Around 4K objections against draft EIA rules filed from Maharashtra
Alleging that the Centre was diluting environment protection laws to allow construction in ecologically important areas, citizens and environment groups have filed 3,971 objections against the draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2020 proposed by the Union environment ministry.
On March 12, the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) presented the new rules that will replace the 2006 EIA notification, which is presently in force, in their attempt to make the existing norms ‘more transparent and expedient’ in issuing environment clearances for development projects.
The government defended the changes saying the idea is to introduce procedures to bring violations, for example work done without prior environment clearance leading to ecological damage, under regulations at the earliest in the interest of environment safety. “EIA 2020 has been envisaged to uncover all loopholes that were left unchecked in previous norms, and ensure a complete balance between development and conservation,” said a senior MoEFCC official.
The draft was published as an official gazette on March 23, a day before the nationwide lockdown. It has allowed suggestions and objections to be filed within a period of 60 days which ends on May 21. However, the ministry on Thursday announced an extension of the deadline till June 30.
Environmental collective Let India Breathe, which is campaigning against the changes in law, said the lockdown has restricted their dissent. “We hope to democratise it (the notification) through our objections,” said Yash Marwah, a member of the collective. “The state’s failure to hold the notification for a little longer makes us wonder whether there is a larger picture we are missing.”
Environmental groups say the new rules are a watered down version of the 2006 norms, but with provisions to protect industries rather than the environment as it does away with public consultations before granting clearances.
Projects like highway expansions have been exempted from getting prior clearance, said members from Jhatkaa.org, a Bengaluru-based advocacy organisation. “This is being done even though there is clear evidence of the threat of fragmentation of wildlife habitats and the emergence of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19,” said Meghna Amin, a campaigner the organisation, and called for the notification to be scrapped in its entirety.
“From excluding new industries from the list which requires environmental clearance, to reducing number of public consultations, the draft norms mainly look to serve the business community. Fewer public consultations mean a lesser chance for local, vulnerable communities to voice their opinions.”
Environment groups say the new rules exclude industries such as electronic waste management, large-scale renewable energy projects, and geo-engineering technologies from its purview. Projects that promote continued fossil fuel dependence, such as coalbed methane extraction, onshore or offshore oil and gas drilling etc., are exempted in the draft rules.
“This notification runs totally opposite to the solid environmental jurisprudence developed by courts in this country,” said Zaman Ali, an environment lawyer. “Going against an order by the Supreme Court, the draft norms allow post-facto environment clearance (approval after a project has begun) wherein violators can pay and have their violations condoned. This does not create deterrence. ‘Polluter pays’ changes to ‘pollute and pay’.”
Ali explained how, according to the draft rules, projects, including those proposed by polluting industries such as operations for soda ash, chemical fertilisers, ammonia, acids, pesticides, fiber, petroleum and petrochemical products, dyes, synthetics, paints, are exempted from public consultation if the factories are located inside a ‘notified industrial estate’. “All building and construction projects are now off the peril of public consultation too,” he said.
Mumbai-based environment group Vanashakti, which raised objections to the changes, highlighted that if the draft is finalised it will cause permanent damage to the landscape. The group has raised concerns about relaxation in rules about land levelling, land acquisition, mining and transportation of materials. “The need of the hour, considering climate change, water crisis, outbreaks of zoonotic virus pandemics, is to strengthen the existing legislation; not dilute it further,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti. “What’s worse is that due to the prevailing lockdown most of the country is at standstill and residents are not be able to file their objections on time.”
The MoEFCC official said all objections will be considered by a panel constituted specifically to assess issues raised by citizens. “We have received some letters. We will study them after the final deadline,” he said.
HOW TO SEND YOUR RESPONSES
Objections or suggestions on the draft notification can be sent in writing to the secretary, MoEFCC, Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road, Aliganj, New Delhi 110003, or by e-mail to email@example.com