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Environment Ministry’s New Plan: Pay The Fine And Keep Polluting

Posted on July 6, 2016 in Environment

By Tania Devaiah:

I nearly choked on my coffee when I learned what the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is proposing now! They want to allow companies who have illegally begun a project, without environmental clearances, to continue with their work after paying a fine.

The MoEFCC on May 10, 2016 released a brand new draft notification for public consultation. The notification seeks to change the very nature of the Environmental Impact Assessment process. This draft notification is open to public comments till July 9.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool that has been in place in India since 1994. It’s the primary tool that helps us take environmentally sound decisions and allows for public consultation. The EIA is meant to protect our natural resources from unnecessary damage. But the MoEFCC is now pushing for this proposal that will allow for our environment to be harmed in exchange for money from rich corporations.

Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli, environmental researchers with the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environment Justice Programme explain that the new proposal aims to introduce the Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) to this process, thus making it easier for violators to continue their projects. The National Green Tribunal has already quashed two similar office memoranda from the MoEFCC stating that it would “provide benefits to the class of the project or activity owners who have started construction in violation of law, i.e. prior environment clearance.”

Environmental lawyers like Mr. Ritwick Dutta agree that this proposal would put our environment at massive risk besides violating the ‘Polluter Pay Principle’ and the ‘Precautionary Principle’ – both of which form the edifice of environmental law. Mr. Dutta says, “The draft notification is intended to encourage violations and ensure certainty with respect to grant of environmental clearance irrespective of its environmental consequences.”

Even though the Supreme Court too has held that such a regime cannot be put in place, this proposal basically sets up a system for violators to ‘Pay and Pollute’. This shows that what the MoEFCC is proposing is contrary to the essence of Rule of Law.

Over the last few years we have witnessed our forests and rivers withering away. It is imperative that we maintain our legal framework that, for the moment, allows us to put some checks and balances in place.

This proposal by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is open for public comments till July 9. We urgently need to tell the MoEFCC that we want them to implement the law and protect our environment – not find ways to allow corporations to continue violating our laws with impunity. Over 1400 Jhatkaa members have already sent in their comments.

At Jhatkaa, we have participated in such consultations before and have seen it work. In December 2015, Jhatkaa members submitted comments in support of the Ministry of Road Transport’s effort to implement stricter emission norms, against the wishes of the automobile industry. And the Ministry did just that!

If thousands of us send in our comments now, the MoEFCC will know that we do not want this proposal to be implemented. We can play an important role in preventing further dilution of the Environment Impact Assessment process.

Let’s ensure the MoEFCC hears us loud and clear – our forests aren’t up for sale.

Will you join us by sending your comment asking the MoEFCC to withdraw this proposal immediately? Just click here and you will be directed to the response that we have crafted based on expert opinions.

Featured image source: Mail Today/India Today Group/Getty Images