The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of India rolled out a new draft of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, which will replace the existing EIA notification of 2006. The Draft notification received heavy criticisms from environmental activists and citizens who perceive it to be detrimental to the ecology of India.
The EIA is a vital process conducted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change which gauges potential environmental damage and attempts to minimize the impact of industrialization on the environment before construction. Every developmental project is required to go through EIA. The assessment determines whether the project can be carried out as proposed, has to undergo modification or scrapped altogether. Generally, it checks infrastructural projects such as dams, mining projects, railway projects, and the expansion of industries.
MoEFCC’s new draft notification was issued on the assertion of being “more transparent and expedient.” However, Activists argue that the latest provisions in EIA 2020 dilute the guidelines set to safeguard the ecosystem of India. They term the draft as ‘non-transparent, undemocratic, unjust, and unaccountable’. The eased process of obtaining EIA clearance will absolve industries and businesses to comply with environmental standards.
Some of the key factors included in the proposed draft are as follows:
- The projects can receive clearance post-facto, i.e. the draft allows approval after the construction commences without prior EIA clearance. An order by the Supreme Court from April 2011 said, “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.”
- The draft exempts an expanded list of projects from public consultation labeled under “strategic conditions”, which won’t be disclosed under the public domain.
- Additionally, the public consultation process required during a public hearing for any application pursuing environmental clearance is reduced from thirty days to twenty days.
- Inland waterways projects and expansion/widening of national highways are exempted from the draft, along with construction projects of up to 150,000 sq. m.
The new drafts wane the already bleak environmental infrastructure of India. It strategically curtails public participation in decision making and allows extreme adverse environmental changes under the pretext of improving “the ease of doing business” in India. Amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the recent Vizag and Assam gas leak tragedy, locust attacks, and cyclones, the new draft will galvanize severe climatic and ecological change in India.
Many youth unions and Green activists are campaigning #SaveEIA on social media and writing letters to the MoEFCC to express their outrage. The Delhi HC has extended time for filing objections to Draft EIA notification till August 11, from the previous June 30 set by MoEFCC.
“The government still has the time to withdraw, rethink and finalize a stringent law to serve the natural resources of the country, especially post COVID-19 when the world is rethinking conservation,” said environmental activist and founder of Let India Breathe, Yash Marwah regarding the proposed draft.
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