The biggest question for most Trinidadians yesterday was whether this country is really ready for a major natural disaster.
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Prof Ramlogan: We need environmental democracy
With the attentive ear of President Anthony Carmona, Prof Rajendra Ramlogan on Thursday threw out a bold challenge to break the State and the elite’s control in making decisions about the environment. “Sometimes, the law could be perverted to favour the elite. They are not in favour of environmental laws that would hinder their own economic process.
“The elite try to roll back environmental gains and influence how we enforce environmental laws. Even the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has been bemoaning the pressure put on them.” He warned citizens to be wary of the majority will, noting that while environmental groups tell of thousands being affected by an issue, protestors are usually a minority.
Ramlogan sent out the challenge to a full hall of students and environmental activists in a radical inaugural professorial lecture at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The lecture was titled, “Environmental Democracy in T&T. A Retrograde Step?” President Carmona was an invited guest and UWI deputy principal Dr Rhoda Reddock said his presence reaffirmed his support for initiatives of the campus and for Ramlogan’s work.
Judging from how environmental law has been perverted, Ramlogan said there has been a failure in environmental democracy. A professor of environmental and commercial law, he is an author of seven books on the issue and is known internationally for exploring novel areas like environmental refugees and environmental crime. He has offered pro bono work to environmental lobby group Fishermen & Friends of the Sea.
Ramlogan began his address with an excerpt from Chief Seattle’s 1854 speech and ended with calypsonian King Austin’s Progress. “Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people,” he said, quoting the Chief. “Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.
“Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”
Ramlogan said environmentally conscious citizens have found themselves in a similar position and a profane relationship with the land is now interfering with its sacred heritage. He said there has been a proliferation of public outcry against environmental disasters, including last December’s oil spills on the south-western coast and the Beetham landfill fire.
He referred to former US president Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 quote, “a government of the people and by the people shall not perish,” in an attempt to define environmental democracy. Ramlogan said it is pretty much the same with the environment. “People must have a say and a role to play in protecting the environment.” This involves observing the rule of law and rejecting elitism in that process, he said.
He also mentioned the high crime rate and said: “One cannot have democracy in an environment of crime. Blood is flowing through the land contrary to democratic ideals. Life is cheap.” Ramlogan said it is embedded in the Environmental Management Act that all government entities, including the EMA, must comply with environmental policy.
He said the Environmental Management Act mandates a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) be granted to a developer before a project begins and this requires consultation. Developers, he said, have avoided meaningful consultation. He said an emerging practice is that developers fail to apply for a CEC and rush ahead and complete works. The EMA then comes into the picture and says the developer has to pay a $60,000 fine and then gives him a consent agreement to continue work.
“The duty to consult is totally obliterated,” Ramlogan said. He also referred to the legislation brought under the former administration of removing quarries under 150 acres from the CEC process, noting none are above that acreage. Asked by a participant how State and elite hegemony can be eroded, Ramlogan said that is a hard question. He said the public should keep educating itself and the EMA should issue proper guidelines for consultation.