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- On the 28th of August, lawyers, poets, academics and activists known for their defence of the deprived were targeted by the Maharashtra police.
- The houses of Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde and Stan Swamy were raided, and some of them imprisoned.
- The reason for their arrest was that their speeches at the Elgar Parishad meeting in Pune in December 2017 incited the violence unleashed on a Dalit gathering at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018.
What is civil Society?
- The society considered as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity is a civil society.
- It is the “aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens.
- It is referred to as the third sector of the society distinct from government and business.
What is the need for civil society?
- The modern democratic state with the technologies of surveillance and control possesses such power that has never been seen in the history. Yet, there are citizens that are vulnerable and helpless despite the rights they possess, if the democratic state decides to terrorise, kill and drill fear in them.
- The market in present times lacks moral sense. It is supremely indifferent to human suffering. It has neither sympathy nor room for citizens exploited by the state, and by its own need for resources, labour, and profit.
- Such a scenario calls for the intervention of civil society to protect the interest of the citizens. As it is the only sphere that stands between the individual and the state.
- Their role is crucial for democracy because today we are ruled by a government that openly defies ethics and morality, that casts itself in the mould of realism, and that is supremely indifferent to the plight of millions of its citizens.
- We are ruled by leaders who dismiss the need for civil society because the cadres and the front organisations of its ideological backbone seek to dominate the space between the individual, the market and the state
- Associations have the capacity to challenge the violent power of the state through petitions, protests, dharnas and ultimately judicial activism.
- When the political parties are unresponsive, citizens can access centres of power and privilege only through a vibrant civil society.
- Every political revolution in the world has begun with the rights to life and liberty, be it the French Revolution or the Glorious Revolution, among the others. These two rights lie at the core of other rights that have been developed and codified as critical for human beings.
- The two rights stretch from the right not to be tortured or killed, to the right not to be arrested and imprisoned by the lackeys of the state without due cause.
- The right to life is a basic right, but our lives do not mean anything if we are imprisoned for no reason.
- The civil liberties movement made an appearance on to the scene of Indian politics at the aftermath of Emergency (1975-77) as some Indian citizens were randomly and arbitrarily imprisoned and the fundamental rights of others were curtailed.
- The movement took a significant task of protecting the fundamental right to life and liberty granted by the Indian Constitution.
What has been the role of Civil Society in India?
- The human rights groups have become the custodian of the Fundamental Rights chapter of the Indian Constitution.
- They have investigated cases of arbitrary imprisonment, custodial deaths, deadly encounters and coercion of any citizen who dares to speak up against the state or dominant groups.
- These organisations have carefully documented the causes and the triggers of communal and caste violence, and established an excellent archive on the abuse of power by governments.
- They have protected the rights of vulnerable sections of our own people, the Adivasis, the Dalits and Muslims. They have shouldered the fight for the rights of the oppressed.
- Not all civil society groups are involved in protecting the moral conscience of our society. Some are in the sole business of getting funds from the state or others.
- Some sections of media are often cowered down by their corporate bosses, and the temptation of fame.
- Few sections are involved in excessive protests, eventually hampering national interests.
- Too often, even progressive global civil society organisations do not meet the standards of accountability and transparency that they demand of others.
- Unhappily, the majority of Indians keep quiet when their own fellow citizens are tortured by the police, stripped of access to resources and livelihoods, lynched, exploited by corporate India, and neglected by the mainstream media.
Some parts of global civil society have played a significant role in mobilising public opinion and in spurring global action in the direction of fairness and justice. Each democratic association is important, but we cannot deny that civil liberty and human rights groups are an essential precondition for human well-being. But too often an unbalanced picture is painted of this highly complex phenomenon. Alongside its evident benefits and opportunities, some of its limitations and downsides should be recognised. A more rounded understanding of and intelligent engagement with the civil society will help to bridge the gap between its image and its performance, and produce better public policy.
- The Nauroji Nagar project was among the projects awarded to NBCC, a public sector company, to set up residential and commercial buildings, over 571 acres, in south Delhi.
- An analysis by environmental activists and researchers show that the portions of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) plan used to obtain permission for redevelopment of Nauroji Nagar were plagiarised.
- It even mentions that the water quality study was undertaken in 2015, one year before the project was commissioned to NBCC.
- It cites eight water quality monitoring locations for the study which are situated in Tamil Nadu.
- The project waded into controversy after it emerged that this would involve felling of at least 11,000 trees.
- Though some trees have been felled and construction is under way, the project has been stayed after legal challenges and citizen activism.
