The government has come up with Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, which seems to dilute 2006 notification.
It is a process to scrutinize and determine the probable impact of development projects on the surrounding environment.
As per the 2006 notification, the assessment is done by an Expert Appraisal Committee, consisting of scientists and experts.
They prepare a preliminary report which is put in the public domain for public scrutiny.
After the public had raised its objections, a final report was prepared by EAC and forwarded to the regulatory authority (Ministry of Environment).
The Ministry then gives clearance to the project based on EAC’s final report.
The EIA Notification is issued under relevant provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
The salient features of EIA Notification, 2006 inter alia include:
The EIA Notification, 2006 has categorized the projects into two categories namely; Category ‘A’ and Category ‘B’ based on their impact potential.
Category ‘A’ projects will be appraised at the Central level while
Category ‘B’ projects at the State level.
State level Environment Impact Assessment Authorities and Committees (SEIAAs and SEACs) have been constituted for the purpose of appraisal of Category ‘B’ projects.
The stage of scoping for prescribing terms of reference by the Regulatory Agency for the EIA studies has been incorporated in accordance with the International practice.
It is expected to improve the quality of EIA thereby improving the quality of decision making and minimizing the delays.
The public consultation process has been made more structured.
It has two components i.e. comments through correspondence and by public hearing at site.
Provision to videograph the proceedings of the public hearing has been made.
NOCs from other regulatory agencies such as SPCB etc. are not a prerequisite for considering application for environmental clearance.
The requirement of EIA:
In sync with the objective of Sustainable development and the Precautionary principle of International law:
The principle requires that if there is a strong suspicion that a certain activity may have environmentally harmful consequences, then it is better to control that activity now rather than to wait for conclusive scientific evidence.
It upholds the sanctity of supreme court judgments which calls for taking into consideration the precautionary principle before sanctioning a project.
In Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, the court declared that the principle involves three conditions:
State government and statutory authorities must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation;
Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation;
The ‘onus of proof’ is on the actor or developer or industrialist to show the actions are environmentally benign.
Environmental harm is often irreparable — For instance, one cannot reverse an oil spill. Rather it is cheaper to avoid damage to the environment than to remedy it.
How new draft notification dilutes the 2006 notification?
The new notification allows for Ex-post- facto clearance, this means a company that has failed to obtain a clearance can obtain the same on a future date by paying a penalty.
This dilutes the court judgments which has termed ex-post-facto clearance as illegal.
It has reduced the minimum time required for public scrutiny from 45 to 40 days. This will make it harder to put forth the suggestions.
Monitoring requirements are also relaxed by reducing the frequency of reporting, from earlier 6 months to now 1 year.
The scope of EIA is reduced as industries requiring full scrutiny have been decreased coupled with an increase in exceptions.
Apart from Defence and National Security related projects, a new category of ‘Other Strategic Considerations’ is also exempted from public considerations.
Impact of Dilution:
The poor people residing in and around the forest will be unable to put forward their grievances.
The vision of sustainable development and the precautionary principle will get diluted.
The environment will suffer extensive damage with relaxation in reforms –
A deadly gas leak at LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant in May 2020 killed 12 people and harmed hundreds as the plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades.
Oil India Limited’s oil wells in the Tinsukia district, Assam, went up in flames in June 2020 as apparently the expansion of plant took place without fresh environmental clearance.
The government actions show it considers the EIA as an impediment in ease of doing business and is willing to incur shifts in the local environment that may threaten livelihoods, flood a valley, or destroy a forest.
The need of the hour is to balance the environment with development which requires a robust assessment of projects before they are put in place.