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Govt of India "dismantling" eco-protection laws, dubbing those opposing development projects as "anti-national"

By V Suresh*
June 5 is celebrated globally as World Environment Day, a day to remind everyone about the fragility of the environment caused by human agency, to sensitise people about the urgency of citizen action to counter environmental degradation and to get all of to rededicate ourselves to preserving nature and wildlife, protecting environment, safeguarding natural resources and persuade and push governments globally to halt environmentally destructive, polluting and hazardous industries, development projects and uncontrolled urbanization.
The theme for this year's `World Environment Day' is "Connecting People with Nature". This year, we in India, have experienced the worst effects of climate change – we've had some of the hottest periods in the last many decades; many regions are experiencing continuous droughts; there's no predictability about rains and seasonal variations are an pressing reality we can no longer ignore. While many countries in the world are gearing themselves to counter the negative effects of climate change, many policy makers and researchers in India are denying the reality of climate change!
Across the country, many regions are suffering from unimaginable pollution of air, water and land caused by highly polluting industries. Environmental oversight and monitoring bodies like the Pollution Control Boards and other expert bodies have majorly failed citizens and nature, by persistently allowing polluters to escape liability and responsibility for running environmentally destructive, hazardous and polluting industries.
As though this were not enough, the Central Government has been steadily following a policy of dismantling all environment protection legislations on the plea that existing environment laws are proving a hindrance for international industries and capital to come to India.
What is worse, any community, group, organisation or person opposing a development project or an industry on environmental grounds is dubbed to be `anti-national', `anti-development' and an enemy of growth. The end of this logic is dubbing environmentalists and the green movement as 'eco-terrorists' carrying the real threat of persecution and prosecution.
Numerous examples exist including the coercive action against Greenpeace soon after the present central government came to power in 2014. Ironically the State, irrespective of whether it is the Central or State government, instead of implementing the Constitutional mandate in Art. 48A of the constitution that "the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife in the country", governments have been competing with each other to stress that they will not tolerate any criticism or demand for accountability of existing industry or proposed industrial project.
It is in this context that we thought we should focus this issue on the state of environmental protection in the country today. Space limitations limit us to include only a few issues from across the country. We, however, hope to be able to carry more such critical articles on the state of environment in different states, in future issues. We invite readers to contribute articles. Before signing off, the articles carried in this issue make a striking point: that citizens need to be highly vigilant if we need to safeguard and protect our ecology and wild life, our commons and resources.
For more than at any time before, all these are under tremendous attack by forces of industrialization and urbanization. While the challenges are huge, and the difficulties seemingly insurmountable, we need to derive strength and inspiration from the people of Dhinkia and its surrounding villages in Odisha who steadfastly opposed the POSCO steel project despite massive police action, which company after facing unrelenting people's struggle for 12 long years decided to drop the steel plant project.
The successful struggle of the Dongria-Kondhs against the Vedanta project in Niyamgiri and the victory of the villagers against the proposed nuclear power project in Mithi Virdi area in Gujarat are stories to inspire (Ironically, the victory of residents of Mithi Virdi has been offset by the invitation of the AP government to set up the same nuclear power plant of Westinghouse in Kovada in AP. But that represents the actual nature of environmental threat across the country). We salute all the brave people who have fought and are still fighting for environmental justice and human rights.
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*Editor, PUCL Bulletin (June 2017)

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