What is an EIA Report?
- EIA reports are a critical component of India’s environmental decision-making process.
- They are supposed to be a detailed study of the potential impacts of proposed projects.
- Based on these reports, the Environment Ministry or other relevant regulatory bodies may or may not grant approval to a project.
- The EIA reports are also important to define measures that the project could take in order to contain or offset project impacts.
- To ensure that they are an accurate account of scientific facts and observations, the law mandates the engagement of an accredited independent EIA consultant to undertake the study.
This article outlines three ways in which these projects have used the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process to subvert the right of citizens to a better environment.
- A case of no ethics
- The EIA reports of the redevelopment projects are an exercise in the worst possible research practices and ethics.
- The consultant for the Nauroji Nagar project has used material from copyrighted papers, webpages and other EIA reports.
- Such research practices in EIAs continue unabated because of the Environment Ministry’s failure to come down heavily on this. In the end, it is citizens who have to bear the brunt.
- Gaps and errors
- There are many instances of missing or misleading information which understate the potential impact of these projects.
- For example, the EIA’s ‘Terms of Reference’ (ToR) for Nauroji Nagar, which is essentially a commercial project, fail to mention the word “commercial”. Instead, it states that the project is for the “modernization” of government residential colonies.
- The ToR requires the EIA report to include a detailed traffic impact analysis, but this is missing.
- The report is also oblivious to the many archaeological and cultural heritage sites that will be affected by the construction.
The EIA Notification 2006 says that “deliberate concealment and/or submission of false or misleading information or data…” can lead to a rejection of the application or cancellation of the approval. But it is unlikely that the Ministry will pursue this line against these projects as it would mean stopping the project of the more powerful Ministry of Urban Development.
- No public hearings
- EIA-based approvals for most projects also involve the process of conducting public hearings in order that the views and opinions of people who are likely to be affected can be taken on board before a decision to approve the project is made.
- It is upheld that public participation “threshold condition” for development. Yet, the government has exempted real estate projects from holding consultations.
- Since Delhi’s “redevelopment” projects were approved without public consultation, any problems raised now by citizens, such as those about the EIAs, will be rendered “post facto”.
- Citizen action and litigation has forced the project proponents and the Ministry of Urban Development to state that they will revise their plans to reduce or prevent tree felling. The Delhi High Court that is hearing this matter must ensure that these redevelopment projects reapply for approvals as a single integrated one, and in accordance with the law.
- An urban redevelopment project must apply for approvals in an integrated manner
- EIA is not yielding all the benefits it could because the process is undertaken too late and project proponents are concerned primarily with meeting administrative requirements. It should be given utmost importance and must be carefully integrated into planning.
- The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu will be held this week.
- This summit would be another milestone for India after the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit hosted by it in 2016, as the grouping has gradually emerged as a key vehicle to take forward India’s regional, strategic and economic interests.
Stagnation of SAARC:
Two major factors have driven India’s interests in the BIMSTEC forum.
- A key reason for India to reach out to its BIMSTEC neighbours has been the stagnation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
- The main motivation for India to push BIMSTEC is in the country’s interest to ensure that the region does not lag behind and that an unstable neighbourhood does not drag its growth. India’s desire to link South Asia to the economically dynamic Southeast Asia is also part of this strategy.
Stagnation of SAARC limited both the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance. However, India did not stop its efforts in revitalising the SAARC grouping when opportunities emerged.
- At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, in 2014, India proposed the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, this could not progress due to resistance from Pakistan. This compelled Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015.
- Pakistan also opted out of the ambitious SAARC Satellite project proposed by India, leading to a change in its name to the South Asia Satellite.
- There is a tendency in some quarters to see India’s interests in BIMSTEC as part of its strategy to isolate Pakistan and position BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC. The above instances suggest otherwise.
A few challenges:
- India is currently being the largest contributor to the BIMSTEC secretariat’s budget contributed 32% of the total secretariat budget for 2017-18.
- With the Secretariat planning to strengthen its capacity by increasing human resources and the number of officials representing each member state, India may need to consider allocating more resources. India’s generosity would be a key test of its commitment to the sub regional grouping.
- Another issue would be for India to counter the impression that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, a problem that it faced for a long time in SAARC.
- A strategic challenge for India is that China has long desired to be part of the SAARC grouping. Some SAARC members also want it to balance India’s dominance. China currently has observer status in SAARC.
