Challenges faced by environmental activist

An activist is a person who takes participation actively to bring in social change, to change and direct the policies of the government and to change the mindset of people. Environmental activist is a very special category. The environmental activist puts all his efforts to maintain the status-quo of the nature and the minimum exploitation of natural resources like air, water, soil, trees and so on. This effort of environmental activism has been always against those who are willing and attempting to change such a status-quo of natural resources in the name of “development”. Indeed, I believe the development is the basic instinct of human beings. Therefore, we have adopted the principle of sustainable development. We cannot afford development at the cost of unreasonable exploitation of natural resources. Unfortunately, for a short time gain we are overlooking the aspect of sustainability. And this is the juncture where the environmental activist needs to step in and take initiatives to protect the environment.
My dear friends, unfortunately in our kind of society, activism and especially environmental activism are hardly taken in non-adversarial manner. We often see that the activists are threatened by the so called developmental lobby. We have a number of examples where life threats given to the activist and many have suffered in terms of the loss of their life, social character and their own property. This is very serious, concerned for any environmental activist to stand against the unsustainable development.
Many a times there are organized attempts to oppose such activism. We have a recent example in Nasik it. A lady activist who approached court of law against abatement of river pollution, person having vested interest tried to demoralize her character by circulating obscene messages citing her name through social media like whatsapp and Facebook. Moreover, life threats were given to her, agitations were made by a group of people who actually exploited river bed for their small business. How long are we going to tolerate this? My friend and the activist, Rajesh have also gone through such a kind of situation while protecting trees of the city.
The major problem we face is the criminal prosecution, and many a times while doing an agitation, activists get arrested and put behind the bars on the charges of unlawful assembly. I’m sure that every one of us is aware about such kind of cases. In some cases even the environmentalist advocates are also put behind the bars. If this is the situation of the advocates, not to speak about the common activists. To protect the environment is not just a fundamental duty, but it is our fundamental right. Under such circumstances, government agencies should act very cautiously and carefully and not to become puppets of in the hands of persons having vested financial interest.
Many environmental activists waste their bottles of ink and billions of megabytes on the internet by writing representations to the government as well as private agencies for the protection of environment against particular development projects or any instances. But in 90% cases, what they get return is absolute frustration for want of any response. I believe it is easy to wake up Kumbhakarna but not the government agency. Many a times, activists also get a fade-up due to improper information received under the RTI Act. Now-a-days, without availing appellate remedies it has become difficult to get the right information. I think this is also a great challenge for the environmental activists to have access to the information and knowledge.
After making agitations, gathering information, writing representations and after letting struggle beyond imagination activists are left with no option but to approach the court of law seeking justice for the protection of natural resources from exploitation and pollution. In a lighter way, approaching the court of law is itself a challenge. Now days the entire judicial system is not only considerably costly for ordinary litigants but also time consuming.
In the Bombay High Court, we have Public Interest Litigation Rules, which make it compulsory to disclose the source of information. Often we do not get the information by the official means, but few persons help us unofficially to provide proper information. In such circumstances, it has also become challenging to disclose the source and many a time activists get exposed to the adversarial parties of the litigation. Further challenge is that we don’t have sufficient protection for the whistleblower neither we have a witness protection program in the environmental matters in the High Court and at the National Green Tribunal. In such circumstances, it is only the courage of the activists which protects them.
Non-availability of the green bench in the High Court is another challenge we face. When we challenge environmental clearance or file Petition against abatement of Pollution, adversarial parties make it a point to create more complications and obstacles in the matter. They have a very simple principle – if you can’t convince, make them confess. No doubt we have great judicial activism in Environmental Laws. But many judges have technical approach and for want of expertise in environmental sciences, matters get dragged towards undesirable ends. When finally we get the opportunity, to take the court in the right directions, what we succeed to achieve is nothing but sympathy of the court because meantime, the developer succeeds to portray about completion of the projects and high expenditures towards the cost of the project. As the result, gets the judicial relief in his favor. The expenses often are in 100s and 1000s of crore rupess.
In my opinion, ambiguity in the legislative policies is also one of the reasons causing challenges to the environmental activism. There is a lack of co-ordination between various statutes and authorities established under the statutes. For example, in many cases we find that the cases get delayed because of lack of co-ordination between CRZ and MRTP act, the Mines Act and labor laws, Municipal Laws and environmental laws and so –on…. We have to keep in mind that the co-ordination of all these statutes is necessary for the protection of the environment and suitable amendments are required for this effect.
Even in case of the environmental laws, some amendments are required. For example, individual cannot put the law into motion by directly making a complaint of abatement of pollution to the police authorities. The law expects individuals to approach the State Pollution Control Board and then if state pollution control board fails to prosecute accused within the period of 60 days then only a citizen can approach the magistrate. Why? There can be co-ordination between the MPCB and the police authorities.
Now we have the National Green Tribunal for Western Zone of the country which is situated in Pune. In some matters activist approaches to the tribunal and in case of any pending petitions before Hon’ble High Court adversarial parties take the benefit of it. This leads to the multiplicity of the proceedings leading to increasing costs and delay in achieving the ends of justice. Therefore, co-ordination between these judicial establishments is also the challenge we face while dealing with the environmental matters.
The Biodiversity Act of 2002 is one of the most neglected statutes along with other environmental laws. This Act restricts the access to the biological resources. However, in many interior parts of the country we can see clear violations of the Act resultantly which exploits biological resources and causes imbalances in the ecological system.
The major challenge for any environmental activist is the attitude of the Government agencies and lack of clarity on their part in implementing the environmental laws. The pollution control board has to play a very significant role in the protection of the environment. Similarly, Town Planning Authorities like corporations, municipal councils, special economic zones, and such other local, state and central government authorities are playing an important role towards development. But in many cases their attitude towards development is unsustainable, which actually triggers the struggle between the activists and the government.
Public awareness is also one of the challenges in the era where public opinions are formed by the media of various kinds guided by the market forces, instead of individual awareness towards pollutants which directly and indirectly cause air, water, soil or sound pollution. For example, use of plastic bags, washing vehicles in the river bed and so on…
For the protection of the environment and to clear the pollution there is always a problem related to the availability of the funds. It is the first hue and cry of the government agencies before the courts that they don’t have the funds to work out the problems. So the pretentious lack of availability of funds for the protection of the environment is also a challenge.
Recently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed[i] that the environmental principles are based upon anthropology i.e. they are human centric. However, we forget that human beings are themselves a part of nature. And therefore, I believe that eco-centrism is the right approach towards the environmental laws. I think to convince the government agencies as well as the judiciary to adopt transformation from human centric approach to eco-centric approach will be the new challenge to be faced by the environmental activists.
To sum up challenges are many for environmental activists, but there is one thing which ignites the mind of people to protect the environment. The nature.