The New Environment Impact assessment (EIA) Draft looks more industry friendly rather than focusing on assessing the impact of industries on the environment. The draft became a matter of debate among the people soon after its launch when it was found that the revised norms are more inclined towards establishing new industries than to safeguard the environment.
With a vision to protect the environment against industrial disaster and keep a balance between sustainable development and environmental protection, the union government launched Environmental Protection Act in 1986 soon after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. The act prevents industries like mining, thermal nuclear, hydel plants and infrastructure projects from being approved without proper assessment. Every industry that can potentially degrade the environment must pass through this EIA process to get a clearance for its construction and development. While the previous assessment rules already had some loopholes, the government of India promised a better impact assessment in the new draft, however it doesn’t seem satisfying when the draft was released and it was clearly seen to be industry oriented.
What are the concerning Norms in the New EIA Draft 2020?
The revised draft has some important concerns that seem to be empowering the industries and reducing checks and filters for these infrastructure to be developed.
- Post facto Clearance– This rule simply implies that the new projects will not have to compulsorily take a clearance before being constructed. This norm gives the advantage to the industries to operate without undergoing the environment assessment check. This is a dangerous move as it will legalise industries to operate without proper check. The Supreme court in April passed a judgement that Post Facto Clearance is a wrong approach. It legalizes industries like Visakhapatnam Chemical plant to operate freely while resulting in such industrial disasters.
Also Read: Vizag Gas Leak- How tragedy unfolded
- Reduction in Public hearing Period- The second concerning point is the reduction in the public hearing time slab. It is clearly mentioned in Page 47 – Point 3.1, “The Member-Secretary of the concerned SPCB or UTPCC shall finalise the date, time and exact venue for the conduct of public hearing within ten days of the date of receipt of application with the consent of the Officer presiding over the public hearing. He shall advertise the same in one major Nation Daily or the Official State Language in another Five days from the date of consent of the presiding officer. A minimum notice period of Twenty days shall be provided to the public for furnishing of response.” While the previous time slab for public hearing was thirty days which was still not sufficient for smooth public hearing.
- Public has no authority to point out violations- The public cannot point out any violation that a project carries out. The public does not have authority to raise a complaint against the working of an industry. As mentioned on Page 29 – Point 22 “The Cognizance of the violation shall be made on the- (a) Suo moto application of the project proponent; or (b)Reporting any Government Authority; or (c) Found during the appraisal Appraisal Committee; or (d)Found during the processing of application, if any, the Regulatory Authority.” The above norm states that either violator or the Government Authority can point out the violation. This again provides the industry more leniency to operate.
- Strategic Exemption. Projects pertaining to national security and defence shall be concluded with public hearing, it’s really important not to disclose the strategic projects but in the revised EIA draft the Government has full authority to decide which projects can be declared as strategic projects. As mentioned in Page 9 – Point 7 “All projects concerning national defence and security or involving other strategic consideration as determined the central government shall require…… Further no information relating to such projects shall be placed in public domain.” This gives the Government full authority to stamp out any project as a strategic and it can be easily kept away from the public.
- Exemption from Public Consultation: There are certain categories of projects that will not be brought forward for public consultation, one such rule is applicable for projects in border areas and definition for border area project is- Any project being developed within 100 km aerial distance from the line of actual control with bordering countries. This norm inhibits almost every project in north east of india from public consultation. While the north east is rich in forest resources. Such a move can be concerning keeping ecological sensitivity in mind.
What can we do to enhance the Norms of EIA ?
The Government has provided a time slab for public suggestions till August 11, 2020. People should come forward with new ideas to enhance the Assessment rules that will be better for sustainable development. Anyone who thinks, he has a better solution can mail his/her suggestion on- firstname.lastname@example.org