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An Open Letter To The Environment Ministry On The Draft EIA

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We all care about the development of our nation—be it the progress made in the economic, education, health spheres, or any other sectors. But, whatever is happening around currently, and the rise of all kinds of new diseases certainly points towards the ‘unfair’ treatment of the environment by us.

Dear Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC),

As a concerned citizen of this country, I would like to draw your attention to a few points that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) draft fails to address properly, and perhaps may cause much suffering to the environment and the ecosystem.

The draft, as a whole, cares less about the sustainable development of biodiversities that are prevalent in India. It will allow for the exploitation of natural resources with less scope for proper compensation of the values drawn from forests by the local communities in general and the environment in particular.

Safeguarding the environment is the need of the hour. Representational image.

One of the main factors responsible for the survival of human beings on this earth is the presence of resources provided by nature. The EIA draft, 2020, hits this exact aspect adversely. It puts emphasis on the economic aspect more than the environment.

Safeguarding the environment is the need of the hour.

We, as a rapidly growing economy, have always been continuously looking forward to renewable resources and I feel we try to lead by example in terms of protection of the environment. The current draft, however, contradicts the measures taken in the past to push for a cleaner environment.

Firstly, the new draft of EIA has a provision for post-facto clearance. This means that if a project has come up without giving proper safeguards for the environment and the clearances associated with it, the project can continue its operations under this provision. This will can have disastrous effects on the environment and on the already deteriorating water tables, rain cycles, and climate change affecting the whole world.

Secondly, this draft also talks about strategic projects. The decision-making authority for using the “strategic” tag will solely be the government as per this new draft. The details regarding strategic projects are mostly kept confidential, it may lead to a declaration of some projects as “strategic” by the authorities without having to explain to the public the cause behind it.

Thirdly, this new draft provides an exemption to a big chunk of projects from public consultation. For example, projects such as roads, pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing. But, the inherent problem with this clause is the definition of the border area, which is “100 km aerial distance from the LAC with bordering countries.” This might just put a considerable part of the lush-green northeast open for exploitation, as most of these states share international borders with different countries.

For example, the Manas National Park – a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, a Project Tiger reserve, an elephant reserve and a biosphere reserve in Assam, is situated near the international border with Bhutan. Similarly, the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary and the Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh share border with China and Myanmar respectively. The Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary is no exception since it is also situated near the international borders of Bangladesh. Projects such as roads, pipelines etc. in these regions will not require any public hearing as is evident from the above clause in the draft EIA.

In short, the right to questioning will be totally curtailed in those cases, which is not a very good sign.

फोटो साभार- Flickr
The requirement of submitting compliance report twice a year has also been decreased to just once a year which can only encourage exploitation of resources for an extended period of time. Image source: Flickr

Fourthly, this new draft notification reduces the period of receiving responses on projects from the public to 20 days instead of 30 days. This will put the tribal and local communities of a region in trouble as they put forward their representatives to address their issues in such a short time. However, as of now, Mr Javadekar, the Union Environment Minister, has clarified that the days for the public hearing has not been decreased to 20 days, but the confusion prevails.

Finally, it kills the involvement of the public in raising concerns about the exploitation of nature in a democratic nation like India. This draft says that violations are to be reported only by the government authorities or the developers themselves (which although makes no sense). No scope has been left for the public to raise their voices, which may lead to resources being exploited for self-centric gains by a group of individuals, by paying only a little or no heed towards the importance of the environment.

The requirement of submitting compliance report twice a year has also been decreased to just once a year which can only encourage exploitation of resources for an extended period of time.

There are even more clauses, apart from the ones discussed above that raise concerns about the draft. Thus, a serious revamp in the draft is the need of the hour.

JAINTIA HILLS, INDIA – APRIL 15: 12 year old Abdul Kayum from Assam pauses for a portrait, whilst working at a coal depot carrying coal to be crushed on April 15, 2011 near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

So, is there a way forward for mitigating these obstacles?

The short answer is yes, there is. Rethinking the draft, and with maximum involvement of the public in this matter, will surely help in diminishing the potential adverse effects that may arise in future.

The post-facto clearances that are mentioned in the draft will cause the maximum possible harm to the environment. Bringing back the pre-facto environmental clearances and the general public being more vigilant about environmental assessment reports will only be able to do justice to the dying ecosystem.

There should be multiple stakeholders (and not just the government) for terming any project as ‘strategic’ to ensure that ‘the tag’ is used only for the national good. Also, bringing back public consultation in every project will help in increasing the trust between government and the public.

A window of 30 days for the public hearing was short in itself, and if it is decreased further to 20 days, the common masses will certainly have to bear the maximum brunt. As such, proper care should be taken so as to provide the public with an optimum amount of time to raise their concerns on various issues related to the projects.

People are an important part of a democracy and they should be allowed to play an active part in pointing out the shortcomings of the project initiators as well. Instead of stopping people from raising objections by curtailing their right to speech, the public around the certain region where the project is to be undertaken should also be allowed to assess the work independently that is being done by the developers and their concerns at any point of time should be actively looked upon by the authorities.

While concluding the write-up, I would like to say that India has always followed the principle of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, which means that the whole world is one family. We can’t imagine a world devoid of all the rich biodiversities prevalent in India. Each organism that dwells in this beautiful planet has its own existential importance, and this new draft, if implemented, will have severe repercussions on everything that is found in nature.

Economic development is essential, but the approach of achieving this should be sustainable. The aspect of ‘sustainable development’ seems to be missing entirely in this draft. Each citizen of this beautiful country will surely be delighted if this draft is remedied to put proper emphasis on sustainable development rather than an exploitative one. Thank you.

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