Nine-year-old girl files lawsuit against Indian Government over failure to take ambitious climate action

Exclusive: Ridhima Pandey wants the government to save the planet for future generations

Chloe Farand
Saturday 01 April 2017 19:26 BST
Ridhima Pandey filed a petition against the Indian government accusing it of  having failed to fulfill its duties to her and the Indian people to mitigate climate change
Ridhima Pandey filed a petition against the Indian government accusing it of having failed to fulfill its duties to her and the Indian people to mitigate climate change

A nine-year-old girl has filed a court case against the Indian Government for failing to take ambitious action to tackle climate change.

Ridhima Pandey’s lawyer told The Independent she was a “compassionate child” who wanted her Government to help protect the planet for future generations.

The northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, where Ridhima lives, has been devastated in the past three years by heavy rains, flash floods and frequent landslides, estimated to have killed thousands of people.

And Ridhima has argued that India, the world’s third carbon emitter, has failed to put into action the promises it made in signing and ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change.

According to the World Bank, climate change will exacerbate the stress on India’s water sources, and the country is expected to suffer major health crises.

The case includes allegations based on India’s constitution, the public trust doctrine, intergenerational equity and the alleged non-implementation of four environmental laws dating back as far back as 1980.

Ridhima knows she will have to inherit her country’s growing climate disasters and she is frustrated not to be able to participate in the decision-making process.

She has made it her mission to force her Government to prevent any further damage until she is old enough to help shape her country’s environmental polices.

“My Government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations.

“My country has huge potential to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and because of the Government’s inaction I approached the National Green Tribunal,” she said.

Indian army personnel help stranded people cross a flooded river after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Flash floods and landslides killed thousands.

A petition has been filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a specialised court established in 2010, which hears only environmental cases.

In the petition, Ridhima asks the court to order the Government to prepare a carbon budget and a national climate recovery plan to ensure that India does its share to reduce atmospheric CO2 below 350 parts per million by 2100, according to scientific recommendations.

The nine-year-old also wants the Government to move away from fossil fuels, protect forests, grasslands, soil, mangroves, engage in massive reforestation and improve agricultural and forestry practices.

Soldiers assist a woman carrying a child on her back during rescue operations in Govindghat in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand during the 2013 floods

Environmental attorney Rahul Choudhary filed the petition on her behalf and is representing her along with Ritwick Dutta and Meera Gopal.

Mr Choudhary said Ridhima was “simply asking her Government to fulfil its own duty to protect the vital natural resources on which she and future generations depend on for survival”.

He told The Independent: “Children in India are now aware about the issues of climate change and its impact. The Indian constitution says that it is ‘the duty of every citizen of India ... to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures’.

He added the case will highlight three important elements including the stall of renewable energy levels, the lack of robust examination of environmental impact statements for polluting projects and the monitoring of reforestation initiatives.

“On the one hand there is a gap in legislation and on the other hand, when there is legislation it is not being implemented.

“The most important thing about this lawsuit is that the Government needs to realise that it is not doing anything about climate change. It is signing paperwork to show the world it is doing something but on the ground nothing is happening,” he said.

Ridhima inherited her passion for climate change campaigning from her father, Dinesh Pandey, who has been working for 16 years for an environmental NGO in Uttarakhand.

Flood waters flow next to a residential complex during major floods in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in 2013

Speaking to The Independent, the father-of-two said he was “very proud” of his daughter.

“I have raised her by teaching her about environmental issues.

“One day, she said to me ‘Daddy you raise a lot of these issues and nothing is being done so why are you not raising these issues in the courts?’ She then decided she wanted to do it,” he said.

Mr Pandey said that since the 2013 flood in Uttarakhand, the country’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami which killed thousands, heavy rainfalls and flash floods episodes are happening more frequently.

“It’s the poorest people who are going to suffer the most. The situation is dangerous to human life,” he said.

This is not the first time a child has taken its Government to court over a lack of climate change action.

In the US, a group of 21 youths aged between nine and 20 are claiming the federal Government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions threaten the survival of future generations.

By allowing the case to move ahead, District Judge Ann Aiken, laid the legal foundations for many more to follow.

Similar lawsuits are also being carried out in Belgium and New Zealand, and have already been won in Pakistan, Austria and South Africa.

In the Netherlands, a court ordered the Government to reduce carbon emissions by a quarter within the next five years.

Julia Olson, the lead in the “climate kids” case in the US and the executive director of Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organisation which aims to protect children from climate change, said: “This climate petition is evidence of a global movement of youth rising up and taking their Governments to court to seek protection of their fundamental rights to a stable climate system and demand science-based climate action.”

Meanwhile, the legal challenge in India is allowing Ridhima to hang on to hope for the future.

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