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An open letter to James Cameron

The Avatar director is planning to visit Lavasa - a 'private city' in India at the centre of concerns around urbanization and indigenous rights (and which we featured in New Internationalist issue 432). Activist Tarsh Thekaekara wants Cameron to change his mind. Here's why.

24 November 2010

Dear Mr Cameron,

Greetings from the Western Ghats of India!

Your film
Avatar was indeed a revolutionary piece of work. In addition to the powerful and moving visuals, the underlying message – the war being waged today between indigenous people and the rest of the world – was  very relevant. It has been discussed in numerous environmental circles, including the Biodiversity Conservation course I’ve just finished at the University of Oxford (Blogged at http://tinyurl.com/24xw8xl). The idea that the developed world’s greed and ever-expanding consumption of natural resources is threatening both indigenous people and the forests they live in resonated closely with ideas in the global conservation movement, and your work has gone a long way in main-streaming this. Your support for indigenous people around the world has undoubtedly raised the profile of their concerns globally.

Given your commitment to indigenous people’s rights in the face of the indiscriminate global ‘development’ onslaught, we are a bit surprised to hear that you are attending a TED/INK conference hosted in Lavasa City. We hope this is because you may not be aware of the rather serious concerns around this private city (links below).

The Western Ghats of India, is a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot. Like many other global hotspots, they are home to a large number of indigenous people who have been living in the region for centuries without feeling the need to decimate the natural world around them and create ‘beautiful’ and ‘well-planned’ cities like Lavasa. Without even touching on the wider social, political and ecological questions of whether cities should be privately owned and managed or whether we should all be urbanizing, given the large increase in our ecological footprint through urbanisation, the construction of Lavasa city has resulted in the direct displacement of a large number of indigenous people who once called it home.

Lavasa of course, is quick to point out that it was all done legally, but I’m sure you are aware that laws can be bent, especially when prominent politicians and ministers in the government have large personal stakes in the company.

Almost all the reputable print journals in the country as well as a range of international ones have carried stories about the large number of problems around Lavasa city (among others,
The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, The Week, Tehelka, Down to Earth, The Economic and Political Weekly, The New Internationalist, Business Standard, The Sunday Times). The well known social activist Anna Hazare has called it blatant disrespect for the Indian Constitution, and plans to return his prestigious award – the Padmabhushan – to the President of India followed by a ‘hunger satyagraha’ if no action is taken. The central Minister for Environment and Forests has written to the State Government asking for clarifications on the irregularities in granting the project environmental clearance.

The University of Oxford, which was an initial partner to the project, has since withdrawn.

Issues of social and environmental justice are normally beyond the scope of most celebrity and entrepreneur speakers with good ideas, but given your track record and larger concern about the state of this planet we hope you will reconsider your visit to Lavasa.

We look forward to hearing from you, and are also copying this letter to a wider audience we have been in touch with or who would in interested in the issue.


Tarsh Thekaekara
The Shola Trust and the NBR Alliance

Sign the petition here to convince James Cameron not to travel to Lavasa:


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