Worthy winner

Last Updated 02 May 2014, 17:29 IST

The award of the Goldman Environmental Prize, often known as the `Green Nobel,’ to an Indian activist, Ramesh Agrawal, is a recognition of the value and spread of environmental activities in India. Agrawal, who has waged a long battle against mindless assaults on environment, is among five other recipients from other parts of the world of the $ 175,000 prize.

They have all made their mark with campaigns against fracking for shale oil, indiscriminate dumping of toxic materials or other threats which have a bearing on environment or public health. The award is intended to honour grassroots activists for their contribution to protection of environment. All the recipients till now have been individuals who made significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment.

Agrawal has been fighting against powerful mining and power companies in the mineral-rich Chhattisgarh for many years to protect the interests of villagers and tribals. He has fought them legally in courts and won victories and opposed them with protest actions with the help and involvement of people.

Three months after a victory in the court in 2012 which blocked a major steel company from opening a coal mine in  village,  an attempt was made on his life. It left him disabled but only strengthened his determination to fight for the rights of poor people and to champion the cause of environment.

Though he is not legally trained, he has won three important cases against major companies and is pursuing a number of others. He has also been educating people of their rights to land, livelihood and clean environment in some of the most backward areas of the country and giving them courage to fight for them.

Environmental awareness has taken roots in the country with many well-known struggles in the Western Ghats, Uttarakhand and in the mineral-rich central Indian states. Apart from organised movements, dedicated efforts of individuals and small organisations have made important contributions to create a better understanding of sustainable development. Such efforts are seen even at the village level in many parts of the country.

They have been able to force the government to amend laws and to adopt more humane policies. Agrawal is a symbol and representative of the grassroots movements which are still spreading and gaining more momentum. The international recognition of his work will give inspiration and greater confidence to these movements.

(Published 02 May 2014, 17:28 IST)

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