Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statements on Sunday have raked up many concerns surrounding the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification. “The EIA 2020 draft is a disaster. It seeks to silence the voice of communities who will be directly impacted by the environmental degradation it unleashes. Not only does it have the potential to reverse many of the hard-fought gains that have been won over the years in the battle to protect our environment, it could potentially unleash widespread environmental destruction and mayhem across India,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi merely echoed what activists, environmental groups, biologists and students have been saying for a few months for now. They claim that the notification is “anti-people”, “anti-environment” and “pro-industries”.
But what is so controversial about the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) that seeks to replace the current notification that goes back to 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986?
What is EIA?
An EIA is an important process for evaluating the likely environmental impact of a proposed project. It makes a scientific estimate of the likely impacts of a project, such as a mine, irrigation dam, industrial unit or waste treatment plant. It is a process whereby people’s views are taken into consideration for granting final approval to any developmental project or activity. It is basically, a decision-making tool to decide whether the project should be approved or not.
The draft notification is issued under the powers vested in the central government under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to take all such measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment.
According to the government, the new notification is being brought in order to make the process more transparent and expedient by the implementation of an online system, further delegation, rationalisation and standardisation of the process. However, the environmentalist said that the draft will further dilute the EIA process.
What’s controversial about EIA 2020?
The new draft has been proposed with the aim of making processes more transparent and expedient. But in effect, the draft proposes the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.
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.
One of the main causes of concern is that the draft has exempted almost 40 different projects such as clay and sand extraction or digging wells 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.