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Environment Ministry drafts dreadful EIA amendments: “Ease of Business” outbids sustainability

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In May 2014, when Prime Minister Modi took office, he stated unambiguously that India’s development trajectory will be green.

Even in the case of the ambitious Smart Cities Mission (SCM), Housing Scheme for All, Sustainability and Climate Resilience were at the heart of the programs. When the US withdrew from the Paris agreement, there was strong speculation that India will lead the world to combat climate change but apparently, they were just an imaginary manifestation.

India issued the country’s first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in 1994, under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) of 1986. This was later replaced by a modified draft in 2006.  The new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 draft notification has irked every environmentalist in the country. The amendments proposed in this new draft shows that the government is defiant to compromise the environmental aspects in favour of development. Basically, the purpose of EIA is to screen the social, economic, and environmental impacts of any project but the 2020 amendment draft notification is trying to bring in changes that are particularly detrimental to the environment and against the spirit of the EPA.

There are five key changes proposed in this 2020 EIA draft notification that exposes the environment to industrial exploitation. They are:

  • There is a provision that a project can receive clearance Post – facto.

This means that the draft EIA notification tries to dismantle the core idea that an assessment should be done before a project starts and would also allow for projects that have already been operating without approval from EIA to be legalized.

  • The new draft has a clause that constraints public participation.

According to the new draft, violations can only be reported by a government representative or the project proponent i.e. if the patron of a project feels that project could have been violating impact over the environment, he can report himself. While no citizen will be allowed to do so. In lame terms the provision states, there is an “ease of doing business”

  • The draft has also slashed the period for the public to respond to an EIA from 30 days to 20 days.

Meaning that, when environmental impact assessment is presented for a public hearing, the community will have a mere 20 days to read, understand a lengthy project report and then file a submission.

  • The Draft EIA Notification exempts a long list of projects from a public consultation which government levels as “strategic”.

For example, linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing. The ‘border area’ is defined as “area falling within 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India.” That would cover much of the Northeast, which is a repository of one of the country’s richest biodiversity.

  • The period to report requirements has been halved from every six months to once a year.

The new EIA Notification also extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors such as, for mining the validity period has been extended from 30 years to 50 years and for river valley projects from 10 years to 15 years. This, increasing the risk of irreversible environmental, social, and health consequences on account of the project remaining unnoticed for long.

To protest the provisions brought into the draft notification to stifle the EIA several environmentalist groups sent numerous mail to the personal account of the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar with subject line relating to EIA draft notification. Riled by these mails the minister filed a complaint citing spams and got the website of climate actions group Friday for future (FFF) India, Let India Breath and There Is No Earth B blocked.

 

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We have an update on our battle against digital censorship of environmental movements: Today @internetfreedom.in filed RTIs with various government authorities for gaining more information about the blocking of our website thereisnoearthb.com on 10th July 2020. While we are deeply grateful to both IFF and the Press for their strong support, we recognize that this might just be the beginning of a long road ahead. And while this is certainly a challenge for us, we'd like to reiterate that this isn't the biggest or most important one. Our focus still remains upon stopping environmental destruction, especially that which the gravely ill-conceived Draft EIA Notification 2020 seeks to facilitate. Hence, we strongly urge everyone to learn about, talk, resist, and unite against the Draft EIA Notification 2020 and keep tweeting, sending e-mails, signing petitions, and more using https://thereisnoearthb.gitlab.io/EIAMailer/ (link in bio) which can be used by anyone in spite of the blocking of our website. (See that J!o 😉 We have been immensely heartened by and are grateful to the support that is being given to us during this challenging time and we truly hope that it will be extended to our urgent work & campaign against the dilution of the EIA Notification because once this draft becomes a law, all our battles for saving the environment will become exponentially more difficult.

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Later on, the FFF India was served a notice by Delhi police charging them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This was eventually withdrawn by the Delhi police citing a "clerical error" and then Groups received another notice under the IT Act, which was also withdrawn.

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The government had issued that the last date for public to provide feedback on this draft notification would be 30th July, but the Delhi High court has extended the date for receiving public opinion to 11th August in response to the petition filed by Environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad, which sought extension of the period for receiving public opinion regarding the draft notification due to the coronavirus pandemic. So now we have got an opportunity to come forward and join hands in the effort to combat climate change and give our feedback. 

Any person interested in making any objections or suggestions on the proposal contained in the draft notification may submit their feedback to the e-mail address: eia2020-moefcc@gov.in

When the world is in dire need of robust Environmental laws because of the drastically change climate condition around the globe. Our government is impudently making a mockery of already rudimentary environmental laws. This draft notification proposed by our union government not only places mistrust of global leaders towards the environmental conservation stance of India but also brings scepticism toward India's commitment to sustainable development.

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