Environmental Equity v/s Environment Justice: Justice Movements in India

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The term Environmental Equity and Environmental Justice always used interchangeably by various scholars and environmentalist. It is accepted that they are linked with similar results but there is a vast difference between these two terms. Environment Equity means equitable sharing of harmful effects of pollution or environmental hazards by a single community. The whole objective behind the concept of environmental equity is that no single community bears the harmful effect of pollution and environmental hazards whereas Environmental justice means every person has right to live in the healthy environment regardless of race, income, age, gender, and nationality. Environmentalist means no one’s health or quality of life should suffer because of the environment that they live in. Environmental justice is not only a mere concept but also the movement for the protection of the environment and living a safe and healthy life.

Understanding the concept of Environmental Equity

The Environmental Equity is the equitable distribution of the environmental burden, disaster hazards & pollution on all forms of social, economic and political communities.  This concept evolves on the premises that no single community should have privilege over other communities in facing environmental disturbances or crisis. The concept of Environmental Equity is derived from 2 words Environment and Equity. Environment means the sum total of the surroundings of a living organism. The environment provides development and growth for both living and non-living beings. Equity is linked with Equality and it is based on the concept of Egalitarian society. Thus, Environmental Equity is based on the principle that all people in this world are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the environment around us regardless of any disparity. The concept of Environmental Equity evolves from environmental racism movement in the USA in the period of 1960-1970 where minorities were struggling for the better housing and living better life to later pollutants and wasters of big and large industries is being dumped into the places where these minorities were living.

Understanding the concept of Environmental Justice

Environment Justice is the goal which requires just and fair treatment and involvement of all the people of all the communities in implementation and development of environmental laws, rules and policies regardless of origin, race, class, and nationality. The goal of environmental justice is achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection against environmental hazards pollution and each individual have a role in decision making which is significant for the protecting environment. The health of a community suffers when people do not have access to a healthy home, food, transportation fresh air, etc. Environmental Justice is important because it is a human right and everyone in this world deserves to live a healthy life. In other words, Environmental Justice is the actions towards environmental equity which overviews the act of the companies, industries, agencies, factories in respect to measures taken by them in protecting the environment and emitting pollutions. It is also the process of setting standards and laws for protecting the communities which are on risk due to the dumping of toxic waste and pollutants in their nearby locality. It also provides grants to the organizations that act on protecting these communities from risk.

Environmental Equity versus Environmental Justice

That action for protecting the human right of Environment Equity is called Environmental Justice. Environmental Equity is the idea whereas Environmental Justice is the action for achieving that idea. Environmental equity and Environmental Justice are connected concepts but not the same. The outcome of Environmental Justice is environmental equity. Environmental Equity is executed from justice. Environment Justice is the fair distribution of environmental burdens and benefits. Equity ensures justice without partiality. Environmental Justice is the policy which addresses issues such as environmental equity or racism or discrimination. People who are engaged in Environmental justice movements believe that people are in minority communities gets less attention when it comes to the implementation of environmental rules & laws and also they are put in the ends when it comes to cleaning programs of protecting the environment from hazards waste. Thus it leads to poor health and life of the people in their communities.

The emergence of the concept of Environmental Equity and Environmental Justice has lessened the effect of environmental injustice and racism and also given roots to the concept of environmentalism for unprivileged sections of the society. Environmental racism was prevalent in America where black people were deprived to enjoy the benefits of the environment and nature.  In 1980 there were protests against the love canal, New York where people lived on the dumped waste. In 1992, US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) establishes Environmental Equity Workgroup which curled out that a large percent of toxic and hazardous waste of industries are dumped into the locality where minority and lower-income communities live. The research of this group pointed out that a higher percent of black children hit by high blood lead levels as compared to white children[1]. Also, there was a vast difference between these racial groups in death and infant rate. Due to this In the year 1994, President Clinton issued ordered to make environmental equity as part of laws and regulation and agenda for research and planning as well as for providing information to the citizens. This gives rises to the movement of Environment justice These movements introduced new environmentalism for unprivileged sections and poor which was based on the concept of an egalitarian society where people of each sect enjoys equal benefits and usage of the environment. These movements played an important role in diminishing the injustice and racism from society. Environmental Justice and Environmental Equity are not only applicable to human beings but also to other species. As a human being for achieving the goal of sustainability, it is our duty to save the environment and natural resources for our upcoming future generations as well as for animals.

