Understanding the Nuances of Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: Impact and Way Forward is an Online International Monsoon School Program, a Six-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course from August-September 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on“Climate Justice and Equity: Realities in India” was held by Ms. Bhargavi S. Rao.
Introduction to Climate Justice and Equity in India
She began by highlighting India’s ambitious climate goals but raised concerns about the insufficient consideration of land requirements to achieve these targets. Throughout India, there have been movements advocating for amendments to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 to ensure fairness and transparency in land allocation.
Presently, the challenge lies in the fact that every state has found ways to bypass the LARR Act of 2013 in order to allocate land for solar and wind parks, as well as other renewable energy projects. Unfortunately, these lands are often located in areas predominantly inhabited by marginalized and vulnerable communities. Ironically, these communities are the ones practicing truly sustainable lifestyles, engaging in various livelihoods.
Every state has introduced reforms to their land acquisition laws, and unfortunately, there have been some dubious interpretations of progressive court rulings. A notable example occurred in Challakere, Karnataka, where approximately 13,000 acres of land were redirected for the construction of a science city, including a 1,000-acre solar power plant. The High Court’s ruling had initially protected the expansive grasslands in Central Karnataka, but now they have dwindled to around 3,000 acres.
These grasslands had been a crucial support system for around 70 neighboring villages and were diligently safeguarded by local communities. They held these grasslands in high esteem, considering them sacred and integral to their way of life. The local residents were so attuned to the ecological balance of these grasslands that they took measures to prevent over-exploitation through activities like grazing and other related practices.
In Pavagada, Karnataka, an expansive 13,000-acre area was redirected for the creation of a solar park, which now generates approximately 2,000 MW of energy and ranks as the third-largest solar park globally. Notably, the decisions regarding land allocation were made without involving the village panchayat, the governmental bodies responsible for addressing the daily needs of the villagers. This project was carried out through a joint venture company called the Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Limited (KSPDCL).
When the land was required, the company employed retired revenue officers to visit people’s homes and persuade them to part with their land. There was no public consultation, and the villagers had no say in negotiations. Consequently, after relinquishing their land for the project, they received meager compensation in return. Furthermore, the land became unsuitable for farming due to the construction of cement structures necessary for the project. Currently, there is an evident accumulation of discarded solar panels, contributing to the pollution of the land and the surrounding natural resources.
It’s essential to consider that these villagers have been engaged in farming for generations, and they lack alternative skills to support their livelihoods. As a result, a significant portion of the male population has relocated to nearby urban areas to secure employment. This leaves the women and girls behind, and unfortunately, many girls are forced to drop out of school. Additionally, there has been a concerning rise in child marriages in this region, indirectly linked to these development projects.
Another instance is the situation in Chamrajnagar, which is the most marginalized and underdeveloped district in Karnataka. There have been ongoing land acquisitions by companies in the foothills of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Similarly, land grabbing occurred in Mikir Bamuni, Assam, where extreme violence was employed to seize land from farmers. To the extent that standing crops of paddy were bulldozed to obtain the land.
All of these issues persist despite the existence of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act (LARR), which has fairly good provisions. However, these provisions have been severely misinterpreted or outright ignored. Furthermore, these development projects often disregard the local wildlife in these areas. For instance, the Challakere region is the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard, with a population of around 200 to 250 birds combined between India and Pakistan.
It is also home to other animals like the lesser florican and the Black Buck, among many others. In the process of constructing solar parks and other renewable energy projects, traditional knowledge systems are completely disregarded. Local people possess the knowledge to coexist peacefully with wildlife without endangering their populations.
The network of livelihoods that sustain the local community is likewise impacted by these initiatives. The Deccani sheep that inhabit this region can travel great distances and are tolerant of drought. The ladies then utilise the wool that has been removed from them to create the yarn. The blankets made from this yarn by the men in these villages are then sold. Another significant means of generating income in this region is cotton weaving. However, because to the drastic drop in cotton prices as well as the disarray brought on by the BT cotton, farmers are no longer willing to plant cotton.
According to a study conducted by Charles Worringham, India would need to allocate approximately 2% of its land for renewable energy production to achieve its goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. However, it’s crucial to recognize that this 2% of land is predominantly owned by the most vulnerable segments of society, who would be left behind in the pursuit of development due to the lack of alternative means of sustenance. This situation could lead to the emergence of ‘climate refugees.’
Furthermore, the government’s skill development initiatives are primarily focused on urban areas and are accessible to individuals holding a 12th-grade certificate. What often goes unnoticed is the significant challenge rural residents face in obtaining even a 10th-grade certificate. When considering gender disparities, women are particularly marginalized in these programs and bear the brunt of the consequences.
Critics of the Digital India Land Records Modernization Program (DILRMP) put forth by Dr. Rao argue that it simplifies companies’ access to land-related data, making it more convenient for them to plan and develop solar parks. This program also streamlines the financing of such projects, attracting investments from both national and international banks.
A study conducted by scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Ministry of Earth and Science in Pune, along with the Center for Prototype Climate Modeling at New York University, Abu Dhabi, examined the future wind and solar energy potential across the Indian Subcontinent. Their findings indicate that the annual wind speed is projected to decrease in North India, and there will be a reduction in solar radiation concentration throughout all seasons across the Indian subcontinent. Considering these factors, the construction of new wind and solar parks may lead to the loss of livelihoods and the depletion of other resources in these areas.
In her concluding remarks, Dr. Rao emphasised the disregard for traditional, non-carbon livelihoods in the name of addressing climate change in India. She noted that there has been a rise in migration and wage labor across the country, largely driven by a lack of skills among rural populations. This migration often leads people to urban areas in search of employment, where they end up working for meager wages. This, in turn, results in households with low-nutrition levels, adversely affecting maternal and infant mortality rates.
Dr. Rao pointed out the irony that villages like Chamrajnagar or Mikir Bamauni lack access to electricity while their land is used for the construction of massive solar parks. She proposed that the way forward should involve decentralized mini-grids that coexist harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, she stressed the importance of increasing conversations about reducing energy consumption. Dr. Rao highlighted that involving local communities in decision-making, ownership, and skill development is crucial for effectively addressing climate change while promoting sustainable methods of energy production.
Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.
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