Activists from Bengaluru-based Jhatkaa.org have written a letter to the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, asking him to maintain the status quo on all existing environmental laws and the protectionist policies in place, considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, dated May 6, was also sent to Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and other authorities and further asked that during this period no environment clearances be granted or rejected and no permissions given under the Environment Protection Act. This letter comes amid worries that approval will be given to cut down more than a thousand trees for the construction of Phase 2A of Bengaluru Metro, without taking into view citizensâ€™ opinion.
According to a petition by Jhatkaa.org, while the BBMP said a total of 1026 trees will be removed in the stretch from the Central Silk Board to KR Puram, experts said that nearly 3000 trees could be cut down. The activists said in their letter that during a situation such as the present lockdown, citizens' participation, which is necessary for forming any law in a democracy, will take a backseat. They also said that such actions would force environmentalists to approach courts for remedy and burden the judicial system.
Further in the letter, they mention the lockdown in 2020 during which they allege that approvals were granted, after holding online summary proceedings, for projects that significantly damaged the environment. Amongst them, they said, was the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, which was introduced when the nation was under lockdown. According to the activists, several clauses of the draft EIA would dilute existing environmental laws.
To prevent such a situation again, the letter requested that no public hearings be conducted, even online, for providing approvals, permissions and consent by any committee.
â€śDuring a lockdown and especially this time in the second wave, everyone is facing a personal crisis in one way or the other. Now if the government asks citizens to register their objections, they wouldnâ€™t be able to. The first reason is that they are themselves in a crisis and canâ€™t attend to this and the second thing is that in order to see the impacts one must see the actual place which is affected by the policy, which is impossible during a lockdown,â€ť said Nimisha Agarwal who is a senior campaigner at Jhatkaa.org.
She added, â€śThe other important aspect is that in normal circumstances if there is something we donâ€™t agree on in the policy, at least we will have the option of registering our protest, but currently that is also not possible. So, laws and other proposals might get approved without citizen consultation or consent.â€ť