive air pollution and environmental destruction.

“For every 100 MW of electricity generated in India, more than 30 MW is lost because of inefficiencies and leakages, including in transmission and distribution,” says Shweta. “That means 30% of all power generated is lost. Shopping malls and IT companies burn electricity throughout the day, while households and small businesses suffer outages. We must phase out our current paradigm of wasteful consumption and inequitable distribution of electricity.”

A port and coal storage yard are proposed for this area.

Shweta and Nity are working with communities near Tamil Nadu’s Cheyyur Lagoon to challenge a proposed Ultra Mega coal-fired power plant that includes a port to receive coal from China and Australia, a four-mile conveyor belt to ferry the coal to the power plant, and a waste pond to receive 5,000 tons of fly ash, every day.

“The Environmental Impact Assessment is misleading,” says Heidi Weiskel, ELAW Staff Scientist.  “The project is much larger, more polluting, and more dangerous than the project proponents have revealed.”  In March, Heidi toured the area and met with community members who are challenging the project (read more).

Learn more about the fishing and farming communities in Cheyyur and their David and Goliath struggle to protect their fragile coastline from an Ultra Mega nightmare:

YouTube: Kaayal Kadhaigal (stories from the lagoon)

Thank you for your interest!

All the best,

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director & Fellows Program Coordinator
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide


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

ELAW partners are speaking out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. Enjoy some recent press clips featuring our partners in Tanzania, India, and Israel.

Photo: Mark Boulton, ICCE

Tanzania:  Daily News

Go for big poachers too

January 2, 2014 — Tanzania’s anti-poaching “Operation Tokomeza” was suspended following reports of rampant human rights abuses. ELAW partner Rugemeleza Nshala says the operation targeted “small fish.”  Rugemeleza says “we need to identify and stop the heavyweights behind the illicit trade.”

India:  The Economic Times

Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta’s moves have India Inc see red

December 23, 2013 — Ritwick Dutta fought his first case at the age of 28 against Vedanta, representing the Dongria Kondh tribals of Niyamgiri, who wanted to stop the London-listed giant from mining bauxite. Dutta fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which then asked Vedanta to get approval from the tribals to start mining. The tribals rejected the request, and the hills remain untouched. “Virtually 330 acres of forest land is diverted every day in India, according to the ministry of environment,” says Dutta. “I don’t think these fights have stopped India from progressing.”

Israel:  The Jerusalem Post

State proposes legal framework for complete alteration of national policy on coastal waters

December 18, 2013 — The Justice Ministry unveiled a draft bill that will restructure the laws governing Israel’s coastal waters. While praising the Justice Ministry’s decision to issue a bill, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) cited several flaws within its text that could allow for an “environmental disaster” to occur in waters that the organization describes as the “Wild West.”

Thank you for your interest!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director & Fellows Program Coordinator

Last week, ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta wrote from India:

“I have good news to share at the end of the year!”

After four hard fought years, the National Green Tribunal has shelved a coal-fired power plant proposed for Komarada Village in Andhra Pradesh.  Ritwick filed the case on behalf of Samata, a social justice organization that defends the rights of the Adivasi people in Andhra Pradesh.coal

The National Green Tribunal concluded that the process followed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests was arbitrary, hasty, and a thorough failure.

Keeping coal in the ground is a top priority for ELAW and its partners.  Coal-fired power plants destroy the air we breathe and are a leading contributor to greenhouse gases.

The best way to keep coal in the ground is to sideline the dozens of proposals for new coal-fired power plants in India and around the world.

Congratulations to Ritwick, his colleagues at the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), and Samata.

The court has ordered that the project be re-appraised in six months.  We will keep you informed of our progress.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

I think you will enjoy reading a recent  op-ed by ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta in Delhi.  In The Hindu, Ritwick writes:

Ritwick“A new jurisprudence on the environment is steadily emerging in the country and is an example for the rest of the world.  Today, nearly 50-60 Appeals and Applications are heard each working day before the various benches of the [National Green Tribunal] NGT.  At a time when Environment Impact Assessment reports are a blind “copy and paste” job, where public hearings are a “mockery” and non-compliance with environmental rules and regulations are the order of the day, the NGT serves to restore faith in the “Rule of law.”

