Monday, November 15, 2010

India's Environmental Tribunal

India is going to be the third country in the world to have a separate judiciary for trying environmental cases. The other two countries with a similar judiciary are Australia and New Zealand. The National Green Tribunal will have twenty members. Ten members will be from the judiciary and ten will be environmental experts. The Tribunal will have four circuits in an effort to hear cases in as much geographical territory of India as possible. Previously, India had a capped penalty of $564 dollars for polluters throughout the country. The National Green Tribunal will be able to order polluters to pay higher amounts.

Some American environmentalists are skeptical of the benefit that the Tribunal will provide. India has had two similar tribunals and both have been widely criticized. In 1995, a hazardous waste tribunal was established, and in 1997, the Nation Environmental Appellate Authority, which the National Green Tribunal will be replacing. Business is growing rapidly in India, and the government is facing pressure to make sure that any environmental regulation will not slow the growth of this business.

India has 5,000 environmental cases currently on file that the National Green Tribunal will be responsible for hearing once it is up and running. One of these cases involves the government’s disposal of toxic waste in 2008 from a chemical spill disaster in 1984. Approximately 350 tons of waste was released from a chemical plant owned by Union Carbide, and 3,800 people were killed as a result. Residual gas from the spill killed an additional 15,000 people and left about 50,000 injured. There are allegations that the 2008 disposal of the waste was done in an improper and secretive manner. With such questionable governmental practices in India, one has to wonder if the National Green Tribunal will do its part to change the situation.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turtle Harvesting in Madagascar

A recent study has revealed that villages in the southwestern region of Madagascar are responsible for harvesting up to 16,000 of the world’s rarest turtles. The turtles being harvested are marine turtles. All species of marine turtles are on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, which is arguably the most well-known and comprehensive list of endangered species. The majority of the turtles caught in this region of Madagascar are green turtles, which are the most common of the marine turtles. However, a good percentage of the turtles being caught are the hawksbill, which are much more endangered than the green.

The government of Madagascar has banned the harvesting of marine turtles, but the ban is hardly enforced because of tradition and practical reasons. For example, the coastal villagers of Madagascar rely on turtle meat as a staple of their diet. A conservation group called Blue Ventures has established a partnership with this region of Madagascar in order to address this issue as well as other conservation issues. Blue Ventures claims that it is difficult to get the villagers to understand that the marine turtles are a resource that is being depleted rapidly. Eating the turtles is a historical practice for the villagers, and this practice even has a spiritual component to it.

However, there is a great deal of progress being made. Blue Ventures partnership with Madagascar has been considered so successful that the partnership won several awards from the United Nations. Other conservation efforts by Blue Ventures in the region have showed the villagers the importance of protecting the environment in other ways, and hopefully this awareness will apply to the marine turtle population as well.

-Evan Aronson, Legal Intern