Environmental Justice movements in India

India is the developing country and it faces various environmental and pollution problems. Environmental Justice and Environmental Equity are equally applicable to India as in other countries. Starting from National capital Delhi, there is a large mountain of dust where wastage of all Delhi NCR are dumped causing severe environmental problems and pollution in the city. Delhi is the world largest polluted city and its vehicular pollution index is also alarming.

After post-independence when India was diverging towards the industrialization there were various environmental justice movements in the history of India to protect the environment.  Almost all these movements were executed with non-violence. Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha in the paper Ecology and Equity, discuss that the Indian Society was divided into three groups of people, from the ecological point of view. These three groups of people were ‘omnivores, ecological refugees, and ecosystem people[2]. Omnivores were the rich people who enjoyed the benefits of all policies for growth and development. Ecological refugees were the farmers and rural people whose land was taken for the setting big industries and for various infrastructure and development purposes. And lastly, ecosystem people were the people who were connected with nature and enjoying the benefits arising from the environment. In these groups, Ecological refugees are mostly affected by the development policies whereas elites were enjoying the benefits from industrialization. This leads to the emergence of the concept of Environment equity and Environmental Justice in India.

In 1730, In the village of Khejarli, Marwar Raja Amar Singh ordered the cutting of various khejri trees to build a palace. Amrita Devi and her 3 younger daughters sacrificed their lives by hugging the sacred khejri trees for protecting them. This inspired 363 other members of Bishnoi community and they also sacrificed their lives in saving khejri trees. This was one of the violent movement for protecting the environment. In India, Bishnoi Community is known for sacrifice and protection of the Environment.  Environmental Protection is part of 29 Rules followed by the Bishnoi Community.

The concept of Environmental Justice is also recognized by one of the most successful movement called chipko movement which was inspired by the sacrifice of the Amirtha Devi and it started in 1973. It was the conflict between farmers who earn a livelihood from the forest of Uttar Pradesh and elite people. Elite people started cutting forest for the purpose of constructing the road for carrying out commercial trade activities which leads to the degradation of the environment and soil erosion. It was an injustice for the farmers who were dependent on this forest. For protecting the forest, these farmers stood against the authorities and protected the trees by standing between the tree and logger and hugging the trees. Thus it forces the authorities to cancel their contract of cutting the forest and chipko movement becomes successful. It was the first movement which became successful without any violence and political disturbance[3].

Narmada Bachao Movement which began in 1980 was one of the successful environmental justice movement in India. Almost 30 dams were constructed on the Narmada River and world bank sanctioned the loan for constructing these dams. A large number of people were displaced from the land. Farmers were dependent o Narmada river for their livelihood. This movement was led by Medha Patkar and she got support from all over the world. Soon loan sanctioned by the World Bank got canceled[4].


It is concluded that the whole world is one family. For the protection of this world, environmental protection is necessary. It is the duty of each & every individual of this world to protect natural resources and environment for future generations and for other species. It is necessary for all the countries of this world to realize the concept of environmental equity and environmental justice and move towards the principle of environmentalism for the poor. The benefits of the environment should be enjoyed equally by all and there should be fair involvement of all the individuals of the community in the developmental processes and the environmental decision-making process. Perfect solutions for environmental injustice is the locally led movements to protest against environmental degradation.


  1. Robert W. Collin, ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY: A LAW AND PLANNING APPROACH TO ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM, Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Summer 1992), pp. 495-546.
  2. P. P. Karan, Review of ECOLOGY AND EQUITY: The Use and Abuse of Nature in Contemporary India By Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 418-420, Geographical Review, American Geographical Society.
  3. P. P. Karan, Environmental Movements in India, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Jan., 1994), pp. 32-41, Geographical Review, American Geographical Society.

Yogesh Sharma

Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA
Co-founder, Lawcirca.com
email: yogeshsharma1551997@gmail.com

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