The full text of a Public Interest Litigation initiated before the Supreme Court of India, by Akhilesh Chipli and Shankar Sharma, requesting the court to draw firm legal limits on India’s suicidally destructive economic growth during the last three decades, which has led to rapidly deteriorating ecological conditions (air, water, soil, climate) in the country.
DOWNLOAD: Pdf version of the petition
The honourable Chief Justice and Justices of the Court
The Supreme Court of India, New Delhi
Dated: 1st November, 2018
Dear honourable Justices,
Greetings from Sagara, Karnataka.
- We may please be pardoned for taking the liberty to send this appeal directly to you on behalf of a large number of concerned citizens on the deteriorating environmental scenario in the country.
- While we are aware of the fact that the judicial protocol normally expects the citizens to approach the SC of India through proper channels, ordinary citizens like us, who live far away from Delhi and who do not have access to the required level of resources to appoint a competent advocate, have no other alternative but to approach the honourable Justices directly. Additionally, the matter we want to bring to your kind consideration is urgent and grave in nature from the societal perspective, requiring immediate intervention. Also, having exhausted various options available to the civil society to stop the wanton abuse of our natural resources, many sections of our society believes that the Judiciary is the last resort in such pan-India cases. Hence, we appeal to your Lordships, to permit us to place before you our grave concerns.
Background: India’s environmental scenario in the global context
- While the whole country thankfully appreciates the efforts of the honourable SC of India for its recent orders w.r.t the usage of fire crackers during Deepavali festival and on the issue of air pollution in Delhi, we would like to represent the general concerns of a cross section of the same people that various elements of our natural world such as air, water and soil are reaching an unacceptable level of pollution/contamination, thereby rapidly pushing our communities to the brink of multiple disasters. Whereas, the air pollution issue in Delhi area got the required intervention by the concerned authorities (much delayed though) because of the concerted action of many civil society organisations (CSOs), the media and the international attention (such as WHO reports), similar air pollution issues of other polluted cities (14 out of 15 most polluted cities of the world are recognised to be in India as per various reports of WHO, such as the one link below) have not received the required level of attention and the remedial action. I am sure our society will not deem the life of such impacted people outside of Delhi as no less important. Many media reports have been highlighting for years the associated serious problems to our communities.
14 of world’s most polluted 15 cities in India, Kanpur tops WHO list
Air pollution at crisis level in north India: NITI Aayog
Rising air pollution will impact rainfall patterns in India: UN report
More than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day
- Whereas the seriousness of air pollution in different parts of the country can catch the attention of the authorities sooner or later because of it’s all pervasiveness and immediate impact, the pollution/ contamination of water sources and soil, which are equally worrisome if not more, have not attracted the same level of attention of the concerned authorities, despite valiant and sustained efforts by various individuals and CSOs to highlight the seriousness of the scenario. One such recent development was the highly regrettable death of Prof. G.D. Agrawal (also known as Sant Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand), who died due to his fast unto death struggle to make river Ganga clean. Many observers have even equated his death to a murder by our society for the reason that the authorities did not take necessary steps to stop his death or to appreciate his concerns. His death can be seen as a clear indication of the indifference/callousness of the concerned authorities (and of the larger society) towards the health of our rivers in particular and towards the overall environmental upkeep.
- As a recent article in India Water Portal has indicated, “the major challenges of the 21st century in river water use is the increasing pollution in the rivers and the partial failure of the conventional methods of pollution control due to various reasons. The depletion in non-monsoon flow in rivers (more pronounced in peninsular rivers) is enhancing the pollution load and making the situation more difficult. Due to these challenges, the revival of the rivers in a holistic way has become a non-negotiable need of the day. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has come out with yet another startling revelation about India’s rivers—the number of polluted stretches of the rivers has increased to 351 from 302 two years ago, and the number of critically polluted stretches has gone up to 45 from 34.”
- India’s rivers are reported to be carrying only 5 per cent of the world’s fresh waters but an astounding 35 per cent of global sediments. There are probably no river stretches in India, except perhaps in the upper reaches of Himalayas or very few streams/rivers in Western Ghats, which can be said to be clean. This scenario can be considered as a shame on the whole society, especially when we consider the glorious cultural heritage of worshiping rivers and other fresh water bodies as part of the overall family of natural resources.
