[Commentary] A fresh start for a green India

A lot of forest land is diverted in India every year for developmental projects like mining. Photo by Mayank Aggarwal/Mongabay-India.

  • Over 50 youth unions from India have submitted a letter to the environment ministry to condemn the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 on account of how destructive it can prove to be for the ecology and the people of India.
  • In the letter, the youth express hope that the EIA can be amended and used to bring India out of the COVID-19 pandemic through a green recovery that strengthens the role of environmental and social protection of all people and nature instead of justifying the present forms of harmful development.
  • In this commentary by 20-year-old Anjali Dalmia, who is spearheading the campaign, voices the youth who have requested that the EIA be deferred, rewritten as per recommendations by experts, and released once health and survival are not a critical issue.

There is space all around us. This space transforms into a place when we attach some significance and meaning to it. A ‘place’ for the commoner or forest dweller is often simply a ‘space’ for the elite, which can be encroached on, used, and moulded according to their needs. This is evident in our urban planning, highway and dam construction, industry establishments, and every other aspect of our society.

In contemporary times, our natural world has been included in the list of numerous ‘spaces’ that can be consumed – objects without importance, existing to cater to the needs of economically well-off and thereby superior human beings.

In March, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020 as a replacement to the EIA Notification 2006.

Video: How does the new draft EIA affect me?

This proposal aims to bring in, continue, and strengthen controversial amendments such as a post-facto grant of approval for the EIA for proposed projects, exemption of several large industries from public hearings, permission for businesses to submit just one environment compliance report a year rather than two, and increased validity of the environment clearances for mining and river valley projects.

As a young citizen and stakeholder of this nation, who will be living on this soil for years to come, this draft alarms me. The importance of raising our voices, as the youth of this developing country, against such outrageous decisions cannot be understated. In an attempt to serve my responsibility as Environment Minister of Ashoka University and a youth of this country, I initiated a campaign on June 16, 2020 to rally support from various, university student associations, college environment clubs, and other youth groups across India.

Anjali Dalmia. Over 50 youth unions from India have submitted a letter to the environment ministry to condemn the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020. Photo courtesy Anjali Dalmia.
Anjali Dalmia. Over 50 youth unions from India have submitted a letter to the environment ministry to condemn the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020. Photo courtesy Anjali Dalmia.

With the deadline (June 30) for public consultation for the draft approaching closer, on June 25, a comprehensive letter was sent to the MoEFCC with signatures of over 50 youth unions from around India (Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab, Goa, Pondicherry, MP, UP, Haryana, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and more) who stood in solidarity to condemn the passing of the EIA Notification 2020. We have requested that it be deferred and rewritten in consultation with environmental experts.

It is my firm belief that we should utilise the EIA to raise India out of the COVID-19 pandemic as an environmentally aware country through a green recovery. We need to progress from a cost-benefit analysis that associates everything with monetary value, to a class-benefit analysis, which questions whether the monetised value is worth it and if so, whom it is benefitting.

“Marginalised communities will effectively have no say in their lands being destroyed for dam, river, irrigation projects- and they may not even be aware of the curtailment of this right because of the untimely release of the draft. The effects of this indiscriminate exploitation is going to play a very unfair role in the youth’s future. What kind of world will this turn out to be?” – Smruthi Ananth, member of the Sustainability Committee at Azim Premji University UG

While economic revival is a national priority, this should be carried out without compromising the environment and society. The MoEFCC has persistently compromised our environment for new development projects such as coal mining in Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve (Assam), a highway through Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary (Goa), and a railway bridge through the Kawal Tiger Reserve (Telangana).

Dudhsagar waterfalls. Together Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park are the largest protected area in Goa. Photo by Samson Joseph/Wikimedia Commons.

In the long run, it is our natural ecosystem that will support us. How can we live in an economic model structured on a trade-off between short-term and long-term goals, where all non-human entities are treated like mere space – monetised and depleted?

To ensure long-term prosperity and peace, it is imperative that the MoEFCC work with the citizens of this country, rather than in conflict, to implement policies that aid all communities and citizens and conserve the natural life in India. Although we are not as experienced as the creators and editors of this document, we are equally concerned with the matters pertaining to our environment, if not more.

“I am someone who enjoys nature and natural surroundings. I do not think that we should try to make our lives more convenient at the cost of nature. This has gone on for a long time but I think it’s time we learnt from our mistakes” – Nandan S. Kaushik, member of the Environment Ministry of Ashoka University

We, the youth, are passionate, action-oriented critical thinkers, and eager learners with the ability to adapt quickly. We bring in a fresh perspective, one arising from a place of empathy, inclusivity and concern for our children to be. We would like to grow with you and have a say in decisions that will affect our future the most.

As citizens and stakeholders of this great nation, we must care about our environment. As we emerge from COVID-19, we need to make a choice about what kind of future we want for our motherland. I, like the majority of the youth of India, choose to grow up on a land which has thriving forests and clean rivers, a balanced economy that places importance on sustainability and communities, and a system of policy-making that promotes dialogue with the citizens of India.

Now, it is your turn to choose.

“Today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive: what we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow.” ~ Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics.


The author is an undergraduate student of Sociology and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, Sonipat and the Environment Minister at the university. 

Banner image: Forest land is diverted in India every year for mining and infrastructure projects. Photo by Mayank Aggarwal/Mongabay.

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