- Many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
- Today, most of the smaller neighbours (SAARC) are more willing to engage so as to benefit from India’s economic rise. Nonetheless, to moderate suspicions that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, India will need to show sensitivity to the concerns of smaller neighbours.
- India will have to carefully navigate the emerging regional geopolitics, as many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry and turned it into a defunct mechanism can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
- The material loss due to the Kerala floods has been estimated at Rs. 26,000 crore
- Beyond this there has been an immense loss of natural, human, and social capital for which no estimates are available.
- Now that the Kerala floods have receded, a new approach is needed to rebuild Kerala. One that enhances the sum total of man-made, natural, human and social capital.
There is no doubt that the short-sighted attempts in building man-made capital (buildings in hilly forests, encroachments on wetlands and rivers, and stone quarries) while ignoring the attendant degradation of natural, human and social capital have played a significant role in exacerbating the problem. The immediate task in the State is relief and rehabilitation, but it is crucial to simultaneously identify the root causes of the havoc.
The root causes of Floods:
- Going against the laws that have been established to safeguard natural capital.
- Illegal mining. The Shah Commission inquiring into illegal mining in Goa observes that mining beyond permissible limits has caused serious damage to water resources, agriculture and biodiversity.
- Serious degradation of human capital in terms of health and employment was ignored. In the case of the Plachimada panchayat in Palakkad district, overuse and pollution of water resources by the Coca Cola factory has resulted in huge losses
- Scientific knowledge and advice has been continually disregarded. For instance, the project document of proposed Athirappilly hydroelectric project had seriously overestimated the availability of water.
- There has been serious erosion of social capital. For instance, a staunch anti-quarry activist engaging in a peaceful demonstration was killed by those allegedly employed by quarry owners, in 2014.
The right of local communities:
- The new regime must acknowledge role of local communities in the health and working of their ecosystem as they have a genuine stake in it.
- Transparency must be brought about in managing and protecting the natural resources.
- The current system of protecting natural resources through negative incentives in the hands of corrupt bureaucracy must stop.
- The Western Ghats panel proposes several such incentives to the local communities. Ex: payment of conservation service charges for protecting important elements of biodiversity such as sacred groves (called Sarpa Kavus in Kerala), and payment towards soil carbon enrichment by switching to organic farming.
- The government must implement the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in letter and spirit.
What steps should be taken?
- Local bodies at the ward, gram panchayat, and town and city levels must be empowered to prepare reports on the status of the environment and to decide on how a substantial portion of the budget should be spent on the basis of these reports.
- Biodiversity Management Committees of citizens must be set up.
- These Biodiversity Management Committees must be empowered to document the status of the local ecosystems and biodiversity resources, and regulate their use.
- They must be given powers to levy collection charges for access to biodiversity as well as to intellectual property relating to community knowledge.
- Biodiversity Management Committees must be accorded a central place in the preparation of environmental impact assessments and ensure that these assessments begin to reflect the true state of affairs instead of being the uniformly fraudulent documents that are being submitted today.
- The Forest Rights Act must be fully implemented. Not only tribals, but all traditional forest dwellers must be allowed to control, manage and market non-timber forest produce.
- All the environment and development-related information must be uploaded on the websites as the RTI Act demands.
- Building a public and transparent database on environmental parameters drawing on the environment status reports, People’s Biodiversity Registers, community forest management working schemes, and environmental education projects undertaken by students must be initiated.
- Equipped with this information and all pertinent documents such as from the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, the Kasturirangan Committee, and the Oommen V. Oommen Committee, the State government should ask local bodies about the levels of ecological sensitivity in different parts of the landscape on the basis of topography, hydrology, land use and vegetation, regardless of ownership of the land.
- The local bodies should provide suggestions on appropriate management regimes for regions of different levels of sensitivity.
- The government should begin to proactively use modern technologies, including smartphones, in a user-friendly manner so that all the inputs from the various local bodies are transparently available to all citizens.
- Citizens can then assist in the task of integrating all this information and come up with appropriate conservation and development plans that are properly fine-tuned to locality- and time-specific ecological and social conditions.
Read more about Madhav Gadgil Report and Kasturi Rangan Report from 25th August CNA
- For a sustainable and safe future, focus cannot just be on man-made capital; the sum total of man-made, natural, human and social capital should be enhanced.
- The Kerala government must reassure its people that it will no longer continue the policies of development and conservation by exclusion, and that it will respect the right of local communities to decide what kind of development they want and what kind of conservation measures they would like to see put in place.
