The Undemocratic Concerns with Draft EIA 2020


Draft EIA 2020 proposes changes that are a threat to the Environment

“To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the luxurious Persian rug”

-Helen Keller

Anyone who loves nature would resonate with Helen Keller. Indeed, if it were not for the lush green trees around us, it wouldn’t have been possible for us to stay alive. Every being on this planet is thus bestowed with this duty of protecting the environment he lives in. And for ensuring the same, the government makes laws. But what happens if the government goes on arbitrarily making a law that is not in favour of the environment but is used to fulfil the interest of few people? The recent Draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020, is just a reflection of the same.

What is Environment Impact Assessment?

Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is a crucial process that is required to evaluate the environmental impact of a proposed project. It helps to know whether a project is environmentally acceptable and feasible. An important aspect of the EIA is that it allows the public to send in their objections and views about the environmental concerns of a given project. It thus helps in the decision-making process of whether the project should be allowed or not.

The EIA is an outcome of the 1992 Rio Declaration. The Declaration addresses the importance of public participation in environmental issues. The first EIA in India was issued in 1994, under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) of 1986. It was further replaced by a modified draft in 2006. And now the draft EIA 2020 is expected to replace the previous one.

What are the problems with Draft EIA 2020?

The Draft EIA Notification 2020 was issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on March 12. The Ministry claims that the new set of guidelines would make existing norms ‘more transparent’ in issuing environmental clearances for development projects. However, the draft has been heavily criticised by citizens and environmentalists alike.

The proposed changes in the draft that are problematic include the following:

  • Post-Facto Approval of Projects

Under this, the Ministry proposes to approve projects even if they have started construction without seeking environmental clearance. This means that any damage done by the project could be easily waived off. A fine might be imposed for the same later, but that would not revert the harm done to the environment.

  • Public Consultation Process

Earlier 30 days were given to the public to send in their objections with a particular project. But now, this time will be reduced to just 20 days. This is crucial in areas where information is not easily available to the public. Also, public hearings in such cases would not be meaningful as it might take more time, for those affected by the project, to prepare and submit their responses.

  • Compliance Report

Previously, a project promotor had to file a compliance report every 6 months. However, the new changes allow the promotor to file a report only once a year. During this period, many irreversible environmental actions might go unnoticed. A report every 6 months is better to address such problems.

  • Strategic Project

The new amendments allow the government to categorize any particular project as ‘Strategic Project’. This means that the government need not disclose any information to the public regarding the project.

All these changes undermine the actual reason for having something like the EIA.

Nishant Bangera, Environmental activist and founder of Muse Foundation, told CNBC, that the new draft EIA notification “takes away public’s right to opine in developmental projects, is undemocratic and a clear attack on tribal and indigenous people”.

Further, the way the government hurriedly tried to pass these guidelines in the mid of a pandemic has given rise to doubts and suspicions. “It’s rather deplorable of how the draft notification was released during lockdown when the whole country is struggling to survive a pandemic”, Bangera told CNBC.

Not only this, but there was also huge ambiguity over the time specified for the people to send in their objections to the proposed changes. The hearing for the same took place at Delhi High Court which then increased the time to 11th August. Thus, the public can now send in their suggestions until 11th August, 2020.

Online Campaigns and Protest

A lot of activists and influencers have been using various platforms to reach out to more and more people regarding the same. They have been urging people to send in their objections to the Ministry so that the new draft does not get passed.

Recently, a global youth climate movement, Fridays for Future India, had started an online campaign to protest against the draft EIA 2020. However, raising their voice against the government rather got them served with the UAPA Bill. A law that is used against terrorist acts. The notice was later withdrawn after the IT cell addressed the clerical error of mentioning UAPA. However, it was enough to create fear amongst the young protestors.

The Draft EIA 2020 notification suggests changes that are serious and problematic. It might be a good way to attract more projects in the country, at a time when companies want to move out of China due to the COVID-19 situation. However, it has grave consequences for the environment and thus needs to be addressed on an urgent basis.

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