Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar has chided former union environment minister Jairam Ramesh for going public with his letter objecting to some provisions of the draft notification on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Act, 2020.
Javadekar after the latter went public with histo the minister asking him to keep the notification in abeyance until the Parliament Standing Committee on Environment and Forests completes its deliberations on the draft EIA notification.
The former environment minister, who was instrumental in announcing an indefinite moratorium on releasing genetically-modified Bt brinjal in India and thus brought to a halt to research and development of such crops, is the chairman of the Parliament's Standing Committee on Environment and Forests.
Stating that he had taken note of his suggestions and objections to the notification, Javadekar made it clear that the notification had not been finalised yet as the public consultation was underway and “the process of finalization may take time”.
Referring to Ramesh’s objection to government intending to give ex-post facto approval to cases involving violations, the Minister said his notion was “absolutely wrong”.
“... Environment clearance which will be given is prospective in nature and previous actions resulting in violation will be made liable to stringent penal action as per statutory provisions,” Javadekar said.
The main purpose of the ex-post facto provision was to bring all violators under the regulatory regime by imposing a heavy penalty. “You will also agree that we should not allow such companies in perpetual unregulated status,” the Minister said.
Taking a dig at Ramesh’s tenure as environment minister, Javadekar said that when he looked back at the records, “it was noticed that previously such violators were allowed to regularize on a permanent basis via office memorandum (OM) issued in 2010”.
The OM was struck down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the grounds that the office memorandum cannot override the notification as no public consultation was held while regularising.
Javadekar further said: “This government has engaged the public and has received hundreds of thousands of suggestions/objections. So, we are doing it not through OM but through new proposed notification with wider public consultation.”
Dwelling on Ramesh’s objection to reducing the time for public hearing, the Minister said the government had given 30 days time for public hearing when actually public hearing takes place for one day only in the presence of district authorities.
“Thus, we are not reducing the period for public hearing but making it more meaningful,” he said and pointed out that public hearing for projects in an industrial estate or cluster (B2 projects) had been exempted from such hearing since 2006.
“We have not changed that. We have many suggestions on addition of more industries in this category which we have taken note of,” the minister shot back.
Denying that the government was doing away with Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in many cases of expansion, Javadekar said every expansion will require submission of an environment management plan. If the expansion was more than 25 per cent of production capacity then EIA was required.
Expansion of projects above 10 per cent of production capacity would require approval from the Environment Appraisal Committee. “We are allowing expansion without public hearing only in cases where the proposed expansion does not lead to increase in pollution and with adequate environmental safeguards,” he said.
On Ramesh’s objection to raising the validation of environmental clearance to 10 years, the minister said though such clearance was valid only for seven years in the current legislation, it had provisions for further extension of three years.
“Every project proponent needs to visit (government) office again and again. Instead, we are giving permission for 10 years at one go so that an entrepreneur need not come to government offices again and again,” Javadekar explained.
On the Centre’s power to appoint State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, he said that seven States - Delhi, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep, Nagaland and Goa- had not recommended any names for constituting the State authority.
In order to ensure that a project proposal is approved by such a State authority, the Centre chose to appoint the authority after the respective governments failed to do “within a reasonable time”.
Stating that he is ready to discuss in detail when the situation warrants, Javadekar pointed out that the Centre had issued only a draft notification and not a final notification.
The minister’s response to Ramesh comes after he dashed off a letter on 26 July, feeding into an irrational frenzy.
It led to strong reactions from some sections of the people in Tamil Nadu.
Some of the Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu, which are eyeing to make political capital of such confusion ahead of the Assembly polls due in May next year, have whipped up a motivated campaign against the draft notification.
Some popular public figures, including Tamil film actors, have been roped in for the campaign, which is for resuming Jallikattu (bullfight), the closing down the Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant, and the derailing of the Neutrino Observatory and Hydrocarbon exploration projects.
During his stint in the environment ministry, Ramesh had gained notoriety for his obstructionist approach.
The environmental regulatory regime presided over by him was described by the then Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia as “ arbitrary, non-scientific and non-transparent".
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.