Centre gets 1.7 million suggestions on draft EIA
The Union environment ministry received around 1.7 million letters and emails with suggestions, comments, and objections to the controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, till the Tuesday deadline for feedback, officials aware of the matter said. The EIA division of the ministry will study the issues raised and come out with a final notification, they added on condition of anonymity.
The draft was released on March 23 as part of the process to overhaul environmental regulations for infrastructure projects. Environmental groups have opposed it citing its contentious clauses including one that allows regularisation of projects set up in violation of EIA Notification, 2006, by starting construction before receiving environmental clearance . The draft also proposes a shortening of the time for public hearings, which offer people affected by projects the opportunity to understand and approve them.
People were provided 60 days on March 23 to send their comments to the draft. The ministry later extended the deadline from May 22 to June 30 because of the lockdown imposed to check the spread of Covid-19 . The Delhi high court on June 30 extended the deadline further until August 11 (Tuesday), saying the ministry did not address the court’s query regarding “ambiguity” in its decision in May to extend the deadline. It said the first order inviting suggestions and objections to the draft was issued on March 23 and uploaded on the ministry’s website on April 11. The court added it was hence erroneous on the Centre’s part to issue another notification on May 8 amid the Covid-19 pandemic to extend the deadline till June 30 even when the statutory 60 days had not lapsed.
Vikrant Tongad, an environment conservationist, moved the court saying the deadline be extended either till September 30 or until the restrictions remained in place in view of the pandemic.
Environment secretary R P Gupta on Tuesday said it will take the ministry some time to consider the issues raised in the comments and suggestions. “Letters have gone to the [Union environment] minister [Prakash Javadekar], many have come to me and to other officials. Many are repetitive.”
The ministry has also held meetings with several consultants, industry bodies, and companies whose comments are also being considered separately.
Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher with New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said the ministry on March 18 amended the Environment Protection Rules Clause 5 (3), which gives it 725 days to finalise the draft notification from the date it was first issued. “In 2006, this was 365 days and was amended to 545 in 2017. Given the number of reactions the ministry has received and the demand for a more democratic process, it will be important for the ministry to reconsider the issuance of a final notification based on this draft. The comments can be used to set up a revised process that can be built on the comments received and reach out to places where the news of the current amendments are yet to reach.”
A group of 100 environmental groups and individuals said they have over the last week sent emails to 785 members of Parliament over the matter, calling upon them to take a stand against “the anti-environment and anti-people “draft and demand its immediate withdrawal. In a statement on Tuesday, the group said that as elected political representatives, the MPs are duty-bound to protect the interests of the people and the nation and its resources, which “this draft legislation is bound to adversely impact”. “We have called upon the ministers to write to the [Union environment ministry]...to demand withdrawal of the Draft EIA Notification 2020 and demand instead that strong environmental governance is put in place in consultation with the people, for protecting the ecology and natural resources...”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said the draft is “not only disgraceful” but “ also dangerous”. “Not only does it have the potential to reverse many of the hard-fought gains that have been won over the years in the battle to protect our environment, it could potentially unleash widespread environmental destruction and mayhem across India.”
#IndiaNotForSale and #LootoftheNation have trended on Twitter as people took to the social media platform to draw attention to concerns with the draft and to demand its withdrawal.
Environment minister Javadekar has called the campaign against the draft premature. “Campaigning against a draft, which is not a final notification yet, is unnecessary and premature.”