Case Study: RITWICK DUTTA

Ritwick has introduced “environmental democracy” that gives citizens the tools to assess impacts of developmental activities and to call against destructive practices.

Founder and managing trustee of the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) in 2005, 42-year old Ritwick Dutta is an Environmental Lawyer who has raised his voice for many environmental issues in India. He has strongly advocated against illegal and unruly industrialization in India, which can potentially damage our country’s remaining Protected Areas. Ritwick also raised his voice against the illegal construction and encroachment of an ashram within the Girnar Sanctuary for Asiatic Lions in Gujarat. The ashram continued to encroach and damage the sanctuary and Ritwick continued to petition against it in court. And many such environmental cases drag along for years without any concrete verdict.

Ritwick still continues to ght similar battles in his day-to-day life, with newer cases coming his way, as he believes that ‘the environment has all the right to exist, and since we are not the creators, we cannot be the destroyers of nature either’. He also strongly feels that the future generations should be able to see how beautiful India is, and to make sure of it, he feels, that we need to protect it from being damaged. From a young age, Ritwick was exposed to how large-scale dams were capable of damaging forests and wildlife. Ever since, he has felt towards working for the welfare of the environment. Ritwick completed his graduation in Sociology, LLB in university of Delhi and he also completed a diploma on Environmental Law from WWF-India, back in 1996. Besides which, he has also traveled in and around India to understand about the country’s grassroots and environmental issues. He understood how Public Interest Litigations (PILs) can be used in courts in the favor of Conservation and so he became a Supreme Court advocate in 2001.

Ritwick is also a member of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) – Global Network of Environmental Lawyers. As a legal advisor of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO), he has assisted multiple projects and petitions to bring about environment favoring results. He also works on the web-based initiative ‘Forest Case Update’, to provide information on grass root groups.

One of his rst cases was against Industrial Giants Vedanta, against the mining of bauxite in Niyamgiri, where he represented the Dongria Kondh Tribals. He was only 28-years old when he took up the case, the court’s verdict resulted in the Vedanta having to take permissions from the tribal communities for mining, which was denied, and eventually a major portion of the forest was saved from destruction. Unlike Vedanta, Ritwick’s judicial journey has seen more of lost lawsuits based on his experience. But the one element that potentially changed things around for Ritwick was the Right to Information Act (RTI) introduced in 2005. Some of his biggest environmental wins have been against the Lafarge’s Project in Himachal Pradesh, Jindal’s Steel and Power Project in Chattisgarh, Illegal sand mining in Uttar Pradesh and the large-scale dams in North-east India and Uttarkhand. Ritwick still continues to be the voice for multiple cases of environmental degradation and indigenous communities, and for this, he was awarded the Green Legal Award by Balipara Foundation in 2015.

Social Impact:

Ritwick has published quite a few environmental law-based literature and case studies based on Indian judiciary. And he also feels that the court plays a crucial role in how environmental norms are regulated in India. A majority of the people who come to take legal advice from Ritwick include common people who have very little or nothing to oer in return. Ritwick continues to ght their cases, even if it meant doing it in return of fruits, vegetables, souvenirs or nothing at all.

Economic Impact:

Ritwick’s contribution does not have direct economic value, but it has helped in the conserving and restoration of multiple natural habitats that have supported the local and indigenous communities to sustain.

Ecological Impact:

Ritwick has fought multiple environmental hazardous projects that were planned in Protected Areas and which made use of falsied Environmental Impact Assessment Reports. He has been working towards strengthening the Environmental Impact Assessment
processes to help the environment and indigenous communities from industrial entities. Ritwick has introduced “environmental democracy” that gives citizens the tools to assess impacts of developmental activities and to call against destructive practices. He received an early grant of 5,000 pounds that assisted in him taking environmental cases in front of the Central Empowered Committee, and to support research and investigation. After which he received the Ruord Foundation Innovation Award that helped him conceive the Environmental Impact Assessment and Resource Centre in India. He also made use of the remaining grant money to support citizen-organizations work on environmental issues.

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