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India has most cases of social and environmental conflict, according to environmental justice atlas

  • Most cases of conflict in India have arisen from bad management and misappropriation of water resources, leading to shortage of water and conflicts, researcher says.
  • Many conflict cases have also resulted from mining projects, extraction of mineral ores and industrial activities, according to the atlas.
  • However, coverage of conflict cases in EJatlas still has some gaps, expert says, and coverage of conflict cases in countries like China, Indonesia, North Africa, and Central Asia needs to increase.

Often-controversial developmental projects, such as hydropower plants and mining activities, are fueling social and environmental conflict across India, according to the Environmental Justice Atlas ( In fact, India has the most number of reported cases of socio-environmental conflict in the atlas.

The EJAtlas is an online interactive map that documents cases of people’s resistance against projects like mining, hydropower plants, disposal of toxic waste, and improper water management. An initiative of the European Commission-supported EJOLT project (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade), EJAtlas aims to “make ecological conflicts more visible and highlight the structural impacts of economic activities on the most vulnerable populations”. The mapping project began in 2012 and is a work in progress.

So far, scientists and activists have catalogued 220 cases of socio-environmental conflict in India, highest among the 133 countries in the atlas. Colombia is second in the list with 116 cases of conflict, followed by Nigeria, which has 71 conflict cases.

The EJAtlas maps environmental and social conflict cases across 10 main categories, including nuclear power plants, extraction of mineral ores and construction material, conflicts arising from improper waste management, water management, industries, fossil fuel extraction, biodiversity conservation and tourism recreation.

“We are adding about 400 new conflict cases every year, and in February 2016 we reached a total of 1700 cases.” Joan Martinez Alier, coordinator of the EJAtlas, and a professor at the University of Barcelona, told Mongabay. “We are also revising old conflict cases.”

The Environmental Justice Atlas has 220 reported cases of socio-environmental conflict from India, highest among all 133 countries in the atlas. Map from EJAtlas (
The Environmental Justice Atlas has 220 reported cases of socio-environmental conflict from India, highest among all 133 countries in the atlas. Map from EJAtlas (

Although incomplete, the atlas has “sufficient number of cases to draw some general conclusions,” Martinez Alier said. Many areas in India, he added, have a good coverage of conflict cases.

Martinez Alier attributes the large number of conflict cases in India to the country’s increasing economic metabolism. “More materials and energy are entering the economy,” he said. “There are therefore many environmental conflicts in India related to the extraction of materials and also waste disposal.”

Recently, Anup Kumar Das of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, summarized India’s position on the EJAtlas in the journal Current Science. He found that as of December 2015, most conflict cases in India have arisen from improper or inadequate management of water resources (about 59 cases), particularly hydropower projects.

Bad management of water resources leads to shortage of water, which then leads to conflicts, V. V. Krishna, EJOLT project director and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told “There is also the appropriation of water sources and channels by industrial units with political nexus,” he said.

For example, in a featured map of environmental justice in Himachal Pradesh, Daniela Del Bene, and her team at EJAtlas, have highlighted a cluster of several hydropower-related conflict cases in Himachal Pradesh, a state located in northern India, over the last 10 years.

Local farmers, whose water sources are being diverted to the controversial Indiabulls coal powered plant, join the Greenpeace activists in calling for the Maharashtra government to prioritize their access to water. Photo credit: Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace.
Local farmers protesting the construction of the Upper Wardha dam in Amravati district, Maharashtra. Photo credit: Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace.

Several cases of conflict in India have also arisen from mining and industrial activities, extraction of mineral ores, and the improper disposal of waste materials, according to the EJAtlas.

The infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy, for instance, is counted among the world’s worst industrial accidents. In December 1984, industrial negligence at Union Carbide India Limited’s Bhopal plant led to the accidental release of 30 metric tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas into the atmosphere affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the city and surrounding areas.

Globally, socio-environmental conflict seems to be the highest in rural areas, the EJatlas team writes in a report to be published in the Journal of Peasant Studies. As of April 2015, around 63 percent of reported conflict cases in EJAtlas were from rural areas, the team found, while only 17 percent were from urban areas. Majority of these conflict cases arose from mining projects.

Preliminary results also show that 12 percent of the conflicts catalogued in the EJAtlas report the death of “environmental defenders”, Martinez Alier told Mongabay.

It’s not all gloomy, though. Some conflict cases have also had a “positive” outcome, Martinez Alier said. “We find that ‘environmental justice’ is achieved in about 18 per cent of all cases in EJAtlas (across countries and world regions), in which a project is stopped by the resistance of the local population and its allies.”

However, coverage of conflict cases in EJatlas still has gaps, Martinez Alier said. For example, coverage in China, Indonesia, North Africa, and Central Asia needs to increase, he said.

“Building the EJAtlas is a laborious and expensive process, although we do not complain,” Martinez Alier added. “It is a fantastic project, we advance knowledge, we make visible things that were invisible to the media and the researchers.”

“We rely a lot on voluntary work, on ‘activist knowledge’, but we must still check the accuracy of the information, sometimes revise the old cases because of new developments.”


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