The Delhi High Court has extended till August 11 the deadline for public feedback on the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, set to replace EIA Notification of 2006 in order to make the process more transparent and expedited. However, it doesn’t seem to go well with the environmentalists as the new norms in the draft contain some catastrophic provisions which are likely to affect the environment to a large extent.
1. The most controversial aspect of this amendment is clause 22 which allows project owners to pay compensation in cases where they pollute the environment. All they have to do is to pay some fines and penalties.
2. Under Clause 26 of the 2020 notification, 40 different types of industries would be automatically exempted from the need for a prior EIA. This involves transferring certain types of projects from category A to category B2, which doesn’t require environmental clearance.
3. It also proposes to reduce the time-frame for conducting public hearing to 20 days, from the current 30 days under EIA 2006. Also, projects involving strategic interests will be free from public consultations requirements.
4.The draft EIA notification halves the frequency of reporting requirements from every six months to once a year and extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors, such as mining.
It is clear that the proposed norms significantly dilute the existing mechanism. However, unlike most, there is nothing in this draft which irks me. I am almost unaffected. Let me tell you why.
If you think our existing EIA process is strong, you are terribly wrong. If you think EIA has played a great role in protecting our environment, you are in a state of ignorance. If you think it is well-implemented, then god bless you.
You must have been attended college, or school at least. How did you get your character certificate? By getting signatures of few authorities on a paper, right? It would sound weird if school or college authority actually judge the character of students by conducting some lie detector test! Even the most notorious student gets character certificate eventually.
A typical EIA process consists of various stages, namely Screening, Preliminary Assessment, Scoping, Collection of baseline data, Impact prediction, Mitigation measures and EIA report, Public Hearing, Decision making, Monitoring and Risk assessment. It seems comprehensive but, in reality, every stage has its own flaw.
Screening basically decides whether a project requires EIA or not. There are, however, a number of methods which help developers bypass this phase. Currently, industries that are investing below ₹100 crore need not see EIA clearance. Now, there is no proof that environmental impacts are always inconsequential for projects under a given value. I fail to understand how both the things are related. If you understand, please let me also know.
We have already seen how screening phase is bypassed by putting specific projects in B2 category (from category A) citing strategic considerations.
Then, scoping, identification, data collection, impact prediction is done by an EIA team commissioned by the developer. Basically, Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) is constituted under the EIA.
Let’s dig deeper. The Expert Appraisal Committees are constituted by the environment ministry, headed by the environment minister. Now, development projects of investment value more than ₹100 crore should ideally belong to the government in some way or the other, right? It is the government, central or state, which is planning hydropower, highways, inland waterways and highway projects.
This seems funny to me. If you are asked to check your own examination copies, will you fail yourself, given that you have written lyrics of some romantic songs in between your answer?
The first mistake from our side is to expect an accurate, authentic, comprehensive, and honest report from EAC. Athirapally Hydro Electric Project on Chalakudy River in Kerala was approved by the concerned EAC. However, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by Madhav Gadgil had objected to the same project. Had government given sincere attention to Gadgil committee reports, disastrous Kerala Floods would have been avoided.
The task of EIA associated with Ken-Betwa River linking project was given to Agriculture Finance Corporation of India. First of all, it is ridiculous to assign such an important task to a body which is incompetent to deal with it. It was brutally criticized for unscientific, incomplete, inadequate, biased, self-contradictory, callous report which accepted government claims uncritically.
These reports are usually incomplete and are provided with false data. They ignore several aspects while carrying out assessment, and significant information is found to be overlooked.
The EIA is funded by an agency whose primary interest is to procure clearance for the proposed project. You can imagine how biased it will be.
As far as public hearing and consultation is concerned, it is of no use. They are consulted when most of the work is already done. Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a later stage. The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of the native people. The most affected people have the least say.
Supreme Court described NHRC as a ‘toothless tiger’. I think EIA has dentures and now even those false teeth are going to be removed soon. I don’t think any amount of resistance or opposition will change anything because the government is ‘determined’. When the government is ‘determined’, it clears Aadhar Bill by putting it on table as Money Bill, bypassing a deliberative process. In short, it becomes all-powerful. Might is right.
Development versus Environment debate is not new. It has been there for a long time and will persist, till the time priorities are not defined. Choosing development over environment is not a crime but you must stop showing crocodile tears when a natural calamity occurs and devastates everything.