Surface And Groundwater Pollution Are Pushing India Towards A Water Crisis
It’s time to clean India’s polluted rivers
- Soil pollution/contamination is another major issue confronting our communities in India. Whereas the problem of soil pollution generally do not get highlighted as compared to the case of air and water pollution because of the delay in experiencing the contamination effect, the issue is nevertheless very serious when we take all the three kinds of pollution into objective consideration from overall perspective of the long term welfare of our communities. As an article in Springer Link say “Industrial sector in India is witnessing rapid growth since the last decade of twentieth century with reforms in economic laws and with establishment of special economic zones (SEZ). Such rapid industrial growth has also increased threat to the environment. In spite of great difficulty in its remediation in comparison with polluted air and water, soil pollution as a threat to human life is by and large ignored at national level in India due to lack of comprehensive information on the subject.”
‘India among nations that face grave danger to soil biodiversity’
Status of Soil Pollution in India
- What all these reports on the pollution and contamination of air, water and soil indicate is that our natural resources on which our entire future depends are degrading at an alarming pace, which if not reversed early will lead to “very grave, irreversible and catastrophic” scenario for our communities, as IPCC has mentioned. A further evidence in this regard is a recent report from WWF which provides a very gloomy picture for the humankind. It says that unbridled consumption of materials and energy has decimated global wildlife, triggered a mass extinction and exhausted Earth’s capacity to accommodate humanity’s expanding appetites. “The situation is really bad, and it keeps getting worse,” WWF says.————————————————————————-
60% of world’s wildlife has been wiped out since 1970
- India’s contribution to such a dismal global scenario is enormous. In view of the fact that it is the second most populous and 7thlargest country with a great heritage of rich biodiversity, it must have managed its natural resources with a lot more care than that can be observed over the past 2 or 3 decades. As is clear from the unacceptable levels of pollution/contamination of air, water and soil, its contribution to global warming green-house gases is considered to be the third largest clearly indicating that its growing population will face a very bleak future unless effective actions are implemented on a priority basis.
- India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations, and its draft National Energy Policy (June 2017) have not recognised the need to reduce the total GHG emissions of the country, as against the global call for reducing the total GHG emissions by 2030. Whereas, a large number of domestic and international reports/articles/scientific papers have elaborated on how India’s total GHG emissions can be reduced through various sustainable options without compromising on the overall welfare of our communities, and how each of such options will lead to overall improvement in the quality of life of the people while adequately protecting various elements of the nature, the successive governments have ignored such recommendations, and have embarked on high GDP growth rate paradigm year after year. Such high GDP growth rate paradigm can be said to be the root cause of all environmental issues and multiple social crises.
- Time and again the credible risks of such a high GDP growth rate paradigm have been highlighted. A sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to: setting up of more factories/ manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber, sand etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural /forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; clamour for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. With such vastly increased economic activities, the demand for water and energy will obviously accelerate, while the ability of the natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHGs will deteriorate. The resultant scenario for the natural resources will be one of extreme degradation. The combined effect can only be the upward growth in total GHGs in the atmosphere.
- Through many reports such as the “State of the Environment”, annual report of the MoEF&CC, INDC etc. the Union govt. itself has identified many of the associated issues such as the need to protect and enhance forests and bio-diversity, reduce the pollution/contamination of air, water and soil, protect the vulnerable sections of our society from the looming threats of Climate Change etc. But the onslaught on various elements of the nature is being allowed to continue unabated under the guise of developmental projects, which are mostly unsubstantiated and are against popular public opinion. The draft National Energy Policy of India (June 2017) has clearly indicated that India’s total GHG emissions will increase considerably by 2040, whereas the IPCC advocates that the net emissions of GHGs into the atmosphere should be close to zero by that time. India is, perhaps, the only country which has no qualms to state that it will continue to emit more GHG emissions even 23 years later. Most of the statements made in its draft National Energy Policy may indicate that the Union govt. feels no national/international obligations on the issue of Climate Change in reducing the total GHG emissions through its various economic activities.
- A World Bank report of June 5, 2013 (with the title “Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: What Are the Trade-offs?”), had highlighted how the environment has suffered in India consequent to the past decade of rapid economic growth. The say that although the past decade of rapid economic growth has brought many benefits to India, the environment has suffered, exposing the population to serious air and water pollution. This report finds that environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 5.7% of its economy.
