With the recent, draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which is believed not be very different from earlier notification and read with all its amendments added to this there are some incremental changes like exemptions for a few more sectors, it is also said that procedures made lenient for a few more, some more penal provisions pulling few more steps beyond 2006 draft.
India has legislated an act for environmental protection in 1986 enacted laws to control water (1974) and air (1981) pollution soon after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 under a signatory to the Stockholm declaration (1972) on the environment. Under this Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, India notified its first EIA norms in 1994, setting in place a legal framework for regulating activities that access, utilize, and affect (pollute) natural resources. From then every development project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since. The 1994 EIA notification was replaced with a modified draft in 2006. Earlier this year, the government redrafted it again to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders issued since 2006, and to make the EIA “process more transparent and expedient.”
Environmental approvals vs. Development
There are no environmental approvals that can boost the economy or development and it is just false propaganda by the past governments by disgracing the environmental clearances and approval procedures as a hurdle, hindrance. In fact, a sustainable economy can only be achieved by the proper management of natural resources. The Ministry is being criticized as it has made the frequency of approvals and ease of securing investments as its target objective based on this irrationality and for reproducing this false narrative of environment vs. development. It should be understood that India is currently the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. Since the EIA 2020 notification drafted, swarms of locusts have invaded the Indian subcontinent beginning April 2020. Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Nisarga caused widespread destruction in Eastern India and Maharashtra, respectively. All three events are a consequence of extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. India has already lost a third of its coastline, a third of its grasslands and is losing wetlands at the rate of 2-3% per year, thereby weakening our natural defenses to climate-borne disasters, this process of EIA is democratic and should be considered sacred and strengthened more than what it is now.
Post facto approval from the lens of The Doctrine of “sustainability” and rue of law
Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental law and violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is a principle of environmental sustainability. Keeping in mind the diversity and dynamics of achieving economic growth actually need very careful economic planning at various levels. And growth does not have to come at the cost of the country’s people. So far we have seen no sign of such careful thought for the economy from this government.
The political dynamics of draft EIA, 2020 beyond The Doctrine of “ease of doing business”
As many environmentalists and experts criticize the draft as undemocratic evasion of environmental responsibility which will be further diluting the EIA process, on the other side liberals pursue it as Union government’s narrative to boost the economy during COVID’s crisis. In fact, India’s economical order is altered and gone downhill much before SARSCoV2 but it is evident with the practical global economy crash with the COVID lockdowns. Though the language in the draft is old, everything around the world has changed. Union Government says that it is intended to attract new investments with the Doctrine of “ease of doing business” which will not only establish the country’s economy right but will reach a 5 trillion economy by 2024. Hence it is said that draft EIA 2020 has been notified at a time when there is a massive economic slowdown due to COVID-19. Understanding the political ecology of the country, it very much clear that the government is making its moves to build its strength for the 2024 elections at the cost of the environment including the future generations of this country.