Delhi HC extends time to submit suggestions for draft green policy
Environmental groups have opposed the draft citing its contentious clauses and had called for another extension to the deadline.
The Delhi high court on Tuesday extended the deadline for submission of public comments and objections to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, until August 11. It said the Union environment ministry did not address the court’s query regarding “ambiguity” in its decision in May to extend the deadline till June 30.
“There is not a word (in the affidavit) on the ambiguity. Your reply is silent on the main point. We are, frankly, a little surprised at the obstinacy of the central government. The government is being obdurate in this matter,” it said, referring to the ministry’s reply to the court.
The draft notification was issued in March as part of the process to overhaul environmental regulations for infrastructure projects and the deadline was due to expire on Tuesday.Environmental groups have opposed the draft citing its contentious clauses and had called for another extension to the deadline. The clauses include the one pertaining to the regularisation of projects, which violated the EIA Notification, 2006, by starting construction work before environmental clearance or by expanding capacity. The draft also proposes the shortening of the time for public hearings, which give people affected by a project the opportunity to understand it and give their consent.
The draft was released for comments on March 23 and 60 days were provided to the people to send their comments. The ministry extended the deadline from May 22 to June 30 because of the lockdown imposed in late March to check the Covid-19 spread. R P Gupta, the environment ministry secretary, last week said they do not intend to extend the deadline as they have received 30,000 comments.
A division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan on Tuesday said the first order inviting suggestions and objections to the draft notification was issued on March 23 and uploaded on the ministry’s website on April 11. It 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. The bench sought to know the “urgency” in the matter.
Vikrant Tongad, an environment conservationist, moved the court on Friday, saying the deadline be extended either till September 30 or until the prevailing restrictions because of Covid-19 persist Additional solicitor-general Maninder Kaur Acharya told the court the notification has been in the public domain for 80 days since March. She said the ministry followed all procedures and sent the zero draft of the EIA Notification, 2020, to all the states and Union territories a year in advance.
A detailed order was due to be uploaded on the high court website on Monday.
“We welcome this order from the court. However, considering the overall issue and scope, this is just an interim relief. The draft notification issued by the ministry is anti- environment and considering the Indian environmental crisis, we would want this to be repealed or taken back. Now that the time has been extended, we would go into further details of the notification issued by the Centre and decide our next course of action, “ Tongad said.
HT on Monday reported the ministry has received thousands of requests over the last month for extending the deadline and for the redressal of concerns related to the draft.