Making Amends With The Environment: Why does the EIA draft 2020 threaten sustainability?
The Environment ministry released the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) draft in March 2020, limiting public participation in environmental clearances and bolstering the government’s discretionary power. We take a look at the changes proposed and why these amendments need emends.
Just this May, India witnessed two major industrial oil and gas leaks in Assam and Visakhapatnam. Both the incidents claimed at least 13 lives and left thousands injured or displaced. The toxic gases released into the atmosphere severely affected the biodiversity of the areas, especially in Assam owing to the proximity from the Dibru-Saikhowa National park. Amid the memories of these horrors, is the draft of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change (MoEFCC) which further relaxes the environment clearance rules and gives undue advantages to industries and corporations under “ease of doing business”.
What is EIA?
India issued its first EIA notification in 1994, under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines EIA as a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project at its early stages and design solutions to reduce adverse impacts. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation, avoided treatment/clean-up costs, and impacts of laws and regulations. [1.] However, the current draft of EIA renounces the core principle of starting an assessment before the project has begun. It offers the provision of post-facto clearance.
THE EIA draft 2020…
The projects operating in violation of the Environment Act will be able to apply for clearance. All they need are additional Terms of Reference (ToR) on the assessment of ecological damage, remediation and resource augmentation plans.This is despite a Supreme Court order dated April 1st which held “ex post facto environmental clearances” contrary to law. [3.]
The draft gives the authority to report such environmental violations only to government bodies or the project developer themselves. There is no scope for public complaints. Additionally, the new draft exempts various projects from public consultation. For example, linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing. The ‘border area’ is defined as “area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India.” [2.] This covers the sensitive biodiversity and terrain of the North-East. Even in the case where there is a public consultation, the public will now only be given 20 days to object to a project instead of 30. For communities, to understand an impact report, which might not even be in their native language and submit a written objection, all within 20 days, is a mammoth task.
The new draft also marks a long list of projects as outside the purview of the EIA, including inland waterways and highway expansion plans. If the government deems any project, including national defense and security, to be of “strategic importance” it can grant the project a clearance directly and abstain all information from the public domain. The other point of concern is that construction projects of up to 150,000 sq. m. are excluded from EIA. Transportation of construction materials and actual construction are major air pollutants and according to Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) officials, account for about 30% of air pollution in the capital. [4.] The draft also suggests increasing the time validity of clearance licenses and submission of yearly compliance reports, instead of the usual half-yearly. LG polymers chemical plant, where Vizag gas leak occurred, had no proper expansion clearance. The new draft now legalizes such expansions for existing projects which have prior environment clearance.
What does it mean?
Development activities that don’t take environmental considerations into account are catastrophic to humanity and the ecosystem. Overexploitation of natural resources, endangered wildlife, and devastating untimely natural calamities are all signs of reckless development. Environmental Impact Assessment is a tool to ensure sustainable development and accountability for industrialists. Preserving the environment can ease economic development by saving the large scale costs of dealing with the negative externalities.
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Therefore, we must safeguard the rights of our future generations by raising our voices today. Speak for your right to a cleaner environment.
Actions we can take:
Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign petition: https://bit.ly/3eRT3LL
Read the EIA 2020 draft: http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Draft_EIA_2020.pdf