Economy or Environment: The EIA Draft Card

By Nargis Khatoon and Honey Shree

(17/08/2020 00:30 IST)

The entire world is working to restore its wrecked economy and the economy and development, which we are familiar with, are often achieved at the cost of environment. In general it is assumed that one has to prioritize between economy and environment and both cannot go hand in hand. What do you think?

The more diluted version of EIA (Environment Impact Assessment), draft of 2020, seems to agree on the above statement. But environmentalists and citizens of India do not have mutual thoughts, the new draft EIA 2020 is being denounced strongly. But why? And what are their demands?

What is EIA (Environment Impact Assessment)?

EIA is a study which predicts the effects of the proposed industrial or infrastructural project on the environment and economy, environment and social impacts of such project are evaluated. The pros and cons of the concerned project are assessed, determine the demerits and then suggest the measures to compensate the demerits of the projects and if the project possess more threats than benefits, EIA can be used to cancel the permit to the project. The process is significant to check the environment and the natural habitat. All the projects (mining of all minerals, infrastructure development, thermal, nuclear and hydro power projects, real estates, industrial projects and so on) in our country go through the process.

The Issue

The new draft of EIA was introduced during the pandemic, on 23 March 2020 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The EIA draft of 2020 seeks to replace EIA of 2006 with the aims to increase the production and availability of few drugs. But due to problematic changes in the draft, people and environmentalists are objecting it strongly, the provisions of this draft emphasize more on development and can remiss the ecology.

The draft allows, ex post facto clearance, means if any project has been operational without securing the environmental clearance, they would be able to seek environmental clearance later. According to draft EIA 2020, the reason, the government offers for this is; the government does not want to hinder economic development. But it can result severe losses of lives and environment in future, the recent incident of LG polymer plant in Vishakhapatnam, where the styrene gas leak happened on May 7, the plant was functioning without the clearance for over 20 years! The percentage of projects functioning without environment clearance is already quite high. When clearance is required, rules are not being followed, what will happen if there would be no requirement of the same? The Supreme Court has also objected ex post facto clearance, legalizing this would implicit that safety can be compromised for profit.

Another point of concern is, in the draft, the time period for the public hearing on project has been reduced, earlier 30 days were there for public consultation that has been decreased to 20 days now, to this, Joy Daniel Pradhan, an independent researcher, said, “Weakening the EIA process means abating democracy, the draft EIA grossly neglects consultation with the affected communities .To limit public consultation means to silence voices that are barely heard otherwise.”

The public participation also has been reduced in the new EIA draft, certain projects can be exempted from the public participation, which has been termed as “strategic” projects, the information of these projects shall be not disclosed in public domain. The projects included are: irrigation projects, all building constructions and area development projects, expansion or widening of national highways, all the projects concerning national defense and security are part of list and after the approval of the projects there’s no room for public complaints, the government authorities or the violator themselves only could object or disclose the violation of the rules. The projects up to 150,000 sq. meters would not require inspection, earlier this was applicable for the projects of 20,000 square meters.

Currently, on every six months, a compliance report is required to submit to the department, this provision was to make sure that the project is functioning on the terms and condition on which it was permitted but in the new draft the time period has been extended from 6 months to one year.

The notification was released on the ministry’s website, seeking public comments on the draft and the people are concerned more as this draft has been introduced during the pandemic which has restricted the mass protests and social gatherings, so people have expressed their concern though mails and petition. The demands are, to withdraw this draft, to consider amendments only after this pandemic and government should carry out widespread information and public discussions. India is 5th most vulnerable country to climate change and the situation has declined over the years, India has been ranked 155th in 2014 and 177th in 2018 out of 180 counties in the Environment Performance Index. Environment Impact Assessment is essential tool and any further dilution in it would impact the people and ecology. It is a high time for us to realize that development and environment are not contradictorily to each other instead they are complementary to each other.

About Authors.

Nargis Khatoon

Desk Editor

Honey Shree

Desk Editor

References.

  • Down To Earth
  • Indian Express
  • The Hindu
  • ORF(Observer Research Foundation)
  • Scroll.in
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