Does India Really Deserve “Champions of the Earth Award”?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the UNEP Champions of the Earth award, UN’s highest environmental honour, from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Guterres said PM Modi recognised the fact that climate change poses a direct existential threat to us.

“He knows what we need to do to avoid a catastrophe. Other leaders also recognise, know and understand, but the difference is that he not only recognises but he acts.”
Prime Minister Modi receives Champion of the Earth Award

Despite this global recognition for our honourable Prime Minister, what seems to be a disconnect with ground realities, are the several petitions being filed across India, to impose a restriction on rampant cutting of trees. Many of these petitions are filed against the government itself who has been allowing the demolition of the green belt either in the name of development or infrastructure restructuring.



The BJP-Shiv Sena led Maharashtra state government on Friday finally gave a green signal to divert 141.99 hectares forestland near Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR) for country’s third largest power plant Adani Power Maharashtra (APML) in Tirodia in Gondia District, reported TOI.

The said land in Kachewani and Mendipur villages is equivalent to roughly 103 football fields and is barely 8-9km from Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). Of the 141.99 hectares, 24.06 hectares is protected forest (PF) and 117.93 hectares is zudpi jungle.

Though this forest is adjoining the existing 3300MW power plant, it acts as cushion for wild animals dispersing from Nagzira and its buffer zone. The forest survey report too mentions presence of animals like hyena, deer, chitals and wild boars in the diverted area. Over 1,500 trees will have to be felled, it is estimated.
Gautam Adani with Prime Minister Modi

According to an official letter issued by the state forest ministry, the land has been diverted under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for ash utilisation, promotion and research park of the power major, reported TOI.

On fresh 141.99 hectares forest land diversion, Gondia deputy conservator (DyCF) S Yuvraj said,

“I had received the proposal about APML setting up a utilisation project and research with Tropical Forest Research Institute (TFRI), Jabalpur, as a partner.”

On the misuse of earlier allotted 164 hectares, Yuvraj said,

“After TOI report in February, I visited Adani plant but I could not check violations properly. Now I will visit again to find out.” 

MPCB regional officer Rahul Wankhede said,

“Yes, there are violation of norms by building ash bunds on forest land. We have issued notices to APML and wrote to the top bosses to seize its bank guarantee.” 

Conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar said,

“Fresh forest land diversion will reduce space for wildlife and cause huge pollution making life miserable for villagers.”

Actor, Animal Lover and Equestrian Sportsman Randeep Hooda, questioned Prime Minister Modi and others, if there was no other way of expansion and progress rather than putting precious forest land at risk in the already fragile conditions we find ourselves in? He also said that a forest is an ecosystem which can not be replicated by merely planting trees.



In June this year, news of trees being brought down in Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, and Netaji Nagar was reported in the media. Delhi then witnessed what the capital seldom experiences: a promptly assembled, grassroots-level counteraction of residents and activists. Approximately 16,500 trees were to be axed and some 1,300 had already been brought down before the protests started. Some authorities claimed that the trees will be replanted. The “revamping” project promised to double the green area of the neighbourhoods – and during the controversy one minister even unrealistically promised to have 10 trees planted for each of the cut ones – but the same project also envisaged a near doubling of flats. It seems impossible that both green and living spaces can be doubled at the same time. There was a clear evidence that the urban jungle was about to overtake yet another part of the real jungle. Until nearly the end of June people voiced their anger by standing next to the endangered green areas, some even tying themselves to trees.

This time, the action brought, it seems, immediate results and the Delhi High Court ruled against the cutting and the Ministry of Environment promised that it will be halted. What becomes strange is that this was happening in the heart of Delhi, the Capital of India.
Delhi Residents Protest against Cutting of Trees



In September, two social activists have moved the Bombay High Court seeking direction against Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to desist from destroying the natural tree cover of Aarey Colony.

The petition seeks direction for MMRCL to stop the indiscriminate premature felling of trees inside the green belt of Aarey Colony till permissions have been obtained to construct metro car shed/metro station.

The petition says that National Green Tribunal had recently passed an order directing to withdraw the matter and the reason given was NGT’s lack of jurisdiction to declare any area as forest, which was one of the prayers of the applicants in the matter.

As quoted by The Indian Express, the petitioner while driving past Aarey Colony, happened to see massive trees being felled on the Aarey Marol Road. On making enquiries, she learnt that the approach ramp and road to the car shed were being constructed and hence the trees were seen as an obstruction to be removed. It was seen that more than 100 huge trees were cut and many more were being surveyed. As per the estimation of the petitioner almost 400 or more full grown trees are being slated for chopping.

The petition read, “…this act is reckless and permanently damaging to the environment. Further more, it is also seen as being illegal since the purpose of entering Aarey or extending the Metro 3 line up to Aarey is to create a Metro Station and Car Shed it.”
Protests at Aarey Colony, Mumbai

The Indian Prime Minister was selected in the leadership category for his pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance and for his unprecedented pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022. However, the three cases mentioned above question the determination and will of India to be able to meet Climate Change and Global Warming Challenges and resolve the grave pollution problem?

Do we really deserve the “Champion of the Earth Award?” Thought to ponder upon…


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