- As per recent World Bank’s calculations, health-care fees and productivity losses from pollution cost India as much as 8.5 percent of GDP. At its current size of $2.6 trillion such cost works out to about $221 billion every year. Hence, the developmental paradigm, as being practiced in India during last few decades, has not only been resulting in considerable net negative economic growth, but also wreaking havoc on our natural resources as well as on the community health. Hence, the question that needs to be asked of the govt. is: who are the real beneficiaries of such a lopsided economic paradigm, which has not been caring for its natural resources or for its people’s health.
- A glaring factor which corroborates all these credible concerns is the alarming rate of forest destruction in our country. As against zealously protected national forest policies of countries like Bhutan, New Zealand and Finland, where about 70% of the land area is reported to be covered by natural forests, this percentage in India is less than 20% as against our own national forest policy target of 33% in plain regions and 66% in hilly districts. Two of the eight hottest of global hot-spots of biodiversity in India are the eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats. Whereas both of these hotspots deserve highest priority of preservation and enhancement from the perspective of Climate Change, they are experiencing unbelievable levels of human greed, because of which they are degrading at a rapid pace with enormous consequences to our communities.
- Our submission, in this context, is that the ongoing economic policies and practices of the govt. which are directly impacting the environment/natural ecology are not sustainable and are not people centric. Hence, there is an urgent need for a holistic review of the same in order to protect the critical elements of our natural world.
Facts of the Case
- Whereas, we are deeply concerned about the ongoing degradation of the environment across the length and breadth of the country, our particular concern in this petition is the unending destruction of the meagre forest cover left in the state of Karnataka, most of which are in the Western Ghats, and which was identified for World Heritage tag, but which was sadly rejected by the state govt. As highlighted by the recent death and destruction in Kerala and the Kodagu district of Karnataka, the so called natural calamities are increasingly being initiated/exacerbated by the economic/greedy activities of the humans, and in most cases due to the policies of the government.
- Whereas the total forest and tree cover in Karnataka is officially known to have come down from about 45% in 1950s to only about 20% of the land area at present, and whereas the original natural forest cover is reported to be less than 7%, a large number of linear projects initiated by the state and the Union government are decimating the remaining patches of forests in the Western Ghats. As the list of projects attached to this petition indicates, about 25 projects are in various stages of planning and implementation in these ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, and about 20 Lakh mature and ecologically high value trees are facing the axe.
- Even the officially recognised status of Karnataka as the most water stressed state in the country (even ahead of Rajasthan) because of its 70 % land area being arid and semi-arid, and about 53% of the land area being drought prone, has not awakened the authorities to protect the remaining patches of natural forests.
- Our society’s ignorance/indifference to protecting such critical natural resources can be highlighted by the fact that the critical recommendations of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP or also known as Gadgil report) and even the diluted recommendations from Kasturirangan Committee to protect and preserve the rich biodiversity wealth of the Western Ghats were rejected by the concerned authorities, and the political leaders.
- Whereas the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has recently directed the Union govt. to identify and declare the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in Western Ghats as per Kasturirangan Committee recommendations, there are reports of massive tree cutting in areas of Western Ghats, which are reported to come under such ESAs in Karnataka. While there can be little doubt that all the projects listed in the table attached have one or more forest areas falling in such ESAs, and hence should be stopped immediately, there is a great urgency for stopping the projected loss of about 30,000 highly valuable and mature trees for a road widening project in Karnataka, as reported in the news links below.
Western Ghats will lose 22k trees if NH4A is widened
38,000 Trees to be axed for a smooth ride between Belagavi and Panaji
- This project under the name “widening of National Highway 4A, which connects Belagavi with Goa”, can lead to the destruction of a thick forest ecology in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, and may infringe on the recent directive of NGT, which had asked the Union govt. to declare the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) within the Western Ghats. We believe that many parts of the project area lies in the ESA of Karnataka.
