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Proposed EIA Is Bad, But So Is The Current EIA: Here’s Why!

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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.

फोटो साभार- Flickr
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.

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.

Kerala Floods
Had government given sincere attention to Gadgil committee reports, disastrous Kerala Floods would have been avoided. Image Credit: Getty Images

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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