All India Kishan Mazdoor Sabha
Central Executive Committee
To Dt. 30 June 2020
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
Govt of Indira
Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road, Aliganj, New Delhi-110003,
E-mail ID: [email protected]
Sub : Opposing the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification – 2020
We on behalf of the Central Executive Committee of the All India Kishan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS) want to lodge our strongest protest against the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification – 2020 which has been put in the public domain by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) since March 12.
We think the proposed new set of environment clearance rules seem to be heavily loaded in favour of the industry and commercial interests. The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification – 2020 which is intended to replace the EIA notification – 2006, proposes to ease processes for business, does away with the public hearings for many projects, ease rules for expansion of projects among other things.
It weakens the public consultation process and gives a lot of discretionary powers to the authorities. It proposes a mechanism to legitimize some actions currently listed as violations, like projects starting construction without a valid clearance, dilutes rules by expanding the list of projects exempted from public consultation, and does not prescribe a robust post environment clearance monitoring system.
The EIA notification – 2006 regulates the environment clearance given by the Central Government for projects such as dams, mining, thermal power plants, infrastructure projects like highways, ports, airport and big construction projects. But the predominant thrust of the draft EIA notification – 2020 is completely contrary to the principles of environment protection and that of EIA 2006 notification.
Instead of focusing on ensuring the protection of the environment, the draft EIA – 2020 undermines past several orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which had ruled against post-facto approvals. The purpose of this notification is to legitimize illegalities done by industries. It seems to be emphasizing that an industrial project that has violated environmental rules will have a right to seek approval for it as long as that project is permissible in the area which is a mockery of the law.
In the environment clearance process, public consultation has been an important component under which the concerns of local affected persons and others, who have a stake in the environmental impact of the project, are ascertained with a view to appropriately take into account while designing the project. In the latest draft, the MoEFCC proposes to expand the list of projects that do not need to seek public consultation before they seek environment clearance.
The draft is saying that public consultation is exempted for projects including modernization of irrigation projects, all building, construction and area development projects, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, all projects concerning national defense and security or involving “other strategic considerations” as determined by the central government. It also held that “all projects concerning national defense and security or involving other strategic considerations, as determined by the central government, shall require prior-environment clearance, from the ministry without any change in the category of the project” but “no information relating to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.”
Another contentious point is that linear projects like pipelines and highways in border areas are exempted from the public hearing. However the term “border area” is defined as an “area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the line of actual control with bordering countries of India” which will end up covering a huge area in regions like northeast or northern India. By this it leaves a lot to the discretion of the government.
These provisions will ensure a huge help for the building and construction lobby which has been facing several court cases regarding clearance rules. With this, it is now ensured that the construction industry will no longer require an appraisal from the expert panels of the environment ministry. Similarly, the term “strategic project” is used in the proposed EIA notification where public consultation is exempted. Defence and security-related projects are understandable but the governments can designate any other projects as of strategic importance in name of energy security etc. to steer it clear of any public consultation and push the project. It can be an irrigation project or a mining project.
The EIA – 2020 notification is considered to be an important instrument for enabling environmental democracy through meaningful public participation. This participation is sought to be done through public consultation comprising of two components – a public hearing and inviting responses from those having a plausible stake in the environmental aspects of the project. The Supreme Court and several high courts also from time to time observed that if adequate time is not given for the preparation of views, comments and suggestions to those who would be affected by the project, then such public hearings would not be meaningful. The time period under the earlier notification for the conducting of the hearing was 45 days. But in the draft notification it shortens the time for the public to furnish responses on the project from 45 days to 40 days. For project-affected people, who are generally forest dwellers and peasants or otherwise do not have access to information and technology, this will make it harder to put forth representations.
The public consultation process under the EIA notification has been riddled with infrastructural disabilities, inefficiencies and lack of access to information. Hearings conducted across the country have been notorious for providing incomplete EIA reports, encouraging discussions on irrelevant details of the project, high levels of discrepancies in the information provided etc., thereby rendering the entire idea to involve citizens in environmental decision making, moot. The notification neither address these deficiencies pertinent in the process of public consultation, nor does it seek to ensure the authenticity or increased reach of information, that is critical for the concerned citizens to effectively participate in the process.
As per the present EIA rules, a mining project can get environmental clearance for a period of up to 30 years but in the latest 2020 ammendments it will be up to 50 years. This list shows how the draft EIA – 2020 is an attempt to skirt around all the major decisions of the NGT over the past few years.
A few years ago, the government started focusing on ease of business but today with changes like these the only focus is business while the original mandate of protecting the environment is nowhere to be found. The proposed EIA – 2020 notification is conveniently expanding the list of projects that can be exempted from close scrutiny.
There is a case going on regarding inland waterways. Waterways require two kinds of dredging – capital and maintenance. Now, as per the existing rules, capital dredging (for inland waterways) requires environmental impact assessment. However, in the draft EIA – 2020 the ministry has changed the definition of capital dredging to keep rivers out of the purview of the new environment clearance proces.
The draft EIA – 2020 has ignored the monitoring and compliance of projects cleared. Under the draft EIA notification – 2020, project owners are to submit environmental compliance reports (after getting clearance) every year which under the EIA notification 2006 they had to do it every six months and extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors such as mining.
The backbone of environment clearance rules is monitoring the conditions on which projects are cleared and ensuring compliance. But here the ministry outrightly trusts the industries whose track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. This proposed EIA – 2020 notification has no focus on ensuring compliance and monitoring of projects while it heavily relies on self-certification by the industry.
The government’s actions on environmental regulation show that it considers it an impediment to the ease of doing business. During the nationwide corona virus lockdown, the MoEF has been working swiftly to clear projects, even carrying out public hearings over video conference.
Under the guise of streamlining the EIA process and bringing it in line with recent judgments, the Draft EIA – 2020 Notification disables it, shrinks its scope and removes the safeguards for environmental justice. It minimizes the role of the local people particularly the opinion of people likely to be effected by the project.
Hence, we on behalf of Central Executive Committee of AIKMS oppose this pro-corporate and anti people and anti environment amendments in the EIA proposed by the Central Govt.
Bhala Chandra Shadangi
National Secretary, AIKMS