Africa and Asia
Coal and Asbestos in India
Private lawyers, public interest cases
EDLC believes that more cases challenging environmental human rights violations need to be brought in the domestic courts of the countries where the harms occur. Local lawyers are increasingly willing to bring the cases, but may lack the resources to do so. Private lawyers have been underutilized in these efforts. EDLC helps provide the necessary financial and other resources, supporting lawyers in cases like those below.
Adani coal plant displacement
EDLC is providing a variety of forms of assistance to a lawyer bringing environmental human rights cases in the poor and rural—but natural resource rich—state of Jharkhand. One case challenges coal giant Adani’s proposed Godda coal-fired power plant. The project would consume enormous amounts of water that local people depend on for agricultural and personal use; displace tribal people living in ten villages in order to acquire over 1,000 acres of land; and export all the energy produced to Bangladesh—not to mention contribute to climate change.
Other matters under consideration include documented serious health harms from uranium mining that is poisoning adjacent communities; and proposed dams that will lead to deforestation, submerge villages, and harm a tiger reserve. In addition to working on cases, the lawyer is developing a training program to increase capacity for work in this area by young lawyers from tribal groups.
Vedanta coal plant pollution
EDLC is supporting two private lawyers challenging a coal-fired power plant owned and operated by TSPL, a subsidiary of Vedanta, a multinational company with a poor record in environmental and human rights compliance. In 2018, the lawyers visited the villages surrounding the plant in the state of Punjab.
The villagers are farmers and others suffering pollution and crop damage from fly ash from the plant. Many suffer from respiratory diseases that they believe are caused by the plant’s night-time releases of ash into the air, and they fear that the increased cancer rates in their villages are caused by pollution from the plant. The ash also settles on their houses, nearby water bodies, and on their fields, damaging their crops and reducing agricultural production. Villagers further claim that TSPL extracts ground water illegally and that they have lost access to legally protected common resources. The local economy depends upon the income generated from the sale of milk and other animal products, but many have lost their cattle to diseases resulting from eating fodder grown in the contaminated soil and drinking untreated ground water and pond water.
When the local people lodge complaints against TSPL, they are threatened with arrest, and some have faced false criminal charges. Complaints filed with the Punjab Pollution Control Board for allowing violations of environmental norms have not resulted in the Board taking any action against TSPL. As a result, the lawyers will be bringing cases on behalf of the villagers against TSPL before the National Green Tribunal, India’s specialized environmental court.
Abandoned asbestos mine contamination
EDLC has long supported a case seeking compensation and environmental remediation on behalf of villagers harmed by an asbestos mine that operated for many years in the Roro Hills in Jharkhand state. Asbestos is still widely used across India, with the industry continuing to claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
Operated by Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products, the mine was one of the largest in India, employing 1,500 workers, mostly tribal people. After twenty years of operations, asbestos mining was halted in 1983. The mine was abandoned, with hundreds of tons of asbestos waste left in and around the mine area. The company made no effort to avoid ongoing harms to human health or the environment. Today, decades after the mine was shut down, asbestos fibers still blow in the wind and end up in local fields and rivers.
Unaware of the dangers, children tobogganed and played soccer on the huge hill of asbestos. Not surprisingly, the asbestos and waste piles have caused and continue to cause damage to human health. Cases of asbestosis have been diagnosed in former mine workers and people living in proximity to the mine. Nonetheless, the company continues to deny the harms resulting from its operations.
Bringing claims under the “polluter pays” principle, a High Court Advocate filed a landmark case in 2014 on behalf of the victims. This was the first case of its type filed before the National Green Tribunal asking for compensation for personal injury caused by toxic pollution. In 2018, the court finally ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the battle has now turned to implementation of that ruling.