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Fighting the Green Fight

As the chorus for action against EIA Draft Notification 2020 grows louder, three websites evangelising the movement face unprovoked digital censorship here in India. When Assam’s recent flooding provides enough evidence of climate change impact, can we remain muted in response to such silencing? Here’s what we know for sure.

The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.

— Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Earlier this year, the government proposed a new Environment Impact Assessment Draft Notification that would lay the foundation to update the existing rules for environmental clearances of large-scale developmental projects here in India.

This Notification with its many glaring lacunas quickly became the eye of a much-debated public storm as many well-meaning scientists, leading NGOs and researchers, ratcheted up their angst against the circular. At the centre of the furore were essentially three main points of contention — that public inputs for proposed projects seemed to have been either reduced or made discretionary with projects falling outside the purview of public consultations, the reduction of overall legal and social standards for better environmental scrutiny, and lastly, the regularisation of those projects in violation of the EIA notification.

 

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Several environmentally conscious citizens and bodies at the forefront of this outrage had come together online even in the midst of the pandemic to spread the word against this outrageous Notification as the August 11 deadline for public feedback on the Notification inches closer.

This July, three social movements — Let India Breathe, Fridays For Freedom India, and There Is No Earth B, which were at the forefront of galvanising public opinion against the Notification, found themselves censured by India’s powers that be — abruptly and with no prior show-cause notice. In what could well be perceived as a brazen attempt to stymy public opinion — an inherent democratic right of conscious Indians — these three public platforms were denied access to their websites. While Fridays For Future India and Let India Breathe were banned, There Is No Earth B was restricted on some Internet Service Providers as per their statement. (These websites continue to remain banned as of writing this article.) What’s worse is that no explanation has been offered by the nodal government body as to the reasons behind the imposition of this inexplicable ban.

 

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Says Meher Abadian from Let India Breathe — a climate-change citizen movement, “We had first heard about the LIB ban on 29th of June, which was one day before the final date of public consultation.   On 10th July, we had heard that Fridays For Future and There Is No Earth B were taken down as well. We are not an organisation, but a volunteer group who want to speak about the pressing environmental concerns. We have been urging people to send in emails asking for EIA 2020 Notification to be withdrawn, as we clearly see that the move is in favour of industries, and not the environment — a clear short-term goal that doesn’t factor in long-term impact on the future generations.”

 

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The blanket ban on these aforementioned websites comes at a time when the government apathy towards climate change reaches fever-pitched levels. As India faces an unforgiving monsoon deluge in various parts of the country, several places have been hit very hard. Nearly four million people in Assam and neighbouring Nepal have been displaced by heavy flooding with more than 200 deaths being reported since May. 25 of the 33 districts in the state have been affected by flash floods and landslides as the crisis deepens with each passing day. With the government system already under tremendous pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, hope remains elusive in combating the environmental crisis. Almost 108 wild animals, including 9 rare one-horned rhinos, have died due to the flooding. The situation is just as dire in Bihar.

 

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The Assam disaster is a shining example of exactly why the battle against the EIA Draft Notification 2020 is extremely relevant to the times we live in. As per reports, Assam has the ignominy of having the least area under irrigation with the least forest area available per 1,000 rural households and the second-lowest per capita income among other Indo-Himalayan states. This makes it one of the most susceptible states to climate change. And India with its population of over 1.2 billion has more reasons to worry.

In September 2019, PrimeMinister Narendra Modi addressed the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York and asserted his commitment to fighting against climate change. These words back then had given much cause for celebration amongst India’s disheartened climate warriors waging a lone battle. Since then, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has been at the receiving end of much public backlash for not having done enough. As dissenters point out, the Ministry has functioned more to thwart the agitations than to respond to pertinent feedback.

Still, the banning of the three environment-centric websites has become the latest roadblock in the fight against climate change. With the mouthpieces now muzzled, India’s green thumbs have been left seething and justly so. The Internet Freedom Foundation — an organisation born out of savetheinternet.in movement for net neutrality, privacy, freedom of expression and innovation — has been actively supporting the three movements in question by providing advocacy tools and resources to help answer the unanswered questions. Why does an environmentally conscious movement led by volunteers and do-gooders become such a migraine?

As per the IFF, which quotes the Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India SC judgement from Jan 2020, internet shutdown orders must be proactively published by the government. Yet several states continue to flout the rules, undermining the law. This questions the rationale behind such unilateral silencing which reeks of unjustified, unprovoked, and unexplained systemic apathy. Last Thursday, the MoE told the Karnataka High Court that it had received around 4 lakh objections to the draft EIA Notification thus far. By clamping down on these websites, the powers that be are muzzling important civic interests and further sensitisation.

NIXI or the National Internet Exchange of India, a not-for-profit organisation with its stated MO to harness the “Vision to promote Internet”, has ironically put on hold access to the aforementioned websites. Earlier, the IFF had sent in a legal notice to NIXI on the issue asking for clarifications as to the ban, “which smacks of arbitrariness, secrecy and prima facie illegality. (sic.)” In its response, NIXI stated that it takes no action on its own part unless asked to do so by some law enforcement agency. Yet this response begs more questions than those that it hopes to answer.

Courtesy: Fridays For Future India

Climate change and its deniers know that the battle is not for the future, but now. The three portals have played an important role in sensitising youngsters all over the country, drawing much-needed attention to a cause that impacts every single human on earth. Yet, these random bans stifle the very feedback that the PrimeMinister has encouraged in many of his Man Ki Baat sermons. You wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that the government doesn’t want you to share your feedback on the defective EIA notification in light of such opacity. It is the ignominy of the many due to the silence of the few. It’s important now more than ever before to repeal such highhandedness.

The three public-support groups mentioned above seem to be doing their part. In fact, There Is No Earth B, which describes as being guided by the Gandhian philosophy, as well as LIB and FFF recently have filed RTIs seeking clarification on the issue last week. Applications have further been submitted with the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Department of Telecom, Ministry of Electronics and IT, and the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police, based on the infrequent news disclosures. Yet, you too can play your part because this is far from over.

You can continue to spread the word and fight against the inane censorship as well as the EIA Draft Notification 2020, which has gaping holes in logic. Although the three websites seem to be down, you can still access many of the materials here still to spread the word: https://thereisnoearthb.gitlab.io/EIAMailer/

It’s time to be more vocal for your rights because what has happened to others can well happen to you. Still, more importantly, there is no planet B.

(Updates to follow)

2020 Gut & Flow Media Pvt Ltd.


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