Environment experts seek to defer draft clearance regulation
In view of the 21-day lockdown being enforced by the government to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus, environmental experts have written to the environment ministry asking it to reissue draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 after the lockdown is lifted and normal activities resume.
The draft EIA notification 2020 was published on the environment ministry’s website on March 12, 2020, just before Covid-19 cases started picking up in India. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a ‘pandemic’ on March 11.
The draft EIA notification has been contentious for a number of reasons. Hindustan Times had reported on March 13 that the draft proposes to bring projects that have violated or will violate the environment clearance process “under the regulations in the interest of environment.” Environmental experts had said that the draft was attempting to regularise large-scale environmental violations.
The draft also proposes to reduce the time period for public to submit their comments during a public hearing from 30 days earlier to 20 days for any application seeking environmental clearance. This can dilute the public hearing process, experts said.
“We are deeply concerned that this draft notification has been put out in the midst of a national health crisis. As you are aware, most of the country is under lockdown and there are severe restrictions on movement in public places…the EIA notification is an important regulation through which the impacts of land use change, water extraction, tree felling, pollution, waste and effluent management for industrial and infrastructure projects are to be studied and used in developmental decision-making.” Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon, legal researchers at Centre for Policy Research wrote in their letter to CK, Mishra, environment secretary on Wednesday.
They also said that the restrictions make it impossible to disseminate information about the notification to communities who deserve to know and comment. “We therefore request the environment ministry to: Immediately, withdraw the proposed amendments of the Draft EIA notification 2020; consider reissuing the draft only after health conditions related to Covid19 and civic life is normalized across the country; ensure that there are wide spread and informed public discussions on the implication of these amendments,” the letter said.
“There has not been any discussion on the draft yet. We have not decided anything,” said Geeta Menon, joint secretary, environment ministry.