The introduction of new EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) is very significant amid the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic destruction of habitats & wildlife. The new EIA draft has been strongly criticized by environmental and climate change activists across the country. #EIA2020, is one of the trending topics on the social media platforms. Many campaigns were also organized to encourage the public to write to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to recognize its potential devastating impact at a time when we should be focusing on conserving our natural systems. Everyone’s thoughts were same that development is important, but not at the cost of our only home i.e Earth.
Before going to discuss what will be the impact and consequences we need to understand that the EIA is the tool to achieve sustainable development . It is the process or study which predicts the effect of development proposals on the environment and prevents them from being approved without following the required safeguards essential for the environment. But unfortunately, the EIA Draft 2020 proposed by the Union government is a regressive departure from the 2006 version that it seeks to replace. It is an attempt to weaken environmental regulation and silenced the affected communities. The draft seems to be leaning in the favor of industry and doesn’t strike a balance between development and the environment. Many environmental activists and politicians claimed that this draft will adversely affect the environment .The Union government, on the contrary, argues that the new draft will reinforce transparency and expedite the process and claiming that it will not harm environment . In fact , it will help in economic development.
Some of the major amendments made in the new draft, which will create negative impact and leads to bad consequences for people and the environment are the following:
Post Facto Clearance : This is one of the most controversial topics of the EIA 2020 . It simply gives power to industries to ‘violate the rule first and seek clearance later’ . Even if a project has come up without environment safeguards or without getting environment clearances, it could carry out operating under the provision of the new draft EIA 2020. If this provision approved, then it will proved disastrous because we already have several projects that are running without EIA clearances. Some of the recent examples are the LG Polymer Plant in Vishakhapatnam, where the styrene gas leak happened and took the lives of many people. It was later revealed that the plant had been running for over two decades without clearances. A similar incident happened in Tinsukia , Assam where due to poor adherence of environmental norms, the natural gas of Oil India Limited had a blowout and caught fire. This caused severe damage to the livelihoods in the region rich with biodiversity. And according to the report of the State Pollution Board, Assam, the oil plant had been operating for over 15 years without obtaining prior consent of the board.
Public Participation and Complaints : There are also two crucial ways in which the new draft endeavors to take power away from communities. First, it reduces the time allotted for public hearing has been reduced from 30 days to 20 days. Secondly, the 2020 draft spells out that now complaints regarding the violation of EIA rules, has to be reported either by a government authority or the developers themselves. There is no scope for any public complaint about violations. Hence , we can say that this proposal tries to curtail rights of the communities by legalising projects that have already caused a great deal of harm and have been operating without approvals from the EIA. All these factors have made it difficult for people living in rural and tribal areas to participate and share their concerns. They are most often directly impacted by such projects.
Many Exemptions : The draft exempts a long list of projects from public consultation. Several large-scale projects were re-categorized as B2 (projects that do not require EIA) and thus exempted from it. There is a list of the selected projects in the new draft that have been proposed to be exempted from public participation. Expansion or widening of highways, modernization of irrigation projects, all projects near Line of Actual Control(LAC), area development projects are part of the list. Once this draft approved huge numbers of forest were cut down in order to expand highways, set up factories which led to a huge destruction and cause bad impact on the environment and us .
Linear projects in a 100km of LAC: Linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing. The north-eastern region comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura which is a unique biodiversity hotspot. This draft will harm the rich biodiversity and will face many environmental problems that can usher irreversible damage to the flora and fauna.
Ultimately a weak EIA report on one with the clearance with fast track will lead to environmental damage. Public participation has been crucial in the EIA process and has significantly helped communities to not only get information about the projects being proposed in their areas, but also to speak about their concerns regarding the projects. Weakening the EIA process means abating democracy. The draft EIA grossly neglects consultation with the affected communities. To limit public consultation means to silence voices that are barely heard otherwise. The current EIA draft 2020 has severely diluted environmental protection, which will add to the degradation of the environment. It can become an uphill task for the government to tackle the pollution levels of air, water bodies and forests, just like Delhi.