Environmental activists and experts across the country are up in arms against the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification 2020. The union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) unveiled the draft to the public in March 2020 seeking to replace the 2006-version of the law. The voices against the draft are getting stronger by the day, expressing opposition to various exemptions proposed in it, which would defeat the purpose of having an EIA altogether.
On June 30, the Delhi High Court extended the deadline for the public at large to express their comments on the draft EIA 2020. The new deadline was set on August 11. The High court had also ordered the MoEFFC to translate the draft into 22 official languages since it is a law that has the potential to impact a large section of the society and publish it within 10 days from the date of the order. Though this part of the order has not been followed, Conservation India, a non-profit working on nature and wildlife conservation domain has translated the draft document in nine Indian languages apart from English and Hindi.
Here is why the opposition to the draft EIA 2020 is growing stronger across the country:
Ex post-facto environmental clearance
The draft EIA 2020 provides for a post-facto environmental clearance for several large-scale projects, including industrial projects, which have the potential to cause severe damage to the environment. For example, all inland waterways projects and national highways expansion projects are exempted from obtaining environmental clearance before the work on the projects begin. Instead, the developers can choose to obtain a clearance after the project is initiated, or in other words- a post-facto environmental clearance.
Earlier in 2020, the Supreme court had expressed its disapproval for the practice of providing environmental clearance to industrial projects on a post-facto basis. It had stated that allowing it would be detrimental to the environment and would lead to irreparable degradation of the environment.
âAllowing for an ex post facto clearance would essentially condone the operation of industrial activities without the grant of an Environmental Clearance (EC). In the absence of an EC, there would be no conditions that would safeguard the environment...In either view of the matter, environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance. This would be contrary to both the precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development,â the order stated.
Hence the opportunity for big industrial projects to seek EC after initiating the project is in direct contradiction to the stance of the apex court.
Weakening of public consultation process
Getting the opinions and concerns of the members of local communities and stakeholders, who would be adversely impacted due to the project is an important part of getting an EC for the project.
The EIA 2020 draft seeks to weaken this process. It makes obtaining EC easier for a range of projects including modernisation of irrigation projects, inland waterways, expansion of national highways, most building construction and area development projects, projects marked as âstrategic considerationsâ by the central government etc. In fact, projects marked as âstrategicâ shall be exempt from the entire process of public consultation under the EIA 2020 draft.
The new draft also suggests reducing the number of days within which the members of the public can submit their concerns and comments on a project from 30 days to 20 days.
Reporting of violations
Another bone of contention between the EIA 2020 draft and the environmental warriors is that the violations of environmental laws by any project can be reported only by a government authority or the developer of the project.
This means that the members of the general public or environmental activists and researchers cannot flag a project for violating the norms. The onus is on the violators themselves to self-report to the government about their breaking of the law.
As seen in the past, it is mainly local communities that complain and raise valid objections to projects in their vicinity. The new law attempts to strip these rights away.