This year, in March, a new draft of the EIA has been proposed by the Union Government. It constitutes some complicated and argumentative changes in the rules.
What was the need to bring out this notification in the midst of the pandemic?
How are people going to take part in public consultation during this lockdown?
How will they protest if they want changes in it?
Is the government trying to lay the blame on this pandemic for their decisions?
What is EIA?
On 27th January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, proclaimed an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernization of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification to replace the current one, which dates back to 2006. The EIA process is extremely important because it is the only process which is supposed to prioritize Environment safety over Economic benefits. A prior, free and informed consent of people is welcomed in it; people can ask questions about the need of the process. In this process, the project can be rejected on precautionary grounds. The values that are fundamental to the EIA process are sustainability, equity, environmental justice, accountability, transparency; it is these values that make the EIA meaningful.
But the new draft of 2020 is considered to change some of these basic values of EIA and some of the provisions are:
Projects can receive clearance post-facto; a project operating in violation of the EPA can now apply for clearance.
The draft says that no information on such projects shall be placed in the public domain. This list also includes all inland waterways projects.
Violations on any project can only be reported by any government representative or the project proponent, not citizens.
Now, the EIC members typically are bureaucrats, project proponents from previous projects who do not have any environmental credential.
Priorly the EIA report does not go directly to the decision-maker, that report is to be shared with the public. A person who may be directly affected by the report or anyone interested in knowing about its impact can participate in the public hearing. But now the Public Consultation may be cancelled owing to the local situation, i.e; if the people are protesting against a project that itself can be used to cancel Public hearing. Isn’t it a violation of our rights?
Once the EC is granted it will be included for the lifetime in the project without any review. EC cannot be revoked even in case it violates EIA.
The time allotted for public hearings has been reduced to speed up clearance process, this makes it difficult for people living in rural and tribal areas who are most often directly influenced by these projects. Today we have 30days notice period which is itself insufficient, now it’s been said to be reduced to 20days. The only motive behind this is that people will not be able to participate.
Earlier buildings of 20,000sq.m or above required an environment clearance after detailed scrutiny by the state-level expert committee. Now, in this draft, it has been proposed to make it 150,000 sq.m, more than 7times if you count.
The 2020 EIA draft seems to be leaning in favour of the industries and does not take care of the environment. This is important amidst the climate crisis and the pandemic. In the last 6 years, MoEFCC has given environment clearance to 2,256 of the 2,592 received proposals. At least 49 industrial projects have been approved since the lockdown began. Some of the projects which are in question are:
• Dibang Valley Hydropower Project, Arunachal Pradesh
A 3,097 MW project is being developed by Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited which comprehends the felling of 2.7 lakhs trees in the subtropical rain forests.
• Coal Mining Project in Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, Assam
The government is discussing a proposal to divert 98.59 hectares of the reserve forest in Assam for a coal-mining project. This Reserve is home to a vibrant habitat including Asian elephants, Royal Bengal tigers, Leopard, and crab-eating mongoose.
• Oil Drilling in Baghjan, Assam
In 2016, Oil India Limited decided to extend its drilling and bypassed the public hearings clause. On May 27, 2020, an oil well in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district experienced a blowout which led to a fire.
• Talabira coal mines, Odisha
The forest area has been cleared in Odisha for an opencast coal mining project. Parts of the forest have been protected over decades by the local community are now gone forever.
• Gas leakage in LG Polymers, Vishakhapatnam
In May, there was a gas leak in this company and this project didn’t have all the clearances as the company admitted this subsequently.
• A dyke at a Reliance power plant in Madhya Pradesh broke, spilling ashes over hundreds of acres of cropland, polluting the river and killing many people.
Recently the state government of Goa was caught for being engaged in fraudulence. It submitted a false report to obtain clearance for an airport near the ecologically sensitive Mopa plateau which will not only affect the vegetations or animals but also plunder the livelihood of hundreds of farmers. Even after this, no one was blamed for it. On the other hand, the EAC of MoEFCC revisited the project and issued a clearance.