This resource navigates the legal maze one has to negotiate to protect people’s rights for healthy ecology
LAST YEAR, 5,156 cases of environmental-related offences were registered in India with maximum violations noted under the Indian Forest Act. The fact that only 50 cases were registered for air pollution and 10 for water pollution supports the opinion that environmental crimes are severely under reported in India. Reasons can be lack of policing and enforcement from pollution control boards along with scant legal awareness among people in rural areas most affected by industrial, mining and other development projects. Multiple laws, procedures and notifications can easily deter people.
This is why this document by mylaw.net is a valuable resource that comprises important legal changes and events of last three years with reference to previous laws. Written by well known practitioner Kanchi Kohli, the e-book lists down steps that can be taken to secure people’s rights over land, forests, water and biodiversity. And all this is explained through instances where common men and women explore the nitty gritties of environmental laws.
So, we have Sarita tai worried about construction of railway line through a forest and Kavita who is intrigued by a company official asking for her village land to do compensatory afforestation for a distant project. On the other hand, Pushpa behan is wondering if she could get back her land acquired a decade back for mining, which lies unutilised since then.
The e-book lists down steps that can be taken to secure people’s rights over land, forests, water and biodiversity. And all this is explained through instances where common men and women explore the nitty gritties of environmental laws
There’s also a case of proactive villagers preventing bio piracy under the Biological Diversity Act when a foreigner tries to ship out samples of high-altitude mushrooms.
Opinion pieces on reality of environment impact assessments and public hearings are of archival value. These list the shortcomings while also explaining the way outs. “By restricting itself to ascertaining the “concerns of locally affected people” and those with a “plausible stake in the environmental aspects of the project” (Section III (ii) of the EIA notification), the presiding panel restricts the speaking of anyone who is not local. NGOs, scientists, and activists are often told to make written submissions only. People have of course found creative ways to deal with this problem, with the local community backing them as representatives on technical and legal aspects. Often however, it is up to the DM whether to allow such an intervention or not,” one of the section on public hearing reads.
Diversion of forest land for mining and other non-forest purposes remains one of the biggest concerns for villagers dependent on forests. Kusum is concerned why the SDM came to her village ordering a gram sabha to be called for granting consent to a mining project.
As Kohli says there might be many similar cases involving diversion of forest land developing across the country. “Understanding the law and practice of forest diversion and recording illegalities will be critical for all concerned. Each case will be peculiar and as practitioners, we will need to delve deeper and work with the affected community to build evidence around it. Even when it comes to the environment, the law is best invoked when backed up with proof.”
Even though there remains a vast gap between law and practice, it is vital that affected communities use the legal tools to monitor compliance with environmental norms and also prevent and counter the damage caused by them.
Civil society organisations would do well to translate this book for their particular regions and reap greater benefits
One only wishes that such a resource also comes up in Hindi and regional languages for the affected people to make best use of it. Though most of the environmental laws can only be exercised by civil society organisations which keep themselves abreast with latest updates and legal know how, these groups will find ground support only when people also understand how they can claim and protect what is legally theirs. Civil society organisations would do well to translate this book for their particular regions and reap greater benefits.
And let there be hope that environment law violations are brought to book more often because even as legal redressal exists, the authorities meant to enforce the rules either remain lackadaisical or in consonance with the violators.