(With inputs from Dr.Claude Alvares, Goa Foundation)
Send in your responses to the Environment Ministry: https://bit.ly/313EoK8
India’s ranking on the world’s Environmental Performance Index dropped to 177 out of 180 countries in 2018. We actually slipped 36 places in just a matter of 2 years (2016).
And yet, the Ministry for Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MOEF&CC), Government of India, has published (for objections from the public) a new draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification that is designed to further relax environmental standards in order to achieve “ease of doing business” for corporations and agencies who have shown till date a scant interest in the environmental impact of their activities. If the changes proposed are accepted, we will surely reach the bottom of the pit.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006 is issued under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The EPA itself came in response to the 1984 Bhopal disaster which severely impacted both environment and the human community: 10,000 people died; more than 2 lakhs remain medically affected till date.
Background of EIA
Till 1994, there was no requirement for any person or business putting up a project in any part of the country to get an environment clearance, or more correctly, a prior environment clearance before commencing development activity. In January 1994, the MOEF&CC issued the EIA 1994 notification, requiring all new industrial and developmental activities to do an EIA and get an environment clearance. This became possible because the EPA was passed by Parliament in 1986 enabling government to notify regulations to control, regulate, prevent and minimise the impacts of industrial and other activities on the natural environment and on local communities.
The 1994 EIA Notification was very simple. It comprised just 3 pages, together with 8 pages of forms and annexures – a total of 11 pages in all. As a result of this notification, 32 kinds of industries from cement to thermal and nuclear power projects, etc., came under the requirement to get an environment impact assessment (EIA) done, and to obtain an environment clearance before the project could start.
The 1994 EIA Notification was very simple. It comprised just 3 pages, together with 8 pages of forms and annexures – a total of 11 pages in all.
The important thing to understand is that the 11-page 1994 EIA notification was simple, direct and easy to read and understand even by villagers, even though it was amended 13 times. The 2006 notification had already become very complicated and required expert assistance, with more than 39 amendments and 250 office memorandums relating to its implementation. The 2020 notification is 80 pages and may require the assistance of PhDs. It is not known whether this is being done on purpose.
Most projects requiring environment clearance come up in village communities where the capacity to understand such complicated technical jargon – mostly in English – is limited. The EIA 2020 draft has been published only in English and Hindi without any regional language translation which makes a large population of this nation completely unaware of the implications of EIA 2020 on their lives and livelihoods. Except for one webinar that MoEF had conducted there was no interaction with the local self-governments or panchayats in diverse languages to make them understand the implications of the change in EIA2020 in comparison with EIA 2006.
On the other hand, those who are required to get an environment clearance can employ expert consultants to draft EIA reports. All EIA reports paint projects with rosy pictures, having with little or no environmental impact! Even if citizens make a serious effort to highlight their concerns and the deficiencies of such reports, ultimately the government goes ahead and grants ECs despite all objections!
Most EIA reports give baseline values of the assessment well within the permissible range. This makes every EIA report compliant with minor recommendations for a mitigation plan. Above all, the EIA reports are written by consultants hired and paid by project proponents!
Why then do citizens go through this process and what is the actual scheme of the EIA Notification, if it is to work for the community?
- The EIA Notification is issued under the EPA 1986 and any order granting ECs under the EIA Notification is an order issued under a statute. Hence it has the force of law. Any violations of the EC order can be taken up before an appropriate authority for redressal.
- The government has only recently set up procedures enabling authorities to take drastic steps like closure of industry, if EC conditions are violated.
- Each EC contains a minimum of 50 environmental conditions, some specific to the project, some general (like 30% green cover) and it is obvious that in most cases these conditions will be violated.
- In the case of mining, if the EC conditions are violated, this is to be understood as a violation of the Mines and Minerals Act itself, as per a recent Supreme Court ruling. As a result, the directors of the company holding the mining lease are liable to go to jail and also to pay back 100% of the value of minerals extracted by them.
- Thus the EIA process and the EC give the citizens a chance to ensure that such projects which have significant environment impact adhere to the standards and conditions given or face severe penalties.
The government may not do anything if industries violate the environmental conditions – as the recent accidents in the span of one week – LG Polymer (Andhra Pradesh) Neyveli Lignite (Tamilnadu), Raigarh (Chattisgarh), Bagjan (Assam) have shown – but citizens at least have the right to move the court for reliefs. And the courts are bound to listen, as no court worth its salt can sit by and refuse to entertain complaints of violation of statutory laws.
EIA 2020 impacting lives and livelihoods
Massive landslides in Karnataka and Kerala claimed lives of scores of people in 2018 and 2019. These were triggered by unscientific road widening and illegal quarrying. The brunt of these events is borne by poor communities like lower economic-strata citizens, workers, farmers and fishermen. It is now globally established that the economic losses arising from these disasters is far greater than the short-term economic gains that may be targeted by loosening environmental controls. On the other hand, the gains that can be achieved by strengthening environmental controls can be significant in the form of better health of citizens, water security, better yields for farmers and fishermen, etc.
In spite of these disasters EIA 2020 draft if implemented would spell disaster to our environment and livelihoods. According to UNDP, fisheries are an important source of food security and livelihood for more than 14.5 million people in India. Food and water self-sufficiency in the rural represent a nation’s path towards “Aatmanirbhartha”.
India has lost over 1.6 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2018, roughly four times the geographical area of Goa. The trend, unfortunately, continues. On April 7 alone, at least 30 proposals affecting 15 tiger reserves, sanctuaries, eco-sensitive zones, wildlife corridors and other forest areas were cleared or discussed over virtual meetings by NBWL and FAC. We all know our rivers originate from our forests. Loss of forests also means triggering deadly pandemics.
While it is desirable to have industrial growth and development, we have a responsibility to ensure that such development is ecologically viable and in the best interests of all stakeholders. After all the preamble to our constitution clearly states that the government is for the people. We interpret it as ‘for all the people’, in line with our Hon PM’s call, ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’.
We have reviewed the EIA 2020 Draft that was published in MoEF Parivesh site on 23rd Mar 2020. For reasons stated above, we strongly object to the dilutions that are suggested in the EIA 2020 Draft. We, as citizens submit our request to ensure Art 48 A and Art 51 (a)(g) of the Indian Constitution are complied with, and demand absolute protection of the diverse ecosystems of our nation. Apart from objecting to 22 dilution points of EIA, we propose over 30 points that need to be included to ensure EIA 2006 is strengthened for a better environmental health of our nation. We borrow our air and water from the next generation, our youth.
There is no debate,
a) Development at the cost of ecology is suicidal
b) Without ecology, the economy does not stand a chance to survive!
Send in your responses to the Environment Ministry: https://bit.ly/313EoK8
With Belief, Determination and Hope,
United Conservation Movement