- It should embrace such a progressive approach, so that the state will be much better equipped in the years to come to moderate, if not fully prevent, the kind of havoc that visited recently.
- A panel headed by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, which deliberated on measures to check incidents of lynching, submitted its report to a Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
- In May and June, more than 20 people were lynched based on fake posts or rumours floating on various social media platforms.
- The panel discussed such incidents and is learnt to have come to the conclusion that social media platforms needed to act in a “time-bound” manner.
FIR against officials
- A senior government official said social media platforms — Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter — would be made accountable for not blocking malicious posts and videos when brought to their notice and an “FIR could be lodged against their country heads” for not complying with government orders and they could be prosecuted under law.
- The committee of secretaries held consultations with a cross-section of society and other stakeholders before submitting its report to the Group of Ministers.
- The GoM will now submit its recommendations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a final decision, a Home Ministry official said.
- There is a provision in law which enables the government to issue orders to remove objectionable content, block websites, etc. Law enforcement agencies should be able to step up the act and monitor more proactively.
- Compliance should be timely. Some countries employ non-governmental organisations and volunteers who proactively surf the Internet.
- A portal has been created where people can report such videos and content and that can be forwarded by the National Crime Records Bureau to the States concerned for appropriate action,” the official said.
- Last month, the Home Ministry issued advisories to the State governments and authorities of the Union Territories after the Supreme Court issued directives to check incidents of lynching in the country.
Special task force
- The Centre asked them to appoint an officer in each district at the level of Superintendent of Police, set up a special task force to gather intelligence, and closely monitor social media contents to prevent mob attacks on people on the suspicion of being child-lifters or cattle smugglers.
- Lynching is a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture and corporal mutilation.
- The term lynch law refers to a self-constituted court that imposes sentence on a person without due process of law.
- When people take the law into their own hands and decide to punish a suspected criminal — or merely a person who’s seen as challenging the status quo — the result can unfortunately be a lynching.
- Lynchings have most often involved hanging, especially during the period of racially motivated lynchings in the American South.
- India is set to get more disaster warning systems along its coasts. While it already has a tsunami warning system in place, the new systems will keep an eye out for “tsunamis and storm surges,” according to an official release.
- The system is part of a programme called O-SMART (Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science) that is being piloted by the Union earth sciences ministry.
- It was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Wednesday, at an outlay of ₹1,623 crore.
O-SMART will provide economic benefits to a number of user communities in the coastal and ocean sectors, namely, fisheries, offshore industry, coastal States, defence, shipping, ports, etc.
Other key missions under O-SMART include
- strengthening of Ocean Observations and Modelling, strengthening of Ocean Services for fishermen,
- setting up marine observatories for monitoring marine pollution,
- setting up Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Plant (OTEC) in Kavaratti,
- acquiring two coastal research vessels,
- continuation of ocean survey and exploration of minerals and living resources,
- technology development for Deep Ocean Mining and manned submersibles and the setting up six desalination plants in Lakshadweep.
- O-SMART is an umbrella scheme which comprised of ocean services, technology, observations, resources modeling and science.
- The scheme is charted for implementation during the period from 2017-18 to 2019-20 at an overall cost of Rs.1623 crores, and would encompass a total of 16 sub-projects addressing ocean development activities like services, technology, resources, observations, and science.
- The services under this O-SMART will provide economic benefits to a number of user communities in the coastal areas, namely fisheries as this will help in reducing the search time for fishermen resulting savings in the fuel cost.
- Currently, five lakh fishermen communities are 1receiving this information daily through the mobile, which includes allocation of fish potential and local weather conditions in the coastal waters.
- Apart from this offshore industry, coastal states, defence, Shipping, ports are also set to reap the benefits from it.
- Moreover, the implementation of O-SMART will help in addressing issues relating to Sustainable Development Goal-14, which aims to conserve use of oceans, marine resources.
- This will also provide necessary scientific and technological background required for implementation of various aspects of Blue Economy.
- The technologies being developed under this scheme will help in harnessing vast ocean resources of both living and non-living resources from the seas around
- The state of art early warning systems established under the O-SMART Scheme will help in efficiently dealing with ocean disasters like Tsunami, storm surges.
- This scheme will also facilitate installation of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Plant (OTEC) in Kavaratti and six Desalination Plants in Lakshadweep.
- India’s ocean-related activities are now extended from the Arctic to the Antarctic region covering large ocean spaces which have been monitored through a wide spectrum of in situ and satellite-based observations.
- India had also signed the Antarctic Treaty System and joined the Commission of Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for harnessing the resources.
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