What is a Shoe Strike for Climate Justice?
By: Arpit Sharma
For the past one year, children and youths across the world are doing Global Climate Strike to demand decisive actions from the governments and leaders on Climate Crisis. It all started with a 19-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg who skipped her school every Friday and demanded the Swedish government to act on Climate Change by sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament with a placard. Slowly, she motivated crores of children, parents, youths, across and now millions of people are demanding climate action from their governments.
Global Climate Action is again happening on 25th September 2020 but due to Covid-19, it has taken a twist. Instead of People, their Shoes will demand Climate Action. Wondering how? It’s simple. Citizens will put their shoes together at a place with their personal message as shown in the picture below –
Why are the youths and children of Hyderabad participating in Global Shoe strike for Climate Justice?
Climate Change is a global crisis that is caused by local factors. In Hyderabad too, lakes and forests, which once used to make the city a green livable place are witnessing a rapid death due to unsustainable development and encroachments by both land sharks and government agencies.
To avert this crisis for their safe future, children and youths of Hyderabad had come up with the following demands from the Telangana Government –
Demand 1 – By 2022, restore Hydrological Regime of Hyderabad’s lakes
Hyderabad was used to be called the “City of Lakes” with over 3000 lakes in ’70s, but today most of its water bodies have either dried up or encroached to such an extent that it’s heightening an acute water crisis in the city and is affecting the overall environment. 50% of the water bodies which are remaining have either disappeared or are shrinking.
With the lakes destroyed, the city is forced to draw water from Krishna and Godavari which are over
250 kilometers away. It’s not just that private companies are encroaching our lakebeds, even civic au- thorities are also encroaching by laying roads through the lakes in the guise of building walking tracks and beautifying them as was the case with Malkam Cheruvu, Kapra lake and Ibrahim Cheruvu.
Nizam-era Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar, Hyderabad’s largest lakes were built in 1912 for over two decades. It used to supply about 10 percent of Hyderabad’s total daily water supply of 345 million gallons per day (MGD). Cut to 2020 and these lakes are literally nowhere close to their optimum levels, with Os- man Sagar being literally barren today, despite Telangana state receiving surplus rains for the past 3 years. Nizam era, Osman Sagar had completed 100 years in 2020 and it was constructed to prevent future floods after the Great Musi Flood of 1908, which killed more than 15,000 Hyderabadis,
One major tourism spot of Hyderabad, Hussainsagar lake was so pristine and clear that British officer, city historian and author Phillips Meadows Taylor had compared the waters of Hussainsagar with shining pearls and diamonds while ‘Nightingale of India’ – Sarojini Naidu had visualized the waters of Hussainsagar in a poem as the image of her soul —”O, lake, O living image of my soul”.
But sadly, the stream is now a municipal gutter – Ashoknagar Nala – and the heavy pollutants in the water body have robbed from the sight of Hyderabadis, the legendary ‘chadar’ or water curtain. It is feared that these lakes will join the league of other heritage lakes which have totally disappeared now, such as Tigal Kunta, Somajiguda Tank, Mir Jumla tank, Pahar Tegal Kunta, Kunta Bhawani Das, Nawab Saheb Kunta, Afzalsagar, Nallakunta, Masab Tank, etc.
The Covid-19 lockdown had been even worse for the city’s lakes. It has emboldened land sharks to encroach lakes in the city. Without anyone to object, roads are being laid on water bodies, debris dumped for occupation and boundaries had been altered to reduce the full tank level (FTL) and buffer zones of the lakes like Malkam Cheruvu near Raidurgam, Amber Cheruvu, in Kukatpally, Palle Cheruvu in Bandlaguda, and Nallagandla Lake.
A prominent lake in the city, Khajaguda Lake is encroached upon by
the state authorities themselves and the lake is being filled to lay roads in the name of beautification. In order to stop these activities, the activists had the time and again asked the government to put FTL (Full Tank Level) and Cadastral maps of the city’s lakes on the public domain but nothing has happened so far. Hence, activities like plotting, road construction, and closing of channels are going on at a rapid pace in the city.
While delivering the judgments on encroachments in full tank level (FTL) or buffer zones of three lakes — Vanamcheruvu, Medlacheruvu and Chelikunta, even Telangana High Court had told the state government not to allow Telangana to become a desert state like Rajasthan.
