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By Green Minute News:

As an environmental lawyer, Ritwick Dutta has focused exclusively on environmental litigation and has provided support to different communities including tribals, affected people, civil society groups in bringing their issues before the courts. He is the founder of Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) and is heading the organization as its Managing Trustee. 

Dutta graduated in Sociology and Law from the University of Delhi and also has a diploma in Environmental Law. With a firm commitment to protect the remaining wildlife habitats in India, he has taken on companies like Vedanta, Lafarge, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd and many others. He is an Ashoka Fellow and recipient of many other prestigious awards.

R S TEJUS spoke to him on various issues confronting our environment today and the challenges in litigation.

Q1. How challenging it is for an environmental lawyer to litigate against projects in the present political scenario whose motto is unsustainable development.

Litigating against big projects is problematic in whichever situation one is in. It does not matter which political party is in power or which state government you are challenging. Projects are big or large or small not because of the money involved but the political support they receive. 

The main challenge is to convince the courts that they have to decide matters purely based on the law and statutory provisions and not on the basis of external factors such as investments made and the profits to the entity. Putting it in simple words: it is always challenging to do environmental cases irrespective of the political situation.  

Q2. How difficult is it to get information during the current state of affairs?

It is not easy. The Right to Information Act is no longer taken seriously by the Government. From being a ‘legal right’, it is now only a ‘request’ made by citizens for information from the government. The government very well knows that in case information is denied; there is nothing that the citizens can do since “appeals” against the decisions takes years to decide. 

The Information Commission is today a retirement home of retired Civil Servants who have all their service life denied information to the public; and to expect them to usher in transparency after retirement is asking for too much.

Q3. The country has seen clearances of hundreds of projects by MoEF&CC; as an environmental lawyer, how to tackle such situations and stop ecologically disastrous projects?

The problem is not about clearances. It is impossible to think of a nation which would not need roads, airports, railway lines and other projects. The problem is the manner in which projects are approved. There is absolutely no concern as well as consideration of the necessity to follow the due process. 

As environmental lawyers our role is to support communities and concerned individuals and groups who are willing to challenge decisions which are ecologically destructive, socially disastrous and opposed to the Rule of law.

Q4. Would you please throw some light on your court victories and the background of it and also about ongoing environmental litigation? 

In environmental cases, there are no real ‘victories’. We only stop projects for a certain period of time. I leave it to the communities to share their victories of cases that we have been involved.

Q5. Isn’t it a very sorry state of affairs to move courts against each project in a democratic country like India? 

I feel we should consider ourselves fortunate that the Constitution provides us right to move courts to challenge ecologically destructive projects. There are countries in the world where such rights do not exist.