Land & Resource Conflict Chronicles: Ballot and Land, Renewable Energy, Forest Rights, & Climate Justice Updates!

Hello everyone! We’re back with fresh stories and in depth reports to keep you in the know about land and natural-resources conflicts across the country.

Did you know that over a third of the conflicts in our database come from parliamentary constituencies where communities rely heavily on forests and forest rights are a big deal for locals? Our special report, brought to you by researchers Anmol Gupta, Sukriti Vats and Aditya Sharma, explores how these land conflicts shape what communities want in view of the Lok Sabha Elections 2024. You can access the full report here.

This month, we dropped our quarterly report that examines land conflicts arising from renewable energy projects. Our researcher Priyansha Chouhan, the brain behind this report, digs into how these projects impact people, landscapes, and the environment. It’s not all doom and gloom as the report also suggests some tweaks that would provide more protection to vulnerable communities, in place of current policies that majorly just favour big corporations. You can dive into the full report right  here.

Now, the big buzz from Rajasthan – after 27 years, the sacred groves known as “Orans” finally snagged deemed forest status. But there is a twist: there are some concerns brewing about loopholes in forest regulations, casting doubt on their ability to protect community heritage & biodiversity. And to add to the mix, the amended forest conservation rules of 2023 might even water down any protection these sacred groves get from the deemed forest status, and restrict communities' access to their traditional grazing lands. Check out the full report by our researcher Sukriti Vats here.

New in our Database:

We currently track 758 ongoing conflicts in the LCW database. Last month, our researchers added 4 new conflicts and provided 6 updates:

Fresh Conflicts from Gujarat:

Reported by Suchak Patel

  1. The state government's idea of establishing a cheetah breeding and conservation centre in the Banni grasslands is hitting a snag due to opposition from the Maldharis, the local pastoral community. They are worried that bringing in cheetahs might jeopardise their livelihood, which depends on rearing buffaloes and cows in the grasslands. The Maldharis have been demanding community forest rights under the Forest Rights Act for nearly a decade, but the lack of demarcation of the grasslands as forest or revenue land has left their traditional rights unrecognised. Read the full conflict report here.
  2. In another part of the state, in Banaskantha district, farmers from 15 villages have opposed the proposed acquisition of a 100-metre-wide stretch of land for a 25-kilometre Palanpur bypass road, as it threatens the livelihoods of around 50 farmers. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has submitted a letter of grievance, urging the government to reduce the width of land acquisition to 30 metres, allowing farmers to continue their animal husbandry activities, reports Suchak.
  3. Meanwhile, in Rajula and Jafrabad talukas, villagers have strongly opposed the government's plan to greenlight Indo Asia Copper Limited’s establishment of a large copper refinery and fertiliser plant. They cite concerns about pollution, impact on wildlife and the plant's proximity to the Gir National Park. During a public hearing organised by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, some people protested and were briefly detained by the police, as per his report.
  4. Adding to the mix, fisherfolks in Bhadbhut village of Bharuch district have staged protests against the government's decision to allocate land reserved for the Narmada barrage project-affected fishermen to two salt-making companies from Gandhidham. Our researcher reports that the locals are threatening to reignite their agitation against the barrage project unless the decision is reversed.

Here's what's been happening with some ongoing conflicts:

  1. Back in 2018, Nihar Gokhale reported that the farmers in south Goa's Sanguem and Quepem tehsils were unhappy about the idea of an IIT campus cropping up on their farmlands and hill slopes. This sparked a series of protests and site changes. It was only in November 2022, that the centre finally decided that the proposed Sanguem site was unsuitable, according to our researcher Malavika Neurekar’s follow-up report.
  2. In the same year, Nihar reported on the backlash from residents of Moitem and Assonora villages, in north Goa's Bardez tehsil, against a 200-room Club Mahindra resort project. They argued it was encroaching on an eco-sensitive zone and expressed worries about its proximity to the Assonora river and a water treatment plant. Our researcher Maitreya Ghorpade revisited and found that despite getting the green light and being up and running as of March 2024, legal battles are ongoing. Read the full report here.
  3. Then there's another conflict from 2018, reported by Nihar involving a yacht marina project planned for Nauxim, Goa. Fishers and environmentalists were sceptical because they felt it would restrict their access to the sea. Maitreya, our Goa researcher, reports that the project is currently on ice following a court challenge and a reversed termination of the lease agreement.
  4. Finally, back in 2016, Alok filed a report on Bihar's Bagmati Project, involving construction of embankments along the river Bagmati for flood control. This has led to multiple displacements of villagers since the 1970s, with thousands still awaiting compensation and rehabilitation. Despite prolonged protests, the government continues with new phases of the project amidst concerns over its effectiveness and impact on farming. Read the follow-up report by Rahul Kumar Gaurav.

Environment v/s Development: the conundrum of climate justice

By Priyansha Chouhan

On 21 March 2024, the Supreme Court added a new fundamental right—the right against adverse impacts of climate change. The judgement was passed in the case of M.K. Ranjitsinh v/s Union of India. The backstory goes something like this: the ministries of power, environment, and renewable energy filed an application in November 2021, to modify an order passed in April 2021. This order had put a stop to setting up overhead power lines in a massive area of 99,000 sq km across Gujarat and Rajasthan. Why? Well, this area is home to critically endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard and the Lesser Florican, and it is also a hotspot for solar and wind energy—so, clean energy or threat to species, which takes priority? That is the crux of the case.

To sort this dilemma of climate justice versus green energy, a nine-member expert committee was constituted and directed to submit the report by 31 July 2024. The final hearing of this case is set for August 2024.

The newly added right was recognised under the right to life and equality, specified in Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution. The apex court acknowledged that climate change disproportionately affects under-served and poorer communities, and messes with everyone’s quality of life. Hence the need to read this right into these ever-expanding Articles.

Experts consider this judgement significant because, for the first time, the impact of climate change was explored from the lens of indigenous communities, livelihood, food, health, and gender rights. It is like a whole new way of looking at the problem.

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Nayla Khwaja
Communication Officer