‘Alternative Nobel’ for Indian organisation
Delhi-based environmental organisation Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) has received the 2021 Right Livelihood Award for its “grassroots approach of empowering vulnerable communities to protect their livelihoods and claim their right to a clean environment.” The award is known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel Prize.
Other awardees include Cameroonian women rights activist Marthe Wandou, Russian environmental activist Vladimir Slivyak, and Canadian Indigenous rights defender Freda Huson.
The Right Livelihood Award honours and supports people solving global problems. It comes with a cash prize of 1 million Swedish crowns ($115,000) and long-term support to highlight and expand Laureates’ work.
The jury of Stockholm-based Right Livelihood, which chose the awardees, said LIFE was receiving the Award “for innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Right Livelihood said despite a robust environmental protection law framework, access to justice for those intending to protect India’s remaining forests and biodiversity is often limited. “To fill this gap, LIFE was founded by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary in 2005. Since then, LIFE has fought against some of India’s most significant environmental threats, including helping local communities stop the construction of a large-scale bauxite mine in the eastern state of Odisha and halt a hydro-power project in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.”
Dutta said they are thrilled to receive the Award. “This is our first international prize, and it means a lot to us and to all the local groups across India that we are supporting. The award will help us increase the impact of our work, empowering more people to protect nature and livelihoods.”
He added their aim now is to ensure that decisions concerning the environment take into account the impact of the climate crisis. “Despite clear evidence that India’s ecosystem is undergoing rapid changes due to changing climate, we are yet to take any concrete action to deal with the same. Climate change does not figure anywhere in the environmental decision-making process.”
Ole von Uexkull, the executive director of Right Livelihood who established the award, said LIFE’s lawyers have fought both governmental and corporate interests that threaten peoples’ survival and rights. “They empower citizens’ groups to claim their right to a clean environment, on which their livelihoods depend.”