Wednesday, August 19, 2015

India’s environmental flashpoints by ARPITHA KODIVERI

Economic progress is clashing with environmental rights in India, and proposed legal forms are shrinking democratic spaces—increasing the likelihood of violence.

Recently, I stood at the construction of another mammoth dam on the Kanhar river in Dudhi Tehsil, in the Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, India. I was between river and forest, development and rights, conservation and loss, protest and discipline. As I wrote an initial version of this piece in April 2015, I received word from Kanhar that the police had opened fire against the locals protesting the construction of the dam, leaving one tribal leader hit by a bullet and eight others severely injured. 

This was just the beginning. Later, peaceful protests were further quelled by the arrests of activists Roma Malik and Sukalo Gond. It is clear that the construction of this dam is illegal, but resistance to it became dangerously illegitimate as rights were suppressed, heightening the possibility of violence. 

The dam is being constructed to provide irrigation to industries in the nearby area, which is heavily industrialized, while submerging over four thousand hectares of land in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. The affected population here is mainly Adivasis (indigenous), Dalit and forest dependent communities, their loss deemed by many as an acceptable cost of economic growth.

This is the cost-benefit narrative one constantly hears in different countries as development and infrastructure projects are underway. Yet India has a progressive legal framework that actually protects the rights of these communities and provides legitimacy to their struggles, even as many involved in the economy push for growth-oriented reforms. But the current government is attempting to drastically alter environmental laws and land acquisition legislation. Kanhar is one such site where this contestation is taking place, and is emblematic of the conflict that is deepening in many parts of the country...

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