Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the union government’s draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, saying that it must be withdrawn to stop the “loot of the nation” and "environmental destruction".
"This is another dreadful example of what the BJP government has been doing for its select suit-boot 'friends' who loot the resources of the country," Gandhi alleged.
According to the government, the new notification is being brought in order to make the process more transparent and expedient by the implementation of an online system, further delegation, rationalisation and standardisation of the process.
What is Environment Impact Assessment?
EIA is essentially a process of evaluating the impact of a project, say mining, building an irrigation dam, a thermal power plant, etc. on human health, safety, environment along with socioeconomic and cultural impacts, prior to the decision-making.
The impact may be positive or negative. EIA essentially is a process of accounting for the ‘externalities’ at an early stage in project planning and design, finding ways to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
The current EIA notification was brought in 2006 under the Environment Protection Act 1986. A summary of steps involved in the EIA process is given in the diagram below.
During the public hearing, the local community, environmental activists etc. can raise objections and give their opinions, based on the draft EIA report prepared by experts for the project.
How the draft differs from the 2006 notification?
The EIA 2006 divides the projects into three categories. Category A projects are appraised at national level by Impact Assessment Agency and the Expert Appraisal Committee, while Category B projects are apprised at state level.
Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance, while Category B projects are further subdivided into B1, B2 categories after screening. Category B1 projects require mandatory EIA while those in Category B2 do not.
The draft removes several activities from the purview of public consultation.
A list of projects has been included under Category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA:
offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration
hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW
irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area
inland waterway projects
expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km with defined parameters
aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas
specified building construction and area development projects
small and medium mineral beneficiation units
small foundries involving furnace units, some categories of re-rolling mills, small and medium cement plants, small clinker grinding units, acids other than phosphoric or ammonia, sulphuric acid
micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, bulk drugs, synthetic rubbers, medium-sized paint units
Previously, the projects were first screened by an Expert Appraisal Committee and then categorised as B2, now, the activities listed in the schedule are automatically exempt.
The draft also gives the central government the power to categorise projects as “strategic”. The draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.
In the new scheme, coal and non-coal mineral prospecting and solar photovoltaic projects do not need prior environmental clearance.
The draft also cuts the notice period for public hearing from 30 days to 20 days. Critics say that this will make it difficult to study the draft EIA report, especially if it is not provided in the regional language.
A new provision for post-facto environmental clearance of projects executed without prior clearance is also provided in the draft.
The projects in violation can be given a post-facto approval with conditions, including remediation of ecological damage. The damage will be assessed and reported by the violator using Central Pollution Control Board guidelines. Previously, Jharkhand High Court had asked for consideration of a beneficial scheme for violators.
The draft also liberalises the norms for project modernisation and expansion. Those only above 25 per cent expansion will require an EIA, and only above 50 per cent ones will require public consultations or public hearings.
If the new draft kicks in, the project proponents will need to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions, compared to the existing two.
The critics argue that the notification completely dilutes the principles of the EIA. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh wrote a four-page letter to union minister Prakash Javadekar detailing his five main objections to the draft:
post-facto approvals go against the very principle of assessment and public participation prior to environmental clearance, will legitimise illegality
reduced public participation
no environmental impact assessment altogether in many cases of expansion and modernisation
increased validity of environment clearances allowing projects from seven to ten years to “secure” land for long duration without construction
union government’s full powers to appoint State environmental impact assessment authorities goes against principle of federalism
The union minister Javadekar responded to the criticisms, issuing a point by point rebuttal.
Regarding post facto approvals, Javadekar said that the environment clearance which will be issued is prospective in nature, and previous actions resulting in violation will be made liable to stringent penal action as per the statutory provisions.
Regarding the time period for public hearing, the minister said that 30 days period have been given for conducting public hearing but the actual public hearing takes place one day only in the presence of district authorities.
"Thus, we are not reducing the process of public hearing but making it more meaningful and 82 category projects are exempted from public 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 it."
Regarding expansion without a public hearing, the minister said that the government is allowing it only in cases where the proposed expansion does not lead to an increase in pollution load and with adequate environmental safeguards.
The minister also noted that the EIA notification of 2006 regime itself provides for extension of validity of an environmental clearance from seven to ten years.
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.