From 27th September to 3rd October, Stella James (Natural Justice) attended a workshop on Environmentalism in India: Building Perspectives and Sharing Strategies which was conducted by the Sambhaavnaa Institute of Public Policy (Sambhaavnaa) and Corporate Accountability Desk, at the Sambhaavnaa campus in Kandbari village, Himachal Pradesh, India.
The programme began with a field visit to Nalagarh, along with activists of Himdhara, an environment research and action group in Himachal. Nalagarh is an industrial town at the foothills of the Himalayas, described by some as the “Himalayan wastebin”. With many major industries in the area, the river which is the lifeline of the town has been polluted with waste of all sorts including surgical equipment from pharmaceutical industries. Moreover extensive unchecked sand mining from the river bed has lowered the depth of the water to almost a quarter of its previous levels.
The main workshop was spread over 6 days, divided into daily sessions on different themes. One day was used to set the context, and laid out the controversial history of environmentalism in India. On other days we were encouraged to challenge many of our ideas, including a session that dealt with challenging our notions of the validity and impartiality of science, especially with regard to use of science in environment conservation. The group also spent some time analyzing specific cases – the ongoing resistance against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamilnadu, and a run-of-the-river hydel power project coming up on part of the Beas river – looking at the different issues in these projects, especially how different normative frames of thought are created and destroyed when challenging ‘development’ projects. Strategies used by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal in their struggle against the callousness of Dow Chemicals and the government of India, were shared; especially interesting was the use of humour/satire and drama in capturing media attention and creating public opinion.
The workshop had young people from many different fields, and was a great exercise in perspective building.