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National consultation on Draft EIA Notification 2020 – Focus on environmental protection and justice, Virtual Meet on June 05

Press Release: 7 June 2020

Source: The Print

On the occasion of World Environment Day, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), Environment Support Group (ESG), and Movement for Advancing Understanding on Sustainability And Mutuality (MAUSAM) organised a national consultation on Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020: Focus on environmental protection and justice. We were joined by speakers Dr. Sharadchandra Lele-ATREE, Bengaluru, Mr. Leo Saldanha-Environment Support Group, Bengaluru, Mr Rohit Prajapati-Environmental Activist, Baroda, Mr Alok Shukla-Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, Mr Debadityo Sinha-Founder, Vindhyan Ecology & Natural History Foundation, Ms Meenakshi Kapoor-India Environment Matters, Mr. Nityanand Jayaraman-Vetiver Collective, and Mr. Soumya Datta-MAUSAM, Delhi. 

The EIA process was historically devised to take into account the needs of communities, and should be a meticulously planned, elaborate process to ascertain the environmental viability of a project. Experts at the consultation conclude that as of World Environment Day 2020, the entire process is reduced to a series of quick steps that is being fulfilled by cutting corners. This entire mechanism simply does not document the voices of communities that will be directly affected by proposed development projects. The few instances it does are few and far in between. The resounding cry of experts in the field is that this is entirely driven by the dubious “ease of doing business” strategy. Culturally also, we are at an unfortunate juncture where commercial infrastructure gains precedence over natural infrastructure (nature), i.e airports and highways are valued more in comparison to mangroves and ecologically sensitive areas that are part of our culture and knowledge heritage. The approach to “development” should be bottom-up and there is an urgent need to create an enabling democratic environment that allows people to put forth their views without the fear of backlash. There is a collectively felt need for a legislation that addresses environmental racism, classism, and injustice.

Speaking at the event Leo Saldanha said, “EIA notification has played a big role in increasing the disparities between the rich and the poor, and the way it has acted is to facilitate project approvals that come, many times by issuing amendments that even Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal find it very confounding and confusing that they have many times forced the bureaucracy to simplify the same.”

Soumya Datta, convener, MAUSAM, Delhi, said, “There is a fundamental conflict of interest in the EIA process because the project proponents hire consultants for EIA study who find it difficult to prepare a report against the funder. The EIA should be done by co-opting communities themselves – several communities possess the traditional knowledge to do so. This process can be financed by the government and suitably supported by the project proponent.”

Niraj Bhatt, researcher at CAG said, “What we need is a way of life that values nature more than capital. We need a way of life that values sustenance more than indulgence, for it is indulgence or the excess of it through our ever increasing consumerism, that is eating away all our planetary resources.”

The draft EIA notification 2020 is a consolidation of dilutions of EIA 2006, with an aim to serve the interests of industries and the business community at the cost of environment and human rights. Experts debated on several issues such as reduced timelines for securing environmental clearances; discrepancies in Terms of Reference (ToR) document, and information asymmetry between all stakeholders and actors in the entire process, and the expanding list of projects exempted from environmental clearance mechanisms. An analysis of the draft EIA 2020 notification showed changes in the project categories. The definition of B2 category is being expanded – these projects need only environment permission which does not involve a public hearing or EIA study. The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) projects have been introduced as a new category which will get a lot of leeway and all MSME to be considered B2. They also observed that the ToR, a unique document that sets different guidelines for every project, is generally seen as the same across different geographies and ecosystems. They also pointed out discrepancies in the environment data with the Ministry. 

It is seen that the Expert Appraisal Committee is keen on expediting the EC (Environmental Clearance) process rather than understanding the actual environmental and wildlife impacts of upcoming projects. Information on wildlife is usually suppressed or incompletely written if the adjacent habitat is territorial forests. The draft proposes to allow construction of walls, levelling the land for upcoming projects before the EC is granted, and this will adversely affect wildlife corridors. Besides, many projects will be exempted from the EC process as per the new draft which will further enhance the destruction of forest areas and wildlife corridors. 

Experts at the consultation stressed on the importance of public hearing that is a positive intervention that is available with people. Though not many successes have been achieved, the communities feel their voices have been heard and the fear in scrapping EIA is losing the public hearing component in whatever replaces EIA.

The way forward should include putting more efforts to build civil liberties alongside framing environmental laws as this will help communities participate and protect the environment/natural resources they are dependent on. For the projects that the Ministry of Environment is approving there is a need for Cumulative Impact Assessment (including climate change) for the entire affected area.

For more information, please get in touch with Padmavathi S ([email protected])

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