Why the Entire Clamour Against Draft of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020?

INTRODUCTION

The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC), Government of India through Gazette Notification dated 14/09/2006 had introduced the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006. The said Notification was introduced under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and Rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 for imposing certain restrictions and prohibitions on new projects or activities, or on the expansion or modernization of existing projects or activities based on their potential environmental impacts.

WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT NOTIFICATION

Environmental Impact Assessment Notification empowers Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) constituted under the provisions of the said Act, to review the environmental impact of projects. The EAC carries out a combination of these steps depending on the classification of the project:

  • Screening: To determine whether the project requires further study for preparing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
  • Scoping: Setting clear guidelines that state the environmental concerns identified in the project.
  • Public Consultation: To ascertain the concerns of the local persons affected by the environmental impacts of the project.
  • Appraisal: The EAC studies the application, final EIA report, and outcome of the public consultations and makes its recommendations to the MOEF&CC.

In order to replace the existing Environmental Impact Assessment Act, 2006, MOEF&CC introduced in March 2020, the Draft of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020. MOEF&CC had sought views and comments from all stakeholders with regard to the 2020 Notification. In this regard, the new Notification has invited criticism from several quarters. Some of the reasons for this criticism are as mentioned herein under:

MAJOR CRITICISMS AGAINST THE EIA NOTIFICATION 2020

  • Violation of Precautionary Principle: Precautionary Principle” is a basic tenet of environment law India. However legitimizing commencement of project construction without a valid clearance and thus allowing ex-post-facto Environmental Clearance is seen as a blatant disregard of the precautionary principle.
  • Relaxing Vigilance: What has also drawn negative comments is the reduction of the reporting requirements of project proponents to only once-a-year instead of the previous six-monthly reporting. Such relaxation in reporting requirements is commonly being perceived as a method to hide or under-report the environmental and social consequences of a project.
  • Industry Specific Exemptions: Industries like soda-ash, acids, petroleum and petrochemical products, dyes, biomedical waste, treatment plants, synthetics, paints, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and construction industrieshave been exempted under the said Notification from the requirement to undergo the public clearance process. Such an exemption looks out of place considering the hazardous nature of the above mentioned Industries.
  • Self-Reporting Violations: Self Reporting of violations has been criticized for also being a tool for proponents toprevent the disclosure of violations.
  • Exemption to Hydro-Electric Power Plants: Development of Hydro-electric Power Plants has been a contentious issue especially in the North-eastern Regions of India (with regard to the Dibang Dam). In this regardproposal for exemption of hydro-electric power plants from public hearings altogether is uncalled for and therefore is being commonly objected.
  • Designation of Ecologically Sensitive Areas: The current Notification of 2020 empowers the MOEF&CC to take decisions unilaterally with regard to the designation of ecologically sensitive areas. It is felt that such unilateral decision making with regard to designation of ecologically sensitive areas may be arbitrary and detrimental for the interest of preservation of flaura and fauna.
  • Exemption for Levelling of Land: Allowance of levelling of land without clearance too is being criticised by many. Genuine concerns have been raised with regard to levelling of wetlands without needing clearance and the preparation of an EIA report with data only of one season other than monsoon. This is because preservation of wetlands is crucial as wetlands are responsible for purification and storage of water, climate regulation and they expend the subsistence of marginal communities.

CONCLUSION

Courts and Tribunals all around the country have stressed on the importance of adherence to the principle of “Polluters Pay” to prevent environment pollution and ensure sustainable development. However the EIA Notification 2020 is being seen as nothing less than contradiction to the said principle. The Notification is also being perceived as an antithesis to the idea of “Nature is Healing” which has bestowed upon one and all in view of the nation-wide lockdown.

When the World today is concerned about impact of exploitation of nature/environment, the EIA Notification on the other hand has sought to dilute environmental safeguards. Therefore this Notification has attracted criticism, especially amidst the Vizag Gas Leakage Incident of 7th May 2020 and needless to mentioned, the current health and economic crisis in view of COVID-19. The common opinion today is in favour of reconsideration of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020 by Government.