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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

I am pleased to report that victories are following on victories in our work with Ritwick Dutta in India!

Last year, we worked with Ritwick to secure a big win for a large urban area suffering from toxic industrial emissions:

national-green-tribunal-logoOne million people live in and around the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) complex, 12 miles south of New Delhi.  Thousands of families are exposed to a barrage of chemicals emitted into the air and discharged into the water daily by more than 100 factories in NOIDA.  Ritwick petitioned the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for relief and the NGT responded positively: It banned the expansion of existing factories and the establishment of new factories, and ordered the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to provide a full accounting of toxic pollutant releases from all factories in the complex.

ELAW has continued to work with Ritwick to ensure that the Pollution Control Board is indeed making pollutant release levels available to the public, and identifying violators.  I worked with Ritwick to analyze the latest figures and identified many facilities not complying with standards and releasing dangerous levels of pollutants.  Ritwick shared this information at the National Green Tribunal.  Last  Tuesday, the NGT ordered 18 of the worst-polluting facilities to close until they can prove they are complying with environmental standards.

Congratulations to Ritwick for his perseverance and commitment to clean air and water for all.

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

A stone-crushing until near Kaziranga
Photo: Urmimala Bhattacharjee

ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta is winning the battle to protect Kaziranga National Park!  Last week, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) found that the Ministry of the Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the government of Assam were failing to protect the park from polluting industries.  The park, which sits at the eastern edge of the Himalayas, was declared a National Park and Tiger Reserve under India’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In 1996, the MoEF declared the area around the park to be a ‘No Development Zone.’ Despite these protections, several quarries, stone-crushers, and brick kilns have been operating illegally around the park, threatening tigers, rhinos, elephants, buffalo, swamp-deer and other wildlife.  Ritwick brought the case on behalf of a local resident who was concerned that government officials were simply acting as mute spectators while dozens of illegal and unregulated industries sprang up in the no development zone.

In its ruling, the NGT ordered the MoEF and government of Assam to close or relocate most of the polluting facilities and enforce pollution regulations for the few facilities that were allowed to stay because they were constructed before the no development buffer zone was established.   The NGT imposed a fine on both entities for failing to protect the park.  The fine will be placed in a fund designated for the conservation and protection of Kaziranga National Park.

The NGT also had this to say about Ritwick’s work:

“Before parting, we feel it necessary to express our appreciation to Shri Ritwick Dutta, Learned Counsel for the Applicant for the endeavourance made and pain taken by him to place different records and datas before this Tribunal to substantiate rampant violation of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 at Kaziranga National Park as well as inside the No Development Zone.”

Congratulations Ritwick!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

In August 2010, when India’s National Environmental Appellate Authority overturned a proposal by Lafarge, one of the world’s largest cement companies, to mine for limestone over hills native communities in Himachal Pradesh hold sacred, I rejoiced.

A Google Earth image of the proposed POSCO site

However, my Indian partners and I knew that India had a larger test coming: what to do about a proposal from Korea’s giant steel company (POSCO) to locate a port and steel manufacturing facility in the district of Jagatsinghpur.  Like Lafarge’s proposal, POSCO’s proposal would result in deforestation and the forced relocation of communities from land they have lived on for decades.  However, POSCO’s proposal would involve an investment of $12 billion, the single largest foreign direct investment ever proposed in India.  POSCO’s proposal also involved discussions between high ranking members of the governments of India and Korea.

Could India turn down, on environmental grounds, a proposal involving such large amounts of money and political power?

At first, the answer seemed discouraging.  In 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) appointed a four-person committee to investigate whether POSCO’s proposed steel manufacturing project was consistent with Indian environmental laws.  In October 2010, three of the committee members issued a strong report recommending rejection of the proposal.  One of the committee members, a government official from Orissa, issued a minority report recommending approval of the proposal.  In January 2011, the MoEF, following the recommendations of the single-member minority of the committee, approved the project, allowing it to go forward.

Attention then turned to India’s new National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has been functioning less than a year. The local communities appealed the MoEF’s clearance of the POSCO project to the NGT.

To my delight – and after nearly a decade of struggle – on March 30th the NGT, in suspending MoEF’s clearance for the project, is telling the world that in India, no amount of money or political power can shield a project from the necessity of complying with environmental standards and the rights of communities.  Congratulations are in order for ELAW partners Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary, who argued the case before the NGT.

It is a heartening victory, but the struggle is not quite over.  POSCO is expected to appeal NGT’s judgment to the Supreme Court of India or start over from square one with a fresh application for the project, which the NGT’s order allows.  ELAW will continue to support our partners in this long struggle.

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

Something remarkable happened this year in India!  The world’s most populous democracy, a rapidly industrializing nation that faces a vast number of serious environmental challenges, has created a specialized court with expert members having extraordinary powers to provide remedies to environmental problems: The National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Making the NGT functional required a hard-fought struggle. Established by the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010, the NGT was designed as a replacement for the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA), an environmental tribunal that, with a single judicial member, had ruled favorably on a number of environmental petitions. However, for months, the Government of India failed to appoint judicial and expert members to the NGT and provide it with necessary components, such as courtrooms and staff.  To make matters worse, the NGT Act abolished the NEAA at the same time it created the NGT, leaving dozens of environmental petitions languishing with no court to rule on urgent matters.  It required a sustained legal effort early this year, lead by ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta, who went to the Supreme Court of India, to force the Government of India to comply with the NGT Act and breathe life into the new tribunal.

Ritwick Dutta

With everything finally in place, the NGT began hearing cases and issuing judgments in late summer of 2011.  Several judgments have been exceptional, including one that requires the Government of India to enact national standards for exposure to radiation hazards.

For me, the most exciting part is that ELAW partners will be leading the way in making sure the NGT fulfills its promise of taking quick action to remedy environmental problems in India.  Already, ELAW partners Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary are lead counsel on more than 30 petitions before the NGT, with dozens more being readied for filing.  The petitions deal with environmental problems across a wide area of India, including the States of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and seek to stop environmentally destructive projects such as new coal-fired power plants, and large hydroelectric dams in remote forested areas.  Providing scientific support to many of these cases will likely make 2012 a busy and rewarding year.

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

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