This profile was prepared when Ritwick Dutta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Through a process he calls “environmental democracy,” Ritwick gives ordinary citizens in India an unprecedented voice in the authorization of major infrastructure projects. Working with partner environmental groups and communities in India's leading biodiversity “hotspots,” he trains participants to read and interpret the complex legal reviews that accompany each project, giving residents the tools they need to understand the immediate and long-term implications of proposed developments. He then works to demystify pertinent laws and processes for legal action, empowering citizens to take full advantage of the country's legal system. Ritwick complements these efforts with direct outreach to forest agents and governmental departments, recognizing that they too must fully understand the law and its many implications in order to effectively uphold it. Finally, Ritwick works to bring change within judicial system itself: He has revived the previously defunct National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), originally created to evaluate the impact of such projects. Ritwick and his team of environmental lawyers have filed eight of the nine litigations reviewed by the NEAA, pioneering a decisively results-driven approach to environmental advocacy in India. Ritwick’s efforts to create a cohort of informed citizens on the one hand and an effective system for legal redress on the other have had a tangible impact on project development in India. His organization, Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment, and its legal team—among the only practicing environmental lawyers in the country—have already been responsible for numerous policy changes and the stalling of a mega mining project in the state of Orissa, in what has been hailed as the biggest such victory in the history of environmental suits in India.