For the past few months, there has been an immense hue and cry over the draft EIA Notification, 2020.
For the past few months, there has been a public outcry over the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020. Activists, environmental groups, biologists and students have claimed that the notification is “anti-people”, “anti-environment” and “pro-industries”.
Let’s break down what the present draft EIA notification is – and what are its possible repercussions and consequences.
The Curious Case of India’s Draft EIA Notification 2020
1. Origin of EIA and Its Relevance in India
Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a formal legal process which examines, evaluates and predicts the environmental denouement on any developmental programme or project. The concept of EIA has its roots in the US. Espousing neoliberal policies in the 1970s, the country passed environmental laws by bringing in two important systems for environmental decisions – scientific assessment and public participation.
Due to huge public pressure, the EIA process was founded by the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act, 1970. Most of the nations in the world have implemented EIA. On one side, it acts as a key to control the activities of private entities. On the other hand, it is a pre-requisite for grants or loans by international financial institutions.
2. Some Important Provisions in the New Draft EIA, 2020
- The notification defines three categories of projects namely A, B1 and B2 founded on the social and economical impact and geographical extent of these impacts.
- The notification envisages two kinds of approval – prior environment clearance (EC) with the approval of expert committees and environmental permission or provision (EP) without the approval of expert committees.
- Almost 40 different projects such as clay and sand extraction or digging well or foundations of buildings, solar thermal power plants and common effluent treatment plants are exempted from prior EC or prior EP.
- Several projects such as all B2 projects, irrigation, production of halogens, chemical fertilisers, acids manufacturing, biomedical waste treatment facilities, building construction and area development, elevated roads and flyovers, highways or expressways are exempted from public consultation.
3. What’s the Debate About?
Principally, the notification is issued in order to impose limitations and proscription on certain projects or expansion or modernisation of any existing projects.
One of the most important objectives of the Environmental Protection Act is to protect and improve the environment. But the provisions of the new EIA draft are against the objective of its parent act and itself.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the issues that are being hotly debated about the draft EIA notification.
4. Ex Post Facto Clearance of Projects
In March 2017, the Environmental Ministry passed a notification stating that any project functioning without EC can apply for environmental clearances. Now, this scheme is turned into a permanent move through the draft EIA, 2020. Primarily, all the industrial units and projects operating illegally without environmental clearance have an opportunity to turn into legal units under this provision by submitting a remedial plan and by paying the prescribed penalty. But the object behind such a provision till remains vague.
5. Exclusion of Projects From Prior Environmental Clearance
As already stated, forty projects were exempted from getting prior environmental clearance (EC) or environmental permission (EP). Sand deposits removal from agricultural field and community works are done away with prior EP or EC. According to the new draft construction of buildings below 150000 square meters (size of a small airport or stadium) do not require environmental clearance. The Centre for Science and Environment states that the construction boom in India will make the cities unfit to live due to large amount carbon emission, waste generation and water effluents which pollute the environment.
6. Monitoring Mechanism – Post Approval
The draft contains a provision for both cases of violation and non-compliance reported by the project proponent or the government authority. The draft notification did not enable the public to submit such reports of non-compliance and violation. The provision of post facto clearance divulges the fact that the authorities are remiss in monitoring the industrial units as to whether they have EC or whether they comply with the safeguards. It is not possible to identify every illegal industry, but it can be carried out to a certain extent that it will not have a hazardous impact on the environment.
7. Going Against Established Principles
The present draft EIA Notification goes against the concept of polluter pays principle, sustainable environment and precautionary principles established by the court. India is a social welfare state as embodied in the Directive Principles of State Policy. It is quite essential to strike a balance between economic development and environment.