The Indian organisation Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) is among the recipients of the 2021 Right Livelihood Award for its grassroots approach of empowering vulnerable communities to protect their livelihoods and claim their right to a clean environment.
Founded in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours and supports courageous people solving global problems. It comes with a cash prize of 1 million SEK (around 100,000 EUR or 115,000 USD) and long-term support to highlight and expand Laureates’ work.
Despite a robust environmental protection law framework, access to justice for those intending to protect India’s remaining forests and biodiversity is often limited. To fill this gap, LIFE was founded by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary in 2005.
Since then, LIFE has fought against some of India’s most significant environmental threats, including helping local communities stop the construction of a large-scale bauxite mine in the eastern state of Odisha and halt a hydro-power project in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
With many more significant legal victories, LIFE has ensured the rights of vulnerable communities to a clean environment, protecting India’s biodiversity and safeguarding people’s livelihoods.
Right Livelihood’s jury said that LIFE was receiving the Award “for their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”
“We are extremely thrilled to receive the Right Livelihood Award,” LIFE founder Ritwick Dutta said. “This is our first international prize, and it means a lot to us and to all the local groups across India that we are supporting. The Award will help us increase the impact of our work, empowering more people to protect nature and livelihoods.”
“Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment works for justice and the protection of nature in the name of communities all over India,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director at Right Livelihood.
“From dams to mines, LIFE’s lawyers have fought both governmental and corporate interests that threaten peoples’ survival and rights. They empower citizens’ groups to claim their right to a clean environment, on which their livelihoods depend,” von Uexkull added.
The other 2021 Right Livelihood Laureates are:
Cameroonian women’s and girls’ rights activist Marthe Wandou, the first person to receive the Award from Cameroon,
Russian environmental activist Vladimir Slivyak, and
Canadian Indigenous rights defender Freda Huson.
The 2021 Laureates will be honoured during a televised Award Presentation in Stockholm on Wednesday, December 1.
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) is an organisation working to protect the environment in India through the creative use of law and legal processes. LIFE works with communities through a grassroots approach: it assists and empowers often vulnerable populations to stand up against powerful interests and have a voice in the decision-making process, while also strengthening institutions and reforming laws.
Noticing a lack of judicial access regarding environmental issues, LIFE was founded by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary in 2005. Today, the organisation’s attorneys are among India’s leading public interest lawyers. LIFE has helped communities fight against some of India’s most significant environmental threats: the construction of ecologically destructive projects in violation of the law, preventing deforestation and making industrial polluters pay for the damage caused to the environment and public health.
One of the early successes of LIFE has been a case against the British mining company Vedanta in the state of Odisha, which became a precedent-setting judgment. India’s Supreme Court recognised that the local community’s consent was required for such a project to commence.
Since then, LIFE has continued to stand up against powerful interests threatening the wellbeing of people and nature, securing better environmental protections for communities across India.
Headquarters: New Delhi, India
Founded in: 2005