As per an assessment in 2016, 23 out of 25 prominent water bodies of Hyderabad had failed to meet the water quality standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which means their water is not even fit for irrigation and industrial cooling, let alone for drinking and domestic use.
In 2017, scientists had found a strain of bacteria in the Isnapur lake that are resistant to certain antibiotics. The lake is surrounded by 400 factories and industrial units comprising the Pashamylaram industrial area and mainly three main pharmaceutical clusters of the city. The same is the story for Kazipally lake, situated near the Kazipally industrial area of Hyderabad. The situation of residents living near these lakes is such precarious that children were being prescribed antibiotics of very high dose (usually meant for adults), as they were not recovering with the usual treatment.
Demand 2 – By 2022, Conserve Natural Forests of Hyderabad as No-Go Zones
In 2020, Hyderabad was named as the World’s Most Dynamic City by JLL City Momentum Index 2020 and number one among the ‘34 Best cities to live and work in India’ as part of a survey by destination discovery website, Holidify.com. Despite being the most dynamic city, it has the least open green space in the country.
There are just 0.4% (2.81 sq. km) parks and open spaces for a city that has a population of 68.1 lakh and spans over 650 square kilometers. As it turns out, the urban and regional development plans formulation and implementation (URDPFI) guidelines say that it is optimal to have at least 10-12 square meters per person but on average there are only 2.7 square meters of open space per person in the city.
Even though the Telangana Government has repeatedly stressed on the need to increase the green cover in Hyderabad and started a large-scale tree-planting program called Haritha Haram in 2015, the results are
not much visible. As per a recent RTI, 9.7 crore saplings have been planted by civic authorities, GHMC and HMDA over the last five years as part of Haritha Haram, but there is no statistics available about the number of plants that have survived.
Recently, Green India Challenge (GIC) initiative was rolled out to increase green cover in the country. As a part of this challenge, a prominent actor in the Telugu Film Industry had donated Rs 2 crore to convert over 1,600-acre of Khazipally reserve forest, which is located 20km away from Hyderabad, into an urban forest park. The government is now inviting other industrialists, celebrities to adopt other reserve forests around the city. Now the question arises is –
“Why dense forests are being exploited in the name of development and beautification?”
“Why this Green Challenge is not used by the government to revive a barren land or an already exploited green cover, instead of compromising a well-functioning lung space of the city?”
The city has a Tree Protection Committee which signs off which trees are to be cut and is responsible for ensuring that for each tree chopped, five saplings are planted. But when the saplings are planted, people take a picture along with it and leave the scene.
There is nobody to see if they grow or not. On the other hand, the unsustainable concretization of the city has given rise to ‘urban heat islands’, a phenomenon that is worrying climate change experts. If these urban heat islands will keep on increasing in Hyderabad, the average city temperatures will increase by 3-5°C as per WHO, thus leading to more heat strokes and other chronic diseases among the citizens.
Now the question arises, whether these climate strikes are going to bring any impact?
The answer is YES.
One thing which our past climate strikes have taught, children and youth of Hyderabad is that small collective actions by concerned and motivated citizens do bring a big change.
Since the end of 2019, thousands of children and youth of Hyderabad have organized three major climate strikes in the city. In these strikes, some of the major demands were –
- No flyovers on the Eco-Sensitive Zone of KBR National Park, which the main lung
space of Hyderabad.
- Preserve Bison polo grounds and Save greenery; Drop the plan to construct new Sec-
Both the demands have been met in the last one year as an impact of these non-partisan, nonviolent leaderless climate strikes, along with the efforts of other citizen groups like Citizen for Hyderabad, Save Bison Polo group, and inputs given by climate scientists.
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Arpit Sharma is an alumnus of BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus India. After a brief stint in the corporate sector as an analyst, he joined Teach for India to teach in an underprivileged school in Hyderabad. It's during the conversations with his students on climate change, he realized the role of citizen activism in demanding climate justice. Since then, he has been working as a coordinator of Fridays for Future Hyderabad, which is a collective movement of thousands of youth and children from Hyderabad to demand climate justice.Know More