Citizens' Issues
India leads world In environmental conflicts

The conflicts over water are most evident in Himachal Pradesh, and most are related to hydroelectric projects, often planned without considering the needs and consent of local communities


There are more environmental conflicts in India than any other country, and more clashes are over water (27 perccent) than any other cause, according to the recently released Global Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas).
India has 222 listed conflicts - in proportion to population, there are many more - followed by Colombia and Nigeria with 116 and 71 conflicts, respectively, according to the EJAtlas, an interactive map of 1,703 global ecological conflicts, categorised by cause, such as water management, waste management, fossil fuels and climate justice, and biodiversity conservation.
With India currently facing the worst crisis in a decade and on course to becoming “water-scare” within nine years, as IndiaSpend reported last month, the scale of the conflicts listed in the Atlas further indicate a worsening situation.
Most water conflicts in Himachal Pradesh, most over hydroelectric projects
The conflicts over water are most evident in Himachal Pradesh, and most are related to hydroelectric projects, often planned without considering the needs and consent of local communities.
Similar conflicts have been recorded in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Mizoram, Orissa and Sikkim, among other states.
There are other kinds of water-management conflicts. In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, locals objected to a municipal corporation partnership with a private company to build a pipeline and augment water supply, because prices were to be decided by the company. Another example involves use of groundwater by Coca-Cola, involved in five conflicts with local communities protesting bottling plants (one each in Jaipur, Dehradun and 
Plachimada (Kerala), and two in Mehdiganj, near Varanasi.
Dams are persistent sites of conflicts, especially when they are being built and commissioned, said Sailen Routray, an independent researcher based in Bhubaneshwar. He has worked extensively on water issues and conflicts.
Other environmental conflicts arise from an expanding economy
Most Indian conflicts listed in the EJAtlas appear to be a consequence of the country’s expanding economy.
For example, the raging underground fires in the Jharia coal mines in Jharkhand - an exclusive storehouse of prime coking coal - were first seen a century ago, started spreading in the 1970s and, currently, more than 70 mine fires are underway, polluting the air, water and land and devastating the health of the locals.
Several conflicts centre around garbage dumping sites, such as Deonar in Mumbai, Sultanpur and Bandhwari villages near the national capital region, Kodungaiyur near Chennai, Eloor in Kerala and villages around Bangalore. Across India, more than three million truckloads of garbage is dumped without being treated, as IndiaSpend has reported, a manifestation of growing urbanisation.
Conflicts have also erupted at construction sites of new airports, seaports and other big infrastructure projects. The common theme running through most conflicts is loss of right to land or livelihoods of local communities.
More conflicts in India than the Atlas lists
Although the EJAtlas lists 220 environmental conflicts in India, there are many more.
“You should realize that 220 is in proportion to population,” said Joan Martinez-Alier, Professor of Economics and Economic History at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and director of the EJAtlas project. “India has more cases than any other country because good work has been done on the EJAtlas by our partners at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and also obviously because India is the country with the largest population in the world.”
He attributed conflicts to a growth in “social metabolism”, prompted by economic expansion. “Materials and energy are extracted from new places and transported far away. Mining expands and reaches new frontiers. Hydroelectricity expands and reaches villages in the Himalaya,” said Martinez-Alier.
The high environmental costs in states that supply raw material
Environmental conflicts are global, but India differs from other developing countries in South America or Africa on one crucial point: External trade.
“Despite being a large country, India does not import or export too much,” said Martinez-Alier. “Most of the extraction of materials in India is for internal consumption. But there are conflicts between states. Sometimes, about water rights. And, sometimes because some states (like Odisha, Jharkhand) become providers of raw materials for the rest of the country at very high internal social and environmental costs.”
A comparison of the states shows that some of them have indeed borne a larger share of environmental conflict.
The national green tribunal’s successes aren’t enough to stem the tide
In recognition of rising environmental disputes, the government established a National Green Tribunal in 2010 to serve as a fast-track court for such disputes, but the tide of environmental conflicts is not ebbing.
“NGT has played a good role (in delivering environmental justice),” said Swapan Kumar Patra, one of the Indian contributors to the EJAtlas. In an unrelated paper, Patra and V.V. Krishna, professor at JNU and the other Indian contributor to EJAtlas wrote: “Since its inception, NGT has given many fast-track judgments in various cases and has passed several orders to the respective authorities like ban on illegal sand-mining, against noise pollution in Delhi, preservation of biodiversity of Western Ghat Mountains, wildlife protection in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, suspended many environmental clearance and so on.”
However, despite NGT’s intervention and rising participation from affected locals, environmental injustice in India is on the rise.
The question, however, is not how to avoid the conflicts, said Martinez-Alier, but how to profit from the awareness of so many conflicts-“in order to move to an economy which is more sustainable and also more socially just”.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.


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Giving Them a Better Start
Tanuja Deshrajan helps street children learn basic skills so that they get admission into the best government schools
As a young mother, Tanuja Deshrajan was moved by the plight of a group of young children, who were the age of her own toddler son and whose life was about playing on the streets and begging for a living. She began to reflect on the futility of their existence and their grim future and decided that she must make the effort to give their lives the same chance as that of her own son. The way forward was education. 
“I started a school under the shade of a tree with a small number of children. It has now turned into a movement and we have 200 children in our school that has classes up to 5th standard. We also run women empowerment programmes like a sewing centre, a centre to make dry nashtas and adult education programmes.”
Tanuja, with an MSc degree in organic chemistry and an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University), is also involved in a struggle to change mindsets even at home. “The first difficulty I faced was to convince those closest to me—my family. They couldn’t understand why their daughter-in-law wanted to help children of ‘lesser’ families go to school, or why women, in general, should do work of their choice. I believed that if the women and children who needed education understood, everyone else would follow.”
Her perseverance worked and she now provides free education to children at Baliraja Sunrise School, Mainath village (Aligarh district, Uttar Pradesh). Her passion emanates from her strong belief that children must be able to learn, free of cost, and that her own educational qualifications would be of value only if they serve a useful social purpose. “Each of us, who is proud of our teachers and our educational qualifications, should pass on the benefit of education on to children,” she says.
With justifiable pride, she says, “Most people have stories to tell of the education they received in their first 22 years. My story isn’t about that luxury; it is one of providing it. My story is about how I gave the latter 22 years of my life to create and continuously improve the education system in a village called Mainath, and how that still continues to be a privilege.” 
Children at her school are taught with the objective that they should get admission into the best government schools for higher education. This means a focus on quality as well as bringing more children into the fold. The latter is possible by involving their mothers as well. Tanuja explains it best when she says, “We, as a community of people, tend to discriminate on the basis of caste and gender; domestic violence and lack of education for women are a part of life. Our children must also grow out of such mindsets and our women, especially mothers, should move away from this. Our boys, as adults, should be trained to give up such discriminatory attitudes and behaviour.”
Tanuja’s effort to expand her work received support from Vaibhav Lall, chief editor of Rise for India, who has created an online crowd funding platform to raise Rs1.5 lakh for her school to get furniture, stationery, books, computers, sports equipment and library facilities and to pay salaries for the teachers. He says, “Tanuja’s story is not only an inspiration for her village, but for the entire nation. You can also become a part of her story by contributing in the fund raising campaign going on to help her in sustaining the noble initiative.” You can contribute by clicking on  and help change the lives of some children.


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