Terming it anti-northeast, Assam groups and parties up ante against draft EIA 2020
The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020, threatens to be the next flashpoint in Assam after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, with several prominent groups and parties opposing it by terming it anti-north-east.
Issued on March 12 by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), if implemented, EIA, 2020, will be applicable across the country and subsume EIA, 2006, with regards to setting up projects or expansion/modernisation of existing projects entailing capacity addition.
The guidelines of EIA are used to study and predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. It is used as a tool to compare various alternatives for a project and tries to identify the one that represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.
The draft EIA notification, 2020, states that it aims to make the process of prior environment clearance “more transparent and expedient through the implementation of an online system, further delegations, rationalisation, standardisation of the process, etc”.
But since the new draft reduces the period set aside for public consultation and allows post-facto clearance of projects, many groups, and parties are sceptical that it is aimed at hurting interests of Assam and the north-east and would harm the region’s fragile ecosystem.
“This proposed law is objectionable primarily because it paves the way for post-facto clearance of projects in eco-sensitive zones and sidesteps inputs by communities likely to be adversely affected by such projects,” said Congress legislator and leader of opposition in Assam assembly Debabrata Saikia in a letter to Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on July 23.
“Private companies concerned can even prepare their own EIA reports by engaging private consultants. This is a travesty of natural justice and a body blow to the rights of indigenous people over their land,” he added seeking scrapping of the draft EIA notification, 2020, in its present form.
Saikia cited EIA, 2020 as “extremely dangerous” for Assam and the north-east in view of the damage, which has already been caused by mining/drilling operations underway or sanctioned in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the region.
“The EIA draft, 2020, legitimises the systemic repression perpetrated by the Central government. It is violative, exploitative, suppresses public involvement, and cripples biodiversity. Its inclusions are unjust, anti-democratic and anti-environment for Assam and the north-east at large,” Samujjal Bhattacharjya, chief adviser of All Assam Students Union (AASU), had tweeted on July 25.
The opposition to EIA, 2020, has some recent context in Assam.
On April 17, the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the MoEFCC had allowed opencast coal mining at Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, a move that caused an uproar in Assam.
In May, the MoEFCC gave environmental clearance for extension drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations by Oil India Limited (OIL) under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) area in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district.
On May 27, a natural gas well of OIL located at Baghjan, adjacent to DSNP, had a blowout and then caught fire on June 9 killing two firefighters and displacing around 2,000 families besides causing ecological damage to the surrounding area.
The gas well blaze is yet to be extinguished.
“The Central government’s intention is to loot the land and resources of Assam and the rest of the north-east. Hence they brought out this draft EIA notification, 2020, which is detrimental to our interests,” Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Manas Konwar had alleged at a press meet in Guwahati on July 25.
“The draft EIA notification, 2020, allows the Centre to set up industry within a 100-kilometre (km) aerial distance from any international boundary without a public hearing. Since almost all states of the north-east, including Assam, are connected to international borders, this draft is directly against the interests of the people from the north-east,” said Partha Protim Bezbaruah, general secretary, Liberal Democratic Party, a regional outfit.
The MoEFCC had published the draft EIA notification, 2020, on March 12 seeking feedback from the public within 60 days.
Later, the Delhi high court had extended the deadline to August 11 owing to the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.