Students from across India, including from Azim Premji University and Jain University in Bengaluru, have collectively written to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to demand that the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification be withdrawn. The draft makes changes to the existing EIA notification passed in 1994.
The petition was started by Anjali Dalmia, a student from Haryana’s Ashoka University. The students also plan to send their objections to the government by June 30, the last date for filing objections.
Taanika, a student from Bengaluru who has been coordinating the effort in Karnataka, talked to TNM about the students’ objections.
“This law makes it much easier for industries get clearances from the government. In recent years, we have observed the effects of weak environmental policy. Recently, civil society groups succeeded in getting a stay on the Hubballi-Ankola railway line, which would have significantly damaged the Western Ghats. The government has also eased the restrictions on Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) recently, putting the natural hotspot at risk. Over the years, we’ve seen multiple protests in Bengaluru against the Elevated Corridor, Steel Flyover, as well as against encroachments into our beloved Cubbon Park and more. Once again, we students will stand up for the environment,” she said.
The central government’s new draft EIA notification proposes a new set of environmental clearance policies that would make it easier for industries to set up new projects. Some of the problems that have been underlined by those opposing the new draft policy is the removal of the concept of “public hearing”, a consultation with the local community who could be impacted by the new project, thus taking away the voice of the local people.
Besides this, the draft policy also allows various harmful chemical industries, such as paint and pharma companies, to commence operations and seek environmental clearance after they have already begun operation, defeating the very purpose of having an environmental law.
Besides objections to the policy itself, students have taken issue with the timing of the government’s notification, coming as it did amidst a pandemic.
In the letter, the students said, “The Environment Ministry put out the draft EIA notification, 2020 on March 12, 2020 and sought comments from the public within 60 days. It is appalling that the Ministry put out a draft notification in the midst of a global, economic and public health emergency. Even the new deadline makes no difference. This makes us deeply concerned about your priorities. When this notification was released, the US, Europe and India were already looking at an alarming situation due to the combined effects of an economic slowdown and a massive burden on the public system. Soon after, most countries including ours went into a lockdown which imposed severe restrictions on the movement of people in public places.”
The students argue that since people were asked to file objections to the policy during a pandemic, many will not be able to do so as organisations have been busy arranging food and transport for those stranded, and have not been holding meetings to discuss government policy.
“Now you propose to make regressive changes to the EIA notification at a time when we simply cannot respond to your call for public comments. Even the new deadline of June 30 is unfair. Is this democratic? Is this fair? Is it even humane to make us more anxious about our environmental futures when we are struggling to cope with this coronavirus, the lockdown and the suffering of millions of our people?” the letter read.