On Saturday morning, the auditorium at St Xavier’s College was transformed into a unique courtroom.
Presenting their testimonies were the commonest of the city’s commoners — fishermen, farmers, slumdwellers, street dwellers and daily-wage workers. And at the jurors’ desk were a modest panel of social activists and climate change specialists who listened to their woes.
The event was a public hearing on the ‘Impact of Climate Change in Urban Areas’, organised by a coalition of NGOs working for climate justice and equitable development.
The Mumbai hearing, one of the six public hearings about climate change to be held across India, coincided with the International Day of Climate Action on October 24.
“We must no longer brush aside the voices of marginalised sections of society while making plans for development,” said Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier’s College.
Eight representatives of the city’s subaltern groups spoke about being the victims, and not the perpetrators of climate change.
“It’s the moneyed people who have cars and live in big concrete houses; how can our tiny wooden houses pollute the environment?” said Mankhurd’s Jamila Shankar Mote, whose slum is housed between a dumping ground for urban waste and a burning ground for industrial waste.
“Our administrations have been deeply insensitive to the problems of those who are most affected by climate change, and this is the first issue to be addressed by any panel, whether here or in Copenhagen,” said Shyam Asolekar, professor of environmental engineering at IIT and one of the jurors on the panel.
Testimonies from Mumbai will be presented at the national hearing in Delhi on November 4. “At both the national and international levels, we need to pressure the developed classes to take responsibility for climate change,” said Aditi Kapoor of Oxfam India, one of the NGOs organising the event.