The National Green Tribunal has transformed the way environmental decisions are made in India.  A specialized judicial and technical body, the NGT decides on all environmental disputes and issues.

This tribunal is enforcing the law to:
  • halt a proposed coal mine;
  • protect people living in and around the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority complex from toxic pollution;
  • ban the mining of sand from within rivers and streams across India;
  • close an illegal waste dump near a school campus in Bareilly; and,
  • prevent the deforestation and forced relocation of communities in Jagatsinghpur to make way for a port and steel manufacturing facility.

ELAW congratulates Ritwick and his colleagues at Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment for winning big victories for people and ecosystems around the world and improving the way decisions are made about the environment.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Earlier this week, we said goodbye to ELAW Fellow Rahul Choudhary. Rahul is a lawyer with the Legal Initiative for Forest & Environment (LIFE), based in Delhi. Rahul and his partners have been winning big victories before India’s National Green Tribunal, including protecting communities and wetlands from coal-fired power plants, and winning an order to relocate some of India’s 400 remaining Asiatic lions to ensure their survival.

Rahul at the Oregon coast

Rahul at the Oregon coast

Though Rahul has worked with the ELAW team for years via email, this was the first time he met many of us in person. Our Staff Lawyers and Staff Scientists were thrilled to collaborate with Rahul on his priority projects face-to-face. Rahul received scientific and legal support from the ELAW team and met with local experts to learn about current environmental initiatives in the United States. Rahul learned about legal efforts to address climate change, how we manage municipal waste, and how we protect forests and wetlands here in Oregon.

Many thanks to ELAW’s host families for helping Rahul connect with the local community. He visited ELAW’s renowned Saturday Market, the Oregon coast, and the Cascades.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Panthera leo persica

Panthera leo persica

Yesterday I posted an eBulletin about a terrific victory in India.

There are only 400 Asiatic Lions left in the world and they all live in and around Gir National Park in the State of Gujarat. ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta was concerned, because with all the lions living in one place, an epidemic could wipe out the entire population.

ELAW’s science team provided Ritwick with numerous scientific studies that support the idea of separating populations to prevent disease outbreaks from devastating entire populations (in some cases, species).  Ritwick used this information to win a landmark Supreme Court ruling that will help save the lions.

He wrote this week that the Court ordered the government to re-locate part of the lion population to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and adjoining forest in the State of Madhya Pradesh:

“I am happy to share with you the Judgment of the Supreme Court of India on protection of the Asiatic Lion and other endangered species. It has been a 7-year legal fight at the Supreme Court.  On many different occasions I sought help from the ELAW network on various scientific and legal issues concerning re-introduction of species.  I received lots of input, which became part of our submissions. Thanks for all your help and support!”

Ritwick says the ruling not only directs the translocation of the Asiatic Lion from the state of Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, but expands the meaning of the right to life to include the protection and conservation of wildlife.  The judgment also calls for the reinterpretation of the Principle of Sustainable Development “in a manner which is more eco-centric.”

Ritwick is an attorney at the EIA Resource and Response Centre. Together with his colleagues in India, he helped host the 2012 ELAW Annual Meeting, held in Goa.

Congratulations Ritwick on this hard fought victory for the lions!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Amrit Mahal Cattle grazing in the Amrit Mahal

Cattle grazing in the Amrit Mahal

We have great news to share! This week, ELAW partner Leo Saldanha wrote to us about a victory to protect ecologically fragile grassland ecosystems in Chitradurga, Karnataka, India. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) established an expert fact finding committee to investigate community concerns about a proposal to build India’s largest defense, nuclear, industrial and infrastructure complex. Local communities say the proposed projects would destroy 10,000 acres of ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’ or traditional pasture grassland and forests.

Read the full press release from Leo’s organization, Environmental Support Group.

Congratulations, Leo!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

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

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