GUWAHATI: ‘Rights Livelihood Award’ winner and environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta has said the laws made by the Central government are not taking into account the rich biodiversity of the Northeast.

“Northeast is a unique area. It has sixth-scheduled areas, autonomous councils, and district councils. But in many instances, the Central laws fail to take into account the environment-related issues of the region,” said Dutta in a felicitation function organised by All Assam Students Union (AASU) at Swahid Nyash here on Monday evening.

Assam son Rittwick Dutta is the founder of the Delhi-based environmental law advocacy group — Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment– which received the ‘Right Livelihood Award’ this year, considered to be an equivalent to the Nobel Award. This organisation was formed in 2008.

This group has been taking an active role in opposing the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project in Gerukamukh.

Dutta said, “Hundreds of projects were approved. But in many instances,  the information shared is not understood by the masses.

“The EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) notification was brought out in English and Hindi. We challenged this in court. However, their reaction was that Hindi was the national language of the country. But we pointed out that Hindi is not the national language of India, adding that it is one of the two official languages (along with English) of the Central government. In other words, India does not have any national language,” he said.

 “Subsequently, we got a court order that the EIA notification will be published in at least 22 languages of the country. I think all such notifications should be available in at least 22 regional languages,” he said.

The EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impact — both beneficial and adverse.

“The Northeast is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the country. Despite that, the Northeast bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is in Kolkata but not in the Northeast,” Dutta said.

“The NGT bench for Northeast must be in NE. Why should NE people fly to Kolkata for addressing various environmental issues of the region? The Northeast deserves a special bench of NGT,” Dutta argued.

 “There is no judicial or expert member in the NGT from any state of the Northeast. Against this backdrop, hardly anyone can convince the NGT on various environmental issues of the region,” he further said.

 “We are facing many issues when the court hears the case of the Lower Subansiri project. It was because the judicial officers of NGT do not know much about Assam and the Northeast,” Dutta also said.

“Of date, we fought just one battle in the NGT. Many environment-related issues are still there,” he said.

Pointing out that Guwahati city – once considered as the wildlife capital of the world — is now one of 122 polluted cities of the country, Dutta stated, “Environmental justice and democracy are important issues here. But, many steps undertaken by the Centre for environmental protection are still at the infancy stage.

He added that in many instances, the people will have to take a proactive role to make their voices heard in the corridors of power.

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