• Neel Joshi

Ministry of Environmental “Destruction”

Every government has a singular goal in its five years -to boost the economy by stretching the environment to its limits. Ironically, our current government has gone a step further by placing the portfolios of the Minister for Environment and the Minister for Heavy Industries on the same person. It is only logical to question how the minister can operate if he were to find himself in a Catch-22 situation. Well, in my opinion, we can put our minds to rest because the minister functions just fine- that is he completely disregards the environment, forest, and climate change part of his portfolio. This is made abundantly clear in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC’s) new Draft EIA Notification, 2020.

Wait, what’s the EIA?




An EIA, or Environmental Assessment Impact, is a study report for every development project before it begins. It details what effects the project could have on the environment, both adverse and beneficial, and suggests alternatives for the project to reach a suitable combination of minimal environmental damage and maximum economic benefits. This process is a cornerstone block of environmental law and policy as it sees how to mitigate the worst effects of a non-green project.

The process of EIA was introduced in India by the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 1994. Since then there has only been one significant notification to the EIA which was in 2006. (Understanding EIA n.d.) But the MoEFCC, under the reign of Prakash Javadekar, has been trying to subdue the EIA for a long time.

The Draft EIA Notification, 2020, and its flaws.


In 2020, as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been signing off on projects left and right that directly harm the environment in a bid to push the despairing economy by endangering our already threatened ecology. The Draft EIA Notification, 2020 will further deepen the roots of this problem, a catalyst to complete environmental degradation.




The Draft Notification aims at waning the efficacy of an EIA, thereby empowering the harmful industries. According to Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer, “The purpose of this notification is to legitimise illegalities done by industries. [...] It is a mockery of the law.” (Dutta 2020)

  1. Firstly, the draft notification uses ambiguous wordings that are up to the interpretation of the governing bodies. The handling of vague wordings like “other strategic considerations”, whose definition and application would be defined by the central government, gives the government the abilities to push projects it favours. By implementation of the new draft, it moves away from the actual purpose of the EIA. It makes it only a political weapon which can disrupt not only environmental but also social life, by directly affecting life at its very core- food, housing and simply survival. (Menon 2020)

  2. Secondly, it diminishes the legal powers of the EIA. Through the EIA, the government will have the ability to legitimise current projects that do not have the needed environmental clearance. (Bhattacharya 2020). Under the 26th clause of the draft notification, 40 new industries- such as clay and sand extraction by manual mining, processing of paraffin wax and secondary metallurgical foundry units- will be cleared from requiring prior environmental approval, which largely weakens the EIA. (Saxena 2020) Thus, a large number of projects will be off the hook from needing required environmental authorisation.

  3. And thirdly, it curtails public participation by reducing the period for public inputs by reducing the period for public scrutiny on proposed projects from 30 days to 20 days. (Saxena 2020) Furthermore, several projects, like the aforementioned “strategic” projects, will also be exempt from public scrutiny altogether.




In the past, several projects have had adverse consequences due to lack of public participation. One of the most recent events took place on June 8th, 2020, wherein a massive fire triggered by a gas blowout took place at Oil India Limited’s (OIL’s) Baghjan oil field. This resulted in the death of two firefighters, evacuation of approximately 1600 people and it jeopardized the biodiversity of the nearby Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. This tragedy is a direct consequence of the lax environmental norms followed by OIL. Since its first environmental clearance in 2011, OIL had not had a public hearing on any of its newer extensions in the region. This clearly shows the need for public participation in the process of obtaining environmental clearances. To add to the plight of the situation, the draft notification has categorised oil and gas explorations under category B2- a category that doesn’t require public hearings.


Public participation is a building block of democracy. The draft notification essentially aims at silencing the voices of those who are being affected first hand by these projects. The draft is against the very nature of public criticism and is, thus, inherently undemocratic. (Sarna 2020)


Conclusion


We, as the youth of India, hold immense power because it is our generation that will bear the brunt of these decisions most heavily. I was in e-correspondence with Kanchi Kohli, the Legal Research Director to the Centre for Policy Research, as to what we as the youth could do. According to her, “The government is promising an economically strong and environmentally secure future to the youth of India. The Draft EIA notification is one piece of this puzzle. All of us need to understand how this fits for ourselves and then seek answers from the government on how they will make it happen? We also need to learn from specific project experiences to know how the EIA system operates. Every environmental approval puts lives, livelihoods and health of not just tribal, poor and specific caste groups where projects are set up; but it also puts all the labour working in mines, industries, construction projects at risk. Think deep, to think big.”

The environment is a connecting factor across all genders, sexes, ages, nationalities and races. An impact on the environment will impact all of us. It is crucial we as a society take action and voice our concern against the government implementing this notification. We can still sign petitions and send e-mails to the MoEFCC before it is too late.

Petitions-

https://www.change.org/p/environment-ministry-immediately-withdraw-the-draft-eia-notification-2020

https://act.airalert.in/petitions/public-consultation-on-eia-draft-notification-2020

You can also send emails in concern of the Draft EIA Notification, 2020, to:-

eia2020- moefcc@gov.in

secy-moef@nic.in




Works Cited:


Bhattacharya, Bibek. 2020. "EIA Draft 2020: All the ways it weakens an important environmental safeguard." LiveMint.

Dutta, Ritwick. 2020. "India’s proposed overhaul of environment clearance rules could dilute existing regulations." Mongabay-India.

Kanchi Kohli, Manju Menon. 2020. "EIA Legitimised Environmental Destruction. Now, Govt ‘Renovates’ it for the Worst." The Wire Science, June 24.

Menon, Manju and Kohli, Kanchi. 2020. "EIA Legitimised Environmental Destruction. Now, Govt ‘Renovates’ it for the Worst." The Wire-Science.

Sarna, Satyajit. 2020. "Draft EIA Notification is an attempt to weaken regulation, silence affected communities." The Indian Express, June 27.

Saxena, Astha. 2020. "Draft EIA Notification 2020 : Areas Of Concern." LiveLaw.in.

n.d. "Understanding EIA." Centre for Science and Environment.

n.d. “Oil India Skipped Public Hearings Before Expanding Drilling in Assam’s Baghjan”; TheWire.in.; June 21, 2020