By Cassandra Szabo, 2nd year MDP student
I, another MDP student (Ari Phanlouvong) and undergraduate student (Sean Goldstone) from the University of Winnipeg were selected to participate in a research project led by Dr. Alan Diduck and Dr. Kirit Patel of the University of Winnipeg. This research project is a SSHRC funded project and is seeking to understand the impact of a judicial bench called the National Green Tribunal in India, hoping to understand the effect these decisions are having on all levels of individuals in the country.
|Cassandra at the office in Honnavar, Karntaka|
In preparation for our time in India we chose specific cases that were in line with our own academic interests. I chose a case that was related to fishing and sand mining in a community called Baikady Village. Upon reviewing the literature, the case appeared to be quite simple – the community came to the National Green Tribunal, the court ruled in favour of the community and ruled that sandbar removal permits only be issued in very specific cases and only to local community members. Of course, once arriving on site the reality was much more nuanced.
Upon speaking with the village they informed me that while the National Green Tribunal ruled in their favour it took many years to get to that point, and to stop the sand mining. The mining impacted the village very negatively, some villagers lost their lives, some lost their livelihoods, and some their land.
|Map of Baikady Village. Heavy sand removal areas are outlined in red. Source: Google Earth|
The sand mining caused erosion of the river bank which meant that there could be no collection of clams, and it also meant that the water was much deeper so when community members went to collect clams they were at risk of drowning. In addition to this the fish were no longer coming for their typical breeding cycle, which then meant that other birds or animals dependent on that food source were not coming to the river – the entire food cycle was disrupted. The coconut trees that were farmed on the banks of the river were falling into the river due to erosion. While the clam collection and coconut farming were noticeable impacts, perhaps the largest issue was that local fishers were now losing their ability to fish. The fish were no longer in the river, the river was much deeper than before, and the fishing nets were being damaged. So the community lost multiple streams of revenue, their community felt unsafe, and they were losing their land due to erosion.
|A traditional fishing boat on the banks of the Suvarna River|
These negative effects are what spurred the community to action, they first went to their local government and then the district government, all to no avail. The community got in touch with activists and then created their case with the National Green Tribunal. The verdict was that all sand mining be barred and that sandbar removal be monitored strictly. The community was happy with this as the sand miners and migrant workers largely left the community. However little environmental remediation has occurred since the verdict, but the community can see the river health slowly improving. The villagers showed immense courage and perseverance in protecting their land and livelihoods, and this case also shows the importance and power in non-partisan judicial systems.