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.
Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020
On 23rd of March, the ‘Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change of India’ (MoEFCC) released the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020 as a replacement to the EIA Notification 2006.
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 youth of this country, I initiated a campaign on 16th June 2020 to rally support from various, university student associations, college environment clubs, and other youth groups across India.
Letter sent to MoEFCC with signatures of over 50 unions
On the 25th of June, a comprehensive letter was sent to the MoEFCC with signatures of over 50 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 utilize 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 monetized value is worth it and if so, whom it is benefitting.
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).
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 – monetized 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.
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 land that 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.
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)