A major controversial topic that has been the talk of the town for months now is the EIA (environmental impact assessment). There are two sides to the story it’s the environmentalists versus the government.
So the first question is what is the EIA?
The EIA is a legal framework for regulating a project that accesses, utilises and affects the environment. It is mandated in more than 100 countries including India. Such an assessment predicts the impact of a proposed industrial or infrastructure project on the environment. It does so by weighing the economic and environmental pros and cons and choosing the best alternative of the project, with the help of a thorough analysis.
It was first introduced in India under the environmental protection act (1986) in 1994, and further amended in 2006. It covers projects such as :
- Mining of coal or other minerals
- infrastructure development
- thermal nuclear and hydro powerplants
Some of the key points of the EIA draft notification 2020 are as follows:
1. All projects require an economic and social management plan (ESMP).
2. No project can be started without
- A rapid environment impact assessment
- Clearance from the ministry of environment and forests
- Clearance from the pollution control board
3. Post-facto clearance
4. A simplified approval process with the help of a standing approval committee.
5. Reduced duration of public hearing from 30 days to 20 days.
6. Exemption of projects that are classified as “strategic” from EIA (such as inland waterways, national highways, construction projects of up to 1,50,000 sq. m. along with bordering regions up to 100km from the LOC)
7. Coastal zone regulation to keep a check on illegal smuggling.
The 2020 draft notification of the EIA has been widely criticised by several environmentalists however supported by several experts as well.
There are several aspects of the notification that are being debated upon some of them include:
The post-facto clearance:
- The environmentalists claim that several ongoing projects that have violated the EIA may now get away with the violations by paying a fine of 2,000-10,000 rs per day.
- The supporters have however justified this amendment by saying that no new projects can seek post-facto approval only those which are currently in operation without the mandated environmental clearance may do so.
Exemption of projects from the assessment:
- The principal concern of the protestors is that the exemption of several projects, reduction in public hearing duration along with the amendment that only the project operator or a government official may report the violation would dilute the transparency of the system.
- The supporters, however, argue these claims by stating that the projects which come under strategic importance are crucial from the defence point of view and are also necessary to attract foreign investments. They also believe that reducing the duration of public hearing would fasten the process of seeking approval and reduce manoeuvring by anti-social elements.
A focal point of disdain is that does the EIA draft notification of 2020 spell destruction for fragile ecosystems like the western ghats?
According to several experts and environmentalists, India would be treading on a path of wildlife destruction rather than the one of sustainable development if the EIA draft notification was to be followed.
At the moment five projects have been proposed in 5 districts of Karnataka. If these projects were to obtain approval they would lead to felling of 21 lakh trees which isn’t solely limited to environmental loss but would also bring about a backdrop in the development of the region as it could increase vulnerability to floods and landslips.
TV Ramachandran (IIS) who has been appointed by the government to study landslips has claimed that this action would bring about not only unpredictable climatic conditions but also an increased vulnerability to zoonotic diseases as humans occupy habitats of animals. He further stated that no lessons seemed to have been learnt from COVID-19.
In the midst of a health and climate emergency this draft notification EIA 2020 proposes a significant change in the structure of environmental law in our country. The Delhi Court has extended the last day to send in objections to this draft notifications to 11th August 2020. Several digital campaigns and open letter movements have been filed against the notification. Many of which had been taken down at the peak time of their awareness and campaigning thus limiting the freedom of speech and expression of the people. Several other student unions and individual students led by the 20 year old environmentalist Anjali Dalmia have pledged their support to the #withdrawEIA2020 campaign. Pledge to the cause and make your opinion count!