Shri Sanjay Upadhyay- Bridging the Gap Between Field and the Courts

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Sanjay Upadhyay’s The Enviro Legal Defence Firm (ELDF), India’s first environmental law firm (ELDF), is a manifestation of a dream, to be different; to achieve; to make a difference. Environment is the canvas, law is the brush. 

Dealing with natural calamities now-a-days have become a challenge for man-kind. though the reason behind frequently happening natural disasters if researched carefully are not actually natural. Reason behind such things are we mankind ourselves. Although we have renewable and non-renewable resources. Yet regaining the lost balance of nature is must. We have been using each and every nature gifted things since long time. Now its time to think over this very seriously is needed utmost. 

While doing any of the project no harm should be done to mother nature is must. Indian judiciary have N number of laws amended on this issue. Here we have such a saviour who thoroughly thought about environment and to provide services to those who got affected by the environmental calamities. Sanjay Upadhyay is such a personality who established a firm for the same. Here we will have a look on how the firm got established and its further journey. 

In this interview with Sanjay Upadhyay, Founder of The Enviro-Legal Defence Firm (ELDF), we shall know more about his journey and personality.  

Kindly tell us about your journey since the inception of the company?

The Enviro-Legal Defence Firm (ELDF) was established in the year 1999 with the aim of creating a professionally managed environmental law firm for the first time in India after my productive stint at WWF-India. Never before had environmental law been institutionalised as a discipline by professionals, based on services and fee. It has been a roller coaster journey to establish India’s first Environmental Law Firm (ELDF) with my Late Partner, Videh Upadhyay. 

ELDF’s journey, like any other start-up, went through its crests and troughs, trying to convince clients that environmental law services are not to be seen only as a pro bono exercise but also have merit in saving environment and helping those who are affected by environmental decisions and those whose compliance standards have to be improved with specialist inputs. ELDF therefore embarked upon different approaches to the field of environment and development law as we gained experience. 

The initial phase was more advisory and consultancy services which also included training and capacity building of a variety of stakeholders and professionals. It also resulted in numerous publications, field visits to understand ground contexts and a variety of policy interventions in the field of forests, environment, wildlife, biodiversity, coastal management to name a few. This approach was also punctuated with legal interventions in courtrooms, appellate authorities and constitutional courts. 

The litigation phase increased exponentially with the establishment of the National Green Tribunal where we continue to represent all those who are affected from every perspective.  I’m happy to inform that the journey continues and ELDF has managed to create a niche for itself as a domain leader and has been fortunate to intervene in a number of policy and legislative processes in the domain of expertise be it wildlife, forest, biodiversity, medicinal plants, coastal laws, to name a few. The journey of ELDF continues with a group of dedicated professionals and a strong presence around the country as well as in the region. 

Brief us about the major challenges your company has faced.

One of the earliest challenges the ELDF faced was how to build credibility in a field and an institution that never existed before. While there were stalwarts as individuals fighting for environment such as Mr. M.C. Mehta at the Apex Court, however, there was no institutional underpinning to such exclusive efforts. It was clear to me that if environment and development related litigation has to sustain itself, an institutional underpinning is a must. This gave birth to India’s first environmental law firm, the Enviro Legal Defence Firm. 

The second major challenge was to convince people who approached that they are clients and they need to pay fees for the services rendered. This was a challenge because environmental lawyering was largely seen as a pro bono exercise and not as a professional discipline those days. It continues to be seen as a side profession where lawyers have to lessen the burden of guilt of money making to do certain pro publico work. However, it is important to underline that this is a serious business and complying with environmental norms actually makes good business sense too. 

What are the major contributing factors behind your company’s success?

Any professional agency must run on established processes and therefore ELDF too has a detailed process driven approach. Updation with new developments, ground level understanding and constant networking with decision makers are essential ingredients for success. Honesty of approach, rigor and most importantly, believing in your team are the reasons why we have attained the little that we have. 

How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead?

I see the enviro legal discipline as a game changer in the future. The reason being that environment cuts across every aspect of development and therefore, the knowledge of environment and development law will be in huge demand till the country is growing with the pace that it has achieved. As long as there is development, the sustainability of environment will always be in demand.

One of the key things of sustainability is to see the applicability of law itself which ensures sustainable development. Therefore, professionals in this field will be in huge demand for the next several decades. Anyone who is interested in seeing cutting edge work at the cross section of field and law, this is the field to be in.

What would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs? 

My advice to budding legal entrepreneurs is to see the potential of niche areas and key areas of the country’s development. Environmental law is only one of them. It is therefore my humble advice that the initial phase of entrepreneurship has to be goal driven and not necessarily money driven. For every successful model, money has no option but to follow. This is true for legal entrepreneurship as well. 

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