Report: Legal advice for environmental justice - Experience from eastern India

I came across this new IIED report today:

Legal advice for environmental justice: Experience from eastern India Sanjay Upadhyay, Suparna Jain, Enviro Legal Defence Firm This paper distils lessons from experience with the Forest Rights Resource Centre in Jharkhand which uses the advice and referral (A&R) service model developed by the Enviro Legal Defence Firm and the Environment Law and Development Foundation (ELDF) to promote legal awareness and action to secure environmental justice.

Some highlights for discussion:

  • This paper distills lessons from experience with the Vanadhikar Samadhan Kendra (Forest Rights Resource Centre – FRRC) in Jharkhand, India. The FRRC uses the advice and referral (A&R) service model developed by the Enviro Legal Defence Firm and the Environment Law and Development Foundation (ELDF) to promote legal awareness and action to secure environmental justice.
  • The tool started as a web-based advice and referral (A&R) cell for a range of actual and potential legal conflicts throughout India. Through the service, ELDF professionals guide the inquirers towards legal solutions in the area of environment and development. The A&R service has now become a platform where skilled legal professionals with expertise and hands-on experience in dealing with legal problems concerning natural resources, provide advice on a variety of issues.
  • To date, the ELDF (both the firm and the foundation) has handled these queries using its own staff, but it has also drawn on a national network of specialists in environmental law as well as technicians, such as toxicologists and hydrologists, who are willing to look at a case or provide technical advice free of charge, at least initially.
  • Individuals or groups contact the A&R service by post, telephone, email, SMS, or in person. Complaints are referred to the appropriate expert. A dedicated, interactive web-based service has also been created to provide a free service (
  • The helpline service team has been extended to three pilot districts in Jharkhand – namely, the districts of Ranchi, Dumka and West Singhbhum. In each district, two or three members from the NGOs or CBOs are supported by at least one lawyer or paralegal trained by ELDF. Requests for support from other districts have led to the FRRC being extended state-wide.
  • The relevance of the FRRC is illustrated by the number of queries (over 100 queries) received both from government departments and from individuals within three months of setting up the centre. It is also vindicated by the increase in the number of rights recognised in the state over the past year.

And a link to Community Land Protection work:

Currently, the FRRC is facilitating 600 individual claims for forest rights in Hazaribagh district and 10 community claims in the Tamar block2 of Ranchi district. It is also facilitating the recognition process of habitat rights of particularly vulnerable tribes such as Pahariya in Dumka district and Birhor in Ranchi district.


  • Costs and lack of resources to keep up with demand
  • Language barriers
  • “lack of professionals in the sector who can understand both the law and the reality on the ground”
  • “getting necessary documentation from the inquirers” to put together the legal evidence required for legal solutions

Enabling Factors

  • Government support
  • Use of multiple technologies including SMS, phone, web, post, word of mouth and in-person meetings and trainings.
  • Collaboration with local partner organizations that understand the reality of the situation
  • Strong outreach and awareness-building programs

Thank you for this useful summary of this very interesting report @marenabrinkhurst.

Thank you for sharing this as very interesting experience working on. I have some queries just for my clarification are given bellow- Is there any technology use for measuring property and land, who did this and how to mobilize them? Any community support engage your outreach program? What is the most effective awareness tool to use this program for mass mobilization?

We are recently working for ensuring access to secure property and land rights for poor and vulnerable people particularly women in Bangladesh. I would appreciating if share your experience that could be a great lesson to me.

Hello @Majibur - thank you for your questions. Unfortunately I am not well placed to answer them, as I was only sharing the report that I found through other networks and I was not involved in the work itself. But perhaps members of Namati’s Environmental Justice program can provide some ideas from their work in terms of outreach programs and awareness tools for mobilization - @krithikadinesh? Also, our partner organization the Community Self Reliance Centre in Nepal organizes very effective mass mobilizations, perhaps @Jagat you have some resources or ideas that you could share?

In terms of technology for measuring property and land, are you looking for mapping techniques and technologies? Namati and our partners are currently experimenting with a number of approaches to mapping and I would be happy to provide some links or suggestions. Could you tell me more about your context and what you are trying to achieve with the measurements?

Hello Marena, thank you very much for your response with a lots of references!

Yes-I am looking for mapping techniques and technologies of land. We are working for developing a business model on land measurement for the poor by grassroots justice providers as micro enterprise. The poor and the marginalized group, especially women are facing the problem including ethnic and religious minorities and differently-abled individuals. Our model under the property rights initiative project is providing support for make them more capable for building by themselves as s social entrepreneurs. And that I asked for more about this from the network.

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@kanchikohli would be the able to answer your questions @Majibur!

Hi Majibur - Namati’s community land protection program is undertaking several pilots to develop and test community-based mapping tools in 2016. We will be sure to share our findings with the network! In the meantime, there are several other organizations out there working on grassroots-based or crowdsourced property rights systems. I don’t know if anyone has developed into a micro-enterprise, or ‘para-surveyors’ as we’ve been talking about them. One that we are in talks with is called Landmapp - they are building a set of tools for farmers, other individuals, and communities to create and manage their spatial data - including the option to share their data with service providers such as agricultural extension organizations.

If you would like suggestions of other organizations and companies working in this area, please let me know - and I would be interested to learn more about your model as it develops!

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Hello @Majibur and apologies for the delay in the response at my end. In India there are several organisations who have used digitised (GPS correlation and google maps) and non-digitised tools (e.g. Participatory Rural Appraisals, Community transects) for several decades. What was earlier used as a tool for village resource mapping, has now been adapted and improvised for both individual and community rights recognition under India’s Forest Rights Act

Let me know if you need specific suggestions on either or one of these tools which you think would be more useful in your work context. Some immediate links are; and

with best wishes Kanchi