Addressing Mercury Waste in India
E-LAW advocates in southern India (Nityanand Jayaraman, T. Mohan, and S. Devika) report a breakthrough that will defuse an environmental time bomb. Until recently, Hindustan Lever Ltd., a subsidiary of Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, operated a mercury thermometer factory in the town of Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. Tons of mercury waste from broken thermometers found its way to a dirt lot in a neighborhood near the factory.
Local environmental authorities ordered the company to collect and dispose of the waste, but the proposed cleanup plan, which E-LAW U.S. evaluated at the request of its partners, contained numerous flaws and lacked important environmental safeguards.
In late March 2003, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered the company to ship the mercury-laden waste back to the United States for proper disposal. Under close supervision, the waste was packed into containers and brought to a port in Tamil Nadu for loading onto a ship bound for the U.S.
Our partners in India thanked E-LAW U.S. for "the bedrock of scientific support, critiquing the preliminary clean up protocol, and providing the requisite information at ridiculously short notice."
Challenging Tannery Pollution in Bangladesh
The Winter 2003 E-LAW Advocate featured a photo of children in Dhaka, Bangladesh, standing next to ponds polluted with tannery effluent. Rizwana Hasan at the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) is happy to announce that BELA obtained a court order that could bring relief to densely populated neighborhoods near the polluted canals and Buriganga River.
In February 2003, BELA attorneys filed a High Court petition against government officials and industry representatives, seeking compliance with the law and abatement of tannery pollution. E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik had provided BELA with comprehensive technical support on controlling toxic wastes from tanneries.
In March 2003, the High Court division of the Supreme Court ordered the government and the tanneries to move forward on a plan to relocate. As a result of this order, the tanneries may be forced to move within 18 months to a location separate from residential areas where they can build an effluent treatment plant.
Commenting on the court order, editors at The Daily Star in Bangladesh stated: "We welcome the directives by the High Court...People have already paid too high a price for no fault of theirs. It is time for the government to translate extant decisions into action. Any further delay in moving the tanneries to an exclusive zone will put the river and the people around in a grave environmental jeopardy."
Protecting Forests in Nepal
Nepal`s significant forest cover is due in large part to a progressive forest management law that promotes community-based management. Despite the success of this law, Nepal`s Ministry of Forests sought to impose regulations preventing communities in northern Nepal from gaining authority to manage their forests while imposing a 40% tax on income derived by communities that currently manage their forests.
Grassroots advocates at Nepal`s leading public interest environmental law organization, Pro Public, worked with the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal to file a Supreme Court petition to nullify the stifling regulations. In April 2003, the Supreme Court handed proponents of community-based forestry management an important victory-nullifying the onerous tax on community-based forest product income, and directing the Government of Nepal to allow legally qualified communities to gain authority to manage their forests, regardless of their location. Congratulations to Prakash Mani Sharma and Kabita Pandey of Pro Public for their good work!
Safeguarding Citizens in Iran
In April 2003, a truck swerved off the road near Sanandaj, Iran, spilling a toxic fuel additive (MTBE) into Lake Gheshalgh. A local citizen group called on Victoria Jamali, a pioneer in Iran`s environ-mental law movement, for help. The group told Victoria that the government had assured residents that their water was drinkable and there was no reason for alarm. The group asked Victoria to confirm these findings and get information about the problem and how to address it. Victoria forwarded the call for help to E-LAW U.S.
E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik responded immediately. He sent Victoria information about MTBE, standards used by the California Department of Health Services to measure MTBE, and best practice treatments for removing MTBE from water.
Iran faces many of the same environmental challenges that E-LAW advocates face around the world. Victoria was introduced to E-LAW U.S. in 1999. Since then, she has tapped E-LAW`s resources to clean up Tehran`s air, protect the Caspian Sea, and advise residents in Sanandaj about managing the MTBE spill.
Protecting Forests in Kenya
E-LAW advocates at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Nairobi, Kenya, successfully delayed government`s plans to remove protection for 10% of Kenya`s remaining forests. The Government of Kenya planned to excise and "degazette" 167,000 acres of forest. The proposed deforestation would have devastating effects on ecosystems throughout the country and region. Kenya`s forests provide habitat for many species including the black and white colobus monkey, a threatened species on the 2000 Red List issued by The World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Maurice Odhiambo Makoloo reports that ILEG, working with other lawyers and representing many citizens and organizations, filed a precedent-setting case in the High Court of Kenya in Nairobi and obtained a temporary injunction halting plans to cut the forests.
E-LAW U.S. and partners in Zambia, Tanzania, the U.K., and Sri Lanka provided ILEG with legal and scientific information to support the case. The case alleged that the Kenyan government took these actions without following proper procedures. The case has delayed the forest excision for many months and now a new more environmentally friendly government is reconsidering the plan. A hearing scheduled for May 2003 was postponed but the injunction still stands.
Gaining Access to Information in Brazil
To participate in decisions about the environment, citizens need information. They need to know about projects that are proposed for their communities, so they can speak up before local eco-systems are destroyed, and air and waterways are polluted.
In April 2003, Rachel Biderman Furriela, an E-LAW advocate at Instituto Pro-Sustentabilidade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, sent thrilling news. She wrote:
"I am getting in touch because I have exciting news from Brazil. The Brazilian Congress has just approved and the Brazilian President has sanctioned its Access to Environmental Information Law, a bill presented to Congress by deputy Fabio Feldmann back in 1998...This was only possible thanks to the help of E-LAW."
Rachel`s hand in the Brazil victory illustrates the power of the E-LAW network. E-LAW gave Rachel the legal tools she needed to help craft Brazil`s first Access to Environmental Information Law. Now, communities in Brazil are empowered to get the information they need to chart a sustainable future.
Managing Urban Waste in Pakistan
In Lahore, Pakistan, Mansoor Ali Shah and Hassaan Ghazali, environmental attorneys, are challenging a local government plan to locate a landfill on top of an existing garbage dump near the Ravi River, which would risk serious contamination of groundwater and surface water resources. E-LAW U.S. provided Mansoor and Hassaan with legal and scientific resources from the U.S., India and the Philippines. The lawyers incorporated this support into a brief they submitted to the court in February 2003. At a subsequent hearing, court expressed gratitude for E-LAW`s assistance, suspended the government`s plan, and appointed a committee to advise the court about environmentally-sound ways to manage Lahore`s urban wastes.
E-LAW advocates making a difference in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Iran, Kenya, Brazil and Pakistan.