Sustained efforts in campaigning for environmental causes has brought in many victories in the past in India.

TN farmer holds up an equipment amid anti-hydrocarbon protests in Neduvasal. Image for representation/PTI
news Environment Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 16:13

In the past, civil society has put forward coordinated efforts for various causes that have accomplished more than what can be quantified. From calling for generic production of life-saving drugs to environmental issues, people have played a major role in bringing about changes to the law.

Hundreds of voices from the public, including those of environmental experts and activists, have risen up against the Environmental Impact Assessment 2020 (EIA 2020) draft in the last few weeks, urging the government to reject the amendments proposed in the draft document.

Dilution of environmental clearance (EC) processes for industrial and big developmental projects, along with attempts to do away with public hearing and public consultation processes before granting the EC to projects, are some of the issues that have prompted many to ask the government to reconsider the draft or scrap it completely.

As the campaign against the EIA 2020 draft gets stronger, here are a few other environmental causes that have won due to active and consistent participation and representation by the people of the country.

Protected Agriculture Zone in Cauvery delta

In February 2020, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced that the Cauvery delta region — the entire districts of Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam and parts of Cuddalore and Pudukkottai districts — as a ‘Protected Agricultural Zone.’ The announcement came after the Chief Minister opposed the Centre’s decision to exempt hydrocarbon projects from public consultation process.

Farmers across the delta region had been protesting against the permission granted to oil and gas companies to carry out hydrocarbon projects. Their justification for the sustained protests and opposition was that such projects ruin the fertility of their agricultural lands, causing severe damage to their livelihood. Increased respiratory diseases, depletion and contamination in the ground water table were the other concerns raised by the farmers during the public consultation events conducted a few years ago by the companies looking to begin hydrocarbon exploration in the region.

In an attempt to put an end to the protests, the government of Tamil Nadu, in February 2020, made the announcement, thus making it impossible to set up projects that would cause damage to the environment like smelter plants and hydrocarbon projects in the region.   

Salem-Chennai green corridor project

In April 2019, the Madras High Court passed an order quashing the land acquisition process for the development of the Salem-Chennai Green Corridor.

The project had been facing widespread opposition from the farmers and activists from the region since its announcement. The main accusations against the project was that the alignment of the highway passed through a reserve forest area, water bodies and acres of fertile agricultural fields which had coconut and arecanut plantations. The pre-feasibility report on the highway stated that the road would pass through 11 reserved forests in the main alignment, i.e. Chennai-Salem, and one in Thiruvannamalai Spur. These include Siruvanjur, Nambedu, Alliyalamangalam, Anandavadi, Ravandavadi, Manjavadi ghat and Pallipatti extension, Jarugumalai and Sorakolathur. It also added that 2,791 hectares of land would be acquired for the project and this would include agricultural and community lands as well as residential plots.

Read: Explainer: Why there is furore over the proposed Chennai-Salem highway 

The project is a part of the Bharatmala Pariyojana, a highway project funded by the central government. It extends from Salem to Chennai for 277.30 kilometres via Harur, Semmampadi, Polur and Thiruvannamalai.

In its order, the Madras High Court had also made an environmental clearance mandatory for the project since it would have an adverse impact on the environment.

The Centre has appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision of the high court.

The Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi

On May 22, 2018, the 100th day of the protests by the people of Thoothukudi against the proposed expansion of the Sterlite copper smelter plant, violence broke out between the protesters and the police.

At least 13 civilians were shot dead and more than hundreds were injured as the police opened fire at the unarmed protesters.

The most recent leg of the protests began in February 2018 after the company announced its decision to double the capacity of the plant in Thoothukudi. There had been protests against the plant since the nineties by local groups in the areas as well. However, the protests which began as an indefinite hunger strike and dharna in February 2018 lasted till May 2018. 

Read: In pics: Anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi, the violence and aftermath 

The protesters accused Sterlite of violating environmental norms and releasing toxic gases into the air, and of polluting the groundwater table in the area.

The violence prompted the government to seal the factory on May 28 and also take back the land it had allotted to the company for its proposed expansion.

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

The central government, in 2019, launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as a result of sustained campaigning by the civil society. The plan of the programme was to bring the alarming levels of air pollution under control.

Cities like New Delhi and many others report extremely high levels of air pollution during winter every year. The smoke in the atmosphere creates smog, hindering visibility to a large extent.

Read: Chennai air pollution: Is it time the city has a separate policy to address the crisis? 

Consistent and active efforts by groups like Greenpeace India and several other environmental support groups demanding cleaner air mounted pressure on the government of India, which launched the NCAP.

The five-year plan started in 2019, with potential to be extended further since the impact of the measures deployed to address the air pollution may continue long term.

Protests against genetically modified brinjal

The debate around GM Brinjal in India began in the early 2000s when the seeds were introduced in the country.

As soon as it was introduced, farmers, scientists and activists expressed concerns around the nutritional safety, environmental impact and the impact on the biodiversity by the modified variety of the vegetable. The doubts of these groups arose based on several international studies that indicated potential harm to the health and environment due to genetically-modified crops. Though there are clear benefits of switching to genetically modified crops (like reduced need for pesticides which saves cost for the farmers), the impact of switching to GM crops on health and environment is not yet clearly established. After demands for extensive testing on the seed mounted pressure on the then union government to take action.

As a result, India banned GM brinjal in 2010.