- A number of representations have been sent in recent months to the govt. of Karnataka and the Union govt. on the perils of allowing the diversion of forest and agricultural lands, and indiscriminate cutting of trees. Subsequent to the devastating damage to life and property in Kerala and Kodagu district of Karnataka in August 2018, two representations endorsed by a large number of concerned people were sent to the govt. of Karnataka to stop such destruction of the natural resources, but many destructive projects are continuing at enormous costs to the society.
- Many credible reports have clearly linked the recent death and destruction in Kerala and Karnataka to the rampant abuse of the nature in these states.
‘Urbanisation caused floods in Kerala, K’tka’: IIT-B
Kodagu distress: How rampant deforestation and tourism led landslides and floods
Kodagu landslips a result of natural and man-made causes
Climate change can trigger more devastating floods in India: UK charity
Goa next after Kerala, warn environmentalists
Kerala crisis arose due to destruction of ecologically-sensitive zones in Western Ghats
Kerala wake-up call on growth and development
- The deeply concerned environmentalists have warned that the destruction of eco-sensitive areas (ESA) in the guise of eco-tourism, infringement into no-development zones (NDZ) across coastal belts, filling up mangroves and haphazard development might lead to a Kerala-flood like situation in Goa, and elsewhere in South India.“Flood is a consequence to unplanned growth in the river plain. What happened to Kerala and south Karnataka this time can also be blamed to unplanned urbanisation to a large extent.”
- There can be no doubt that continued tree cutting in the Western Ghats, which are clearly recognised as the water fountains of peninsular India, will exacerbate the fresh water availability to the people of Karnataka, which is already witnessing the declaration of drought in nearly 50% of the talukas (sub-divisions) every year.
- Having witnessed the dismal failure of various regulatory bodies and the govt. departments in ensuring sustainable harnessing of our natural resources, the civil society in India is generally of the view that unless our judiciary takes urgent, holistic, sustainable, and true welfare oriented approach in addressing the ongoing over-exploitation of our natural resources, the environmental issues as highlighted in Delhi’s air pollution scenario will impact the whole country very soon. We are deeply concerned that once the scenario reaches such a stage from which there can be no return, there is not much anyone can do. We all can just sit idle and experience the unimaginable levels of destruction of life.
- Whereas our appeal is for the honourable Court to take up the issue of accelerated environmental degradation in the whole country, our specific appeal is to urgently stop the felling of mature trees in the ecologically sensitive areas of Karnataka. Additionally, in order to prevent a devastating scenario as projected by the Climate Change phenomenon for the entire planet, the country and the state of Karnataka, we earnestly appeal as follows:
- Kindly consider setting up a SC monitored task force to closely study the impact of various ongoing and planned projects across the country in the context of India’s obligations to minimise the total GHG emissions by 2030, and mandate for stringent action required.
- Kindly instruct the concerned authorities and the govt. of Karnataka to immediately stop cutting the trees in the Western Ghats of Karnataka in the name of various projects, including the project under the name “widening of National Highway 4A, which connects Belagavi with Goa”.
- Kindly declare a moratorium on cutting any tree or carrying any large scale public works in the districts falling within the limits of Western Ghats of Karnataka until the ESAs are clearly declared by the competent authorities.
- Kindly consider this representation as a Public Interest Litigation case on behalf of the people of this country, and initiate proceedings to protect the natural resources of the country on a priority basis, as per the letter and spirit of our Constitution and the relevant Acts of Parliament.
- Kindly consider holding suitable deliberations involving various stakeholders to diligently review the true relevance of high GDP growth rate paradigm for India, which is severely impacting the legitimate interests of its flora, fauna and citizens.
- Kindly permit all interested parties and individuals to participate in such deliberations of the honourable court either through sworn affidavits and/or through representation through advocates.
Akhilesh Chipli, Aged 51 years, Son of late Krishna Murthy, and resident of
Post:Varadamoola, Sagar Taluk, Karnataka-577417
SWAN & Man (Save-Wild-Atmosphere-Nature & Man),
Shankar Sharma, aged 63 years, son of late H N Sreekantaiah, and resident of
Banashankari Krupa, 3rd cross right side, 80 ft Road
Vijayanagar 1st stage, Sagara, Karnataka – 577 401
Phone: ++ 91 94482 72503
Power Policy Analyst,Sagara, Karnataka,
Phone: 94482 72503
Email id: [email protected]
DOWNLOAD: Pdf version of the petition
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