Many projects in the past have been declined approval after ecology experts have flagged concerns
Activists have argued that this draft makes it easier for industries to escape environmental accountability
MUMBAI: The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020, which has called for public feedback, is inviting much criticism and concern from political leaders and activists, who have sought its withdrawal.
The notification was placed in the public domain on 12 March, with the environment ministry inviting feedback. On 30 June, the Delhi high court extended the time inviting public feedback until 11 August.
In India, all development projects need green clearances. Based on impact on the environment, projects are granted approval. Many projects in the past have been declined approval after ecology experts have flagged concerns.
So what has changed in the new draft making it so contentious?
There are two prominent changes - one, post facto clearances and two, abandoning the public trust doctrine.
"The Appraisal Committee shall stipulate the implementation of 'Environment Management Plan' (EMP) comprising remediation plan and natural and community resource augmentation plan corresponding to 1.5 times the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation in case of the suo moto applications or two times the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation in cases reported by any government authority or found during the appraisal of Appraisal Committee or during the processing of application if any by the Regulatory Authority, as a condition of Environment Clearance," the draft says.
This implies that in case of violations, the violator under the EMP process shall be liable only for remediation and resource augmentation to the tune of 1.5-2 times of ecological damage caused and the economic benefit derived from the violation.
The draft also says that violations can be reported only by the government and the project proponent themselves and not by citizens.
"The cognisance of the violation shall be made on the suo moto application of the project proponent; or reporting by any government authority; or found during the appraisal by Appraisal Committee; or found during the processing of application, if any, by the Regulatory Authority," the draft reads.
This implies that the onus to report a violation is on the project developer.
Activists have argued that this draft makes it easier for industries to escape environmental accountability.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday demanded the withdrawal of the draft. "EIA 2020 draft must be withdrawn to stop #LootOfTheNation and environmental destruction," Gandhi tweeted.
The draft also exempts a list of projects from being subject to EIA. "All projects concerning national defence and security or involving other strategic considerations as determined by the Central Government," reads the draft, adding that all 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" which would cover much of the northeast.