The Union government has published a draft of the amended Environmental Impact Assessment Rules which shall replace the EIA (Principle Rules), 2006. To understand the 2020 draft of the EIA, we need to understand the history and working of the EIA since its inception.
The EIA was incorporated in the year 1994 under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. The EIA was a part of environmental compliance required by the Rio Declaration which was signed by India in 1992. The EIA was amended in 2006 by the then UPA government to make the process more transparent and efficient.
What are the changes in the 2020 draft?
The new draft EIA has brought in significant changes to the assessment procedure. The EIA draft has introduced the post facto clearance procedure for projects that are violating the law, this allows the violators to negate the fundamentals of environmental law and also the various Act passed by the legislators for environmental protection. Under section 2(60) of the Act, the definition of violation does not contain similar violations flagged by other statutory authorities
The violator under the current draft shall have to pay a fine as remedy and replenishment of the ecological damage at 1.5 to 2 times the damage caused by the project, the assessment of the damage does not carry with it a strict code or procedure which allows for ambiguity concerning the calculation of the damage accused. Environmental experts claim that mere fines will not deter the violators from causing further damage to the environment and the damage should not be allowed to begin with. In the case of Alembic Pharmaceuticals v Rohit Prajapati, the SC has held that post facto environmental clearances are against the spirit of environmental law since the idea behind these legislations is based on the precautionary principle.
Under clause 22 of the draft, the cognisance of the violation shall be made by any government authority, found by Appraisal committee during an appraisal, found during processing the application or it can be self-reported by the project proponent themselves. The draft has restricted the number of interested parties to only the proponent and the government agencies therefore NGOs or activists or a regular citizen cannot bring cognisance to any violations being made by a proponent. The violation under the draft can be reported suo moto (by themselves) by the proponent; the likelihood of a violator reporting on their misdoings and willing to make themselves pay a fine is incomprehensible.
Impact of the amendment on Tribal population
Under The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the tribal or Adivasi communities have been given legal rights to partially correct the injustice caused to traditional forest dwellers.
The Act provides the forest dwellers with specific land uses such as cultivation and grazing livestock for a livelihood, the land recognised under this Act cannot be sold or transferred but can only be inherited.
The draft EIA 2020 might be used to grab land from the forest dwellers for infrastructure projects plenty of which may be projects exempted from environmental clearances.
The period for public consultation has now been reduced from 30 days down to 20 days. The project or construction blueprints and layout descriptions for megaprojects generally are in hundreds and thousands of pages and requires a considerable amount of hours to decipher and contextualise the entire project. The reduction in the consultation period shall restrict people from spreading awareness about any project and the masses may not be able to raise their concern regarding the project before the exhaustion of the consultation period.
The reduced period is against the directions set forth by the Gujarat High Court in the case Centre for Social Justice v UOI where the courts set the minimum requirement of 30 days for public hearings. Public hearings are exempted for projects under select categories as notified by the central government and no information shall be made available on the public domains under a strategic evaluation. Linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border regions shall not require public hearings. The border area is defined as any area which falls within 100 kilometres from our borders with neighbouring countries. This definition would exclude most of the North-Eastern part of the country from public hearings, an area which is rich in biodiversity.
Clause 26 of the draft lists out 40 different industries that shall not require environmental clearances for development and strategic reasons. The inland waterways and highways have also been exempted which could allow the government to pave roads through eco-sensitive regions to improve connectivity across the nation
Contradicting the International conventions
The dissolution of the EIA goes against the precautionary principle and the public trust doctrine enshrined in the international agreements such as Stockholm declaration in 1972 and the Rio declaration in 1992 which was adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and laid down the environmental principles such as precautionary principle, sustainable development and the environmental impact assessment.
Under the MoEFCC in its “India State of Forest Report 2019” around 60% of the forest cover of India is situated in tribal districts and the North-East of India. The government would have no statutory compliances in either of these regions if the EIA draft is passed by the legislative houses.
Our environment is now at the most fragile state it has ever been. Companies, governments and citizens need to conglomerate to help save our environment and our planet, whereas companies are trying to use their profits to invest in greener technology, governments need to aggressively impose sustainability on industries through legislations like the EIA. In a time when governments need to add more responsibility on the perpetrators, this current EIA draft, in my opinion, turns a blind eye to the environmental damage caused by the cost-cutting measures of the industry. While the government may consider this amendment draft a necessary step to reduce bureaucratic processes, in reality, the draft has been seen as a violator friendly piece of legislation.
AUTHOR- OMKAR APUGOL
EIA notification 2020 in violation of FRA: Activists write to MoEF&CC https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/eia-notification-2020-in-violation-of-fra-activists-write-to-moef-cc-72768
Problems with Draft EIA 2020: “Violator-Friendly” Says Fridays For Future India, https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/13/19162/Problems-with-Draft-EIA-2020-Violator-Friendly-Says-Fridays-For-Future-India-
Draft EIA Notification 2020 Is Out of Sync With State Practices, International Law https://thewire.in/environment/draft-environment-impact-assessment-notification-international-law
What Modi govt’s EIA draft says & why environment experts think it’ll encourage violations https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/what-modi-govts-eia-draft-says-why-environment-experts-think-itll-encourage-violations/470248/