Inspiring India: Challenges for Environmental Democracy in the Worlds Largest Democracy

Australia India Institute

About the speaker: Ritwick Dutta is an Environmental Lawyer & Managing Trustee, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment. He has focused exclusively on environmental litigation and has supported communities, civil society groups and affected citizens in bringing environmental issues before the Court. His principle focus is the National Green Tribunal where he also serves as the Secretary of the National Green Tribunal Bar Association. Ritwick is an Ashoka Fellow and is the recipient of the Carl Zeiss Roll of Honour 2005. The Sanctuary ABN AMRO Award 2007, the NDTV Green Hero Award 2010, the Balipara Foundation Award 2015. He is the Board member of NGO Platform on Shipbreaking and leads The Access Initiative – South Asia, the largest network of CSO’s working on access to information, public participation & access to justice. He has authored 13 books on environmental law including the Supreme Court on Forest Conservation and National Green Tribunal published by Universal Law Publishing.

About the talk: India's developmental strategy is obsessively focused on economic growth with GDP being the central focus. This obsession has led to massive exploitation of forests, rivers and land, as well as increased conflict between the state and the corporate entities with India's rural and tribal communities. However, despite the growing might of corporations and the state, India's environment movement is more vibrant than ever before. Using multiple tools (community mobilisation, social media, peaceful protests and legal tools), India's environmental movement is credited not only for protecting the environment but also for revitalising democracy at a grassroots levels. It has ensured that the Rule of Law is respected and people's voices are taken seriously in the decision making process. In addition to halting socially and ecologically destructive projects, the environmental movement in India is responsible, to a very large extent, for the creation of India's Environmental Court: National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2010. The NGT is credited for being the most effective and powerful environmental court in the world and is being used as a model for setting up similar courts in other parts of the world. This talk will focus on some key environmental struggles in India and the response of the courts to these issues. It will also examine the ability of tribal and rural communities in India to protect their land, forest, culture and livelihood using the law as a tool is an example the world can follow. It also stands testimony to the immense capacity of India's rural community to use new institutions and laws to protect their traditional way of life and culture.