Monday, August 10, 2020

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020: Why the draft is being opposed in India?

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Representative image for environmental destruction | Source: Aryan Singh via Unsplash

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) sent a shockwave through the country when it released the Environmental Impact Assessment 2020 draft notification on March 12, 2020, amending the 2006 version.

The EIA serves as a means for the industries to obtain environmental clearances for their projects. The proposed projects are brought in front of the concerned public to be discussed and debated. If the projects proposed by the industries disturb the ecology and people living in that particular area to a large extent, then the Government cannot give permission for the project to continue.

There are several things included, or excluded, in the 2020 version which have enraged environmentalists, nature lovers and numerous concerned citizens across India.

Firstly, it includes post-facto approval. This means that any factory which has already begun with construction, will get a clearance, irrespective of the environmental damage it has already caused. However, the owners of the concerned factory will have to pay a fine of a certain amount.

Secondly, the new draft notification is released only in Hindi and English. Considering the lingual diversity of India, the communities which are not fluent in either languages will not know what the notification is about. This will reduce transparency and the livelihoods of such communities might get demolished without any warning.

The 2006 notification made it mandatory for every company involved in a project to submit a report every six months, verifying that the company is working within the terms of the granted permission and not going overboard with the available resources. The 2020 draft has extended the timeline of report submission once in twelve months. Moreover, certain projects like expansion of highways and road construction through forests are exempted from getting clearances.

Himalayan foothills, Sikkim, India | Source: Flowcomm via Flickr

Such features of the 2020 draft violate norms of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA, 1986) and also indicate that the scales are tipping dangerously towards the big industries, at the cost of our planet’s health. Livid cries have erupted from the people, especially those living in North-Eastern India and foothills of the Himalayas.

Himalayan ecology is at the brink of fragility and it requires stringent monitoring laws, the opposite of what EIA 2020 offers. "The Himalayan region today is in the most vulnerable position with massive climate-induced disasters, increasing deforestation, loss of biodiversity etc. Amending environmental norms will accelerate the ecological crisis in the Himalayas" says Ravi Chopra, a renowned environmentalist from Dehradun.

Since the draft has not come out in regional languages, the Karnataka High Court restrained the government from publishing the final document till it was accessible to a wider audience.

Although the government extended the deadline from June 30 to August 11, 2020, for the general public to pool in their opinions through emails, it shut down three main online websites on which youngsters of this country protested against EIA 2020. “We reasonably have a clear basis, based on our correspondence as well as our technical analysis, that this was a domain seizure by the government of this website” says Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).

The EIA 2020 amendment does not do justice to the fundamental principles of environmental impact assessment and is more focussed in easing the clearance for the industries than the protection of the environment.

Economic growth, no doubt is important, more so at this trying time. However we should also bear in mind the cost which is to be paid for it, sooner or later.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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