A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Thursday allowed the Environment Ministry to withdraw an appeal against Delhi High Court judgement that asked the government to ensure that the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020 is published in all the 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution within 10 days from June 30.
The court suggested that the Centre consider an amendment to the Official Languages Rules, which says that official publication should only be in English and Hindi, and allow for publication in regional languages, reported Live Law.
CJI Bobde said, â€śImpugned order (of the Delhi High Court) is in the correct spirit since, in many rural areas, people may not be conversant with Hindi and English.â€ť
The Supreme Court also stayed contempt proceedings against the Centre for alleged "willful disobedience" of the judicial order to ensure that the draft is published in local languages within 10 days from June 30. The Delhi High Court had asked the Centre on Tuesday to reply to a plea seeking contempt action against it for alleged "wilful disobedience" of the judicial order on the notification.
"Accordingly, the special leave petition is dismissed as withdrawn with the aforesaid liberty. Needless to state that in case the petitioner fails before the High Court, it is permitted to approach this Court once again challenging the main order as well as the order passed in the review petition. The contempt petition shall remain stayed till the disposal of the review petition," the SC bench said.
Earlier, the Karnataka High Court had restrained the Centre from publishing the final notification of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 till the next hearing, which is on September 7. The environment ministryâ€™s deadline for public feedback on the draft EIA 2020 notification ended on 11 August. The order was passed by a bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi based on a plea filed by United Conservation Movement, preventing the government from finalising the draft EIA 2020 unless wide publicity was given to it in local languages.
The draft has invited a lot of criticism from the environmentalists and people from different sections of the society as it will change or curtail the process of environment clearance that is required for the building of projects like dams, ports, airports, highways, mining, thermal power plants, etc. Even though the Centre had put the draft to invite views from everyone, the draft was translated in three languages, barring people from other sections to understand the draft and what repercussions it can have in the future to the environment and the people of the country.
The draft is in favour of the setting up of businesses without following a valid procedure. Environmentalists and activists have opposed the reduction of the period of public hearing from 30 days to 20 days. The draft also goes against the National Green Tribunalâ€™s denial of post-facto (projects executed without prior clearance) approvals, they say. The project proponents need to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions, previously they had to submit one report in 6 months. The draft also excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance, activists add.
Defending the draft, Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had said, â€śWe have received thousands of suggestions which we welcome. We will consider those suggestions. Then take a call and come out with the final draft. So people jumping just on the draft is not a fair practice. Those who want to now protest took many of the big decisions without consultations during their regime. It is unnecessary and premature.â€ť
Over the past few months, social media platforms have also been abuzz with discussions and criticism as environmentalists and activists have expressed their disagreements and opposition to the draft.