Indian Girl Demands Justice from Her Government in Environmental Court
At an age when other children around the world might choose to spend free time playing, 9-yearold Ridhima Pandey is suing her government to force immediate action about climate change.
The attack she has filed is about as serious as it gets. Her lawsuit, filed on her behalf by attorney Rahul Choudhary, says the government of India, the third worst contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, is guilty of just standing by while companies, individuals, and government agencies continue to dump toxic materials into the earth, water and air. It demands immediate action by that government to do something to start acting responsibly, enforce the environmental laws which are already in place, and find a way to make India a healthier place to live.
As she said during a recent interview with the UK newspaper the Independent, “My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact me and future generations.”
With her father being Dinesh Pandey, an activist who has worked for 16 years for an environmental NGO in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Ridhima has grown up in a home where conversations about environmental causes are as much part of her home life as are topics like schoolwork and taking care of family. She also had the sad misfortune of experiencing serious flash floods and landslides in her home region over her lifetime. The worst of those happened in June 2013 after the most powerful monsoons in modern history slammed into the Himalayan foothills. That storm turned the normally beautiful rolling hills of the region into cascading mudslides which killed hundreds of people and displaced 50,000 people or more from their homes. The bodies of many who disappeared in that storm have never been recovered.
But the memory of that storm stuck vividly in the mind of then 5-year-old Ridhima, locking in the image of death and destruction from an environment allowed to run out of control.
Since that time, the girl has seen more storms and learned more about what climate change means in action.
Despite there already being tough environmental laws in place in India both regionally and nationally, a Greenpeace report published in January 2017 showed how damaging the effects of the country’s inaction to enforce them had become. It noted that, while airborne pollutants in China, the US and Europe had dropped by 15% or more from 2010 to 2015, in the same period pollutants increased in India by 13% in the same timeframe.
Besides the damage from such pollution to the world, these emissions have unfortunately secured
India four of the top ten spots in the list of the most polluted cities in the world. These include: Gwalior, located 319 kilometers (or 198 miles) south of Delhi, India’s capital city Allahabad, in the Indian state of Upper Pradesh and the administrative headquarters of the Allabahad District Patna, the capital and largest city in the state of Bihar, along the northeastern border of the country Raipur, the largest city in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh
The situation in India is so bad that, based on data Greenpeace pulled together from state pollution control boards and other sources, “there are virtually no places in India complying with World Health Organization and national ambient air quality (NAAQ) standards, and most cities are critically polluted.”
Greenpeace went on to calculate that as many as 1.2 million Indians die every year from these pollutants, from exposure to everything from mold spores to poisonous arsenic, lead, nickel and chromium, a known carcinogen.
One might think the government of India would take this more seriously, with much of its urban landscape currently uninhabitable just from the levels of pollution alone. India is also a key signatory of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. It has further stated publicly its intent that non-fossil-fuel (or renewable) energy sources generate at least 40% of its electricity by 2030.
After further examination, it is clear many of the government’s claims of caring about the environment and pledging to do something about it are only so much window-dressing. In response to that same Greenpeace 2017 report about the state of poisonous pollution running rampant in the country, for example, the environmental minister of India famously said, “There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation-ship of death exclusively with air pollution.”
Such camel-like head-in-the-sand attitudes are not going to save the country and the world from the consequences of what India is allowing to happen.
For her lawsuit to force the government to do something about all this, Ridhima and her attorney selected the National Green Tribunal, a special court India has set aside for environmental-related issues.
That court, which was enacted into existence under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, describes its purpose as:
“for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The court is further set up with the idea that its “dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.”
In her petition, Ridhima asked for the tribunal to order the government “to take effective, sciencebased action to reduce and minimize the impacts of climate change”.
It further demands the Indian government immediately put in place carbon budgets to limit carbon dioxide emissions, require assessment of all industrial projects for climate-related impacts, and create a plan for national climate recovery.
Will her lawsuit work? It is already gaining press attention from around the world, exposing the idiocy of a government perhaps only second to China in so visibly destroying the urban air and poisoning its citizens.
It also builds on some of the same issues filed in a case filed by 21 children aged from 9 to 20, in a federal court in Eugene, Oregon, in 2016. In that lawsuit, the children claim the U.S. Federal Government and fossil fuel producers conspired to promote fossil fuel production and use. It says the government and the fossil fuel makers also knew about the damage pollution from these fuels would do to the environment, and proceeded anyway. It then holds them accountable for the damage already caused to the health of the citizens of the United States, and demands they take immediate action to rectify that damage.
That case has already made it through multiple legal challenges from the Federal Government and fossil fuel companies to stop it.
Ridhima’s petition also builds on the process followed by other lawsuits filed by similar groups which were already won in Pakistan, South Africa and Austria, and which are still in process in Belgium and New Zealand. A court in the Netherlands evaluating yet another case like this even recently ordered the government to reduce carbon emissions by 25% within 5 years.
There is therefore hope for the cause and petition championed by 9-year Ridhima Pandey.
The lawsuit asks for India to respond to the petition within 14 days.