Petition against EIA Draft Notification 2020

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EIA stands for Environmental Impact Assessment. As the name suggests, it is an assessment of the environmental consequences of a plan, policy, program or actual projects prior to the decision to move forward with a proposal or action. It takes into account the impacts of land usage, water extraction, tree felling, pollution, waste and effluent management for industrial and infra projects to be used in developmental decision making. Any change in the law has a direct bearing on the living and working conditions and the ecology.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA 1986) made Environment Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion of any activity or setting up new projects. 2006 notification of EIA Legislation made EC mandatory for projects such as mining, infrastructure, thermal power plants etc. However, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) through its EIA Draft Notification 2020 (uploaded on the environment ministry’s website on 12/3/2020 seeking public comments within 60 days of the issuance of the notification) seeks to advance towards favoring the industry and disregarding the idea of sustainable development by creating an opportunity for post-facto approvals.

This means projects or industrial units that previously had no EC or were continuing to function without lawfully abiding to one, now have a loophole.  It gives industrial projects that have violated environment rules the right to seek approval as long as they are permissible in the area. The notification rules out public consultation, thus neglecting concerns of local affected persons and stakeholders in projects such as building, construction, expansion of National Highways, national defense, off-shore projects etc. 

It also grants mining projects an environmental clearance upto 50 years as opposed to 30 years in the 2006 version. Furthermore, national defense/security projects will supposedly require prior environmental clearance but no information will be revealed to the public. The use of the term "strategic projects" gives the government the power to designate any sort of project as strategic and proceed without public consultation. Linear projects like pipelines and highways in border areas are exempted from public hearing. Expanding a list of projects like these leaves the focus on business. EIA has ignored monitoring and compliance of projects as project owners are required to submit environmental reports once a year year as opposed to 6 months. There is a clear cut violation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. This draft could pose various adverse effects on our lives and biodiversity. 

Since this draft notification has been put out in the midst of a national health crisis restricting movement of people and functioning of offices, it is our plea to the government to withdraw the draft and consider it only after we’ve recovered from the pandemic. Moreover, ensure widespread and informed public discussions on the implication of these amendments.