The government released the Environment Impact Assessment Draft 2020 recently, EIA is a tool to measure the impact of things, say, you construct a new house- how much would it cost you(in terms of money)? how much greenery would be destroyed? How much water would be pumped by the borewell? EIA is a tool to find out all of this. Similarly, when a new project is set up for the development of the country, then EIA measures its impact and calculates its environmental, social, economic costs. But this new draft is riddled with issues. Having read the draft, it becomes unclear whether it is to save the environment or to destroy the environment?!
We have summarized certain major issues with this new EIA draft:
Post Facto Clearance:
What would happen if a son asks his father for the keys of the car and the father tells him to live his life to the fullest and lets his son drive on the road without procuring a license for him first? At most, some people would get hurt and some would get severely injured. But the son would still reap the benefits of “Good days” and “ progress”, right? As for the license, it can be applied later. Hearing this would cause you to retort. Because, if it concerns someone’s life then-No risk should be taken! Well, the new EIA draft 2020 suggests something like this. It allows Post Facto Clearance. That is, even if a project has come up without environmental clearance, it can continue its operation. In the meantime-how is the environment impacted and how many lives are endangered- where is the answer to these? Well, you should concentrate on the exchange offer – Pay the fine and take the Environment Clearance.
Suo Moto Declaration:
Self-surrender, that is suo moto declaration of the violation. According to the EIA draft, if you have flouted the environmental norms, then there are two ways for the government to deal with you. The first is the normal route- the government officials will catch you red-handed and you would be in trouble. But the second more innovative route is suo moto declaration, that is, the violators would accept their violations themselves before the government and self report them. There is no scope for public complaint here. According to the EIA draft 2020, the corporate who have invested crores of money into mega projects would undergo a reawakening of their conscience and they would go to the government to get complaints against themselves filed. Does this make any sense? This is akin to a driver forgetting to put on his seatbelt while driving and then he walks up to the traffic police and asks for a challan for not wearing the seatbelt. Agreed- that some people do things out of stupidity but this draft proposal is akin to expecting a man to go out of this way to bring doom upon himself.
Exemptions And No Entry For Public Participation:
Draft EIA 2020 clubs the projects into categories. First – there is category A. then there is category B which includes B1 and B2. All projects of category B2 are exempt from the public hearing. There would be no hearing no matter how vocal you are about it. Neither would the public be apprised of these projects nor would there be any public hearing. And it’s like they say- Old habits die hard- this trend of not listening to the public is quite old. This trend has been going on for quite some time now and it would be carried on here as well. This exempted list includes- Modernization projects, irrigation projects, defense, security, inland waterways, highways, area development, etc, etc. But the list is not yet over, there is still more to go. Along with these projects, there is another clause that has been included- the clause of “strategic projects”. The government can declare any projects as strategic and can take it out of the public purview. The weapon named “RTI Act” has already been rendered useless without gunpower, now, the environment is also being toyed with by putting the strategic tag on projects. Let’s hope that this does not ruin our country and our environment completely!
Reduction In Response Time:
Lesser discussion, lesser hassles. The response period for the public to any notifications of projects in the EIA 2006 was 30 days. Now, who wants to wait for a month! We want to progress quickly. EIA draft 2020 did what nobody else could. The waiting period was made even shorter! It reduced the public response time from 30 days to 20 days. It takes 12 months to pass the twelfth boards and that too with a set syllabus with more or less fixed books, but here, it is being expected that a megaproject proposal would first be understood by the local people, who would then imagine its futuristic impacts and calculate the impact on the environment and then a compliant would be registered- all in 30 days- which has now been reduced to 20!
The extended validity of Airtel and Jio has got us so hooked that we want to apply this principle everywhere because no matter what it is – free coriander or Pepsi or environment clearance validity- we want more of it! Draft EIA 2020 gives extended validity to the projects abundantly. The validity of the mining projects has been increased to 50 years from 30 years. Meanwhile, the river valley projects have got an extended validity of 15 years and other projects -10 years. But that’s not it. They now would be required to submit a compliance report every 12 months instead of ever 6 months. The problem is that if a project is exerting a negative impact on the environment, then it would be impossible to reverse if it is allowed to go on for long. In the language of chemistry, it is called an irreversible reaction. This is why projects have to show compliance reports despite having got an environment clearance and they need to get their license renewed. It’s not that once the clearance has been granted, then we are left to our own will. But if EIA 2020 increases this period and also increases the risk to environmental damage, then we need to – Point it out, Stop it and explain it as well.
There’s another thing that needs a mention- the environment ministry, in the period between July 2014 and April 2020 received 2,592 proposals for environmental clearance, and out of these, 2,256 were approved. That is a clearance rate of 87%! It’s clear that even before the EIA 2020 draft coming into force the clearance rate is so high, then if this draft gets passed then how many trees would be cut and then our lifestyle would also be cut. What’s new – if the environment is in danger, we would anyway be in danger as well, but there is a ray of hope amongst all the distress is that the EIA is still in the draft stage. The government has asked for feedback on it. The govt wanted it done and dusted by June 30th, but the courts woke up from their slumber and the deadline was extended until 11th August.
Growth is necessary for a nation. But growth, just for the sake of growth- without taking the damage it would cause into account might be the ideology of a cancer,it should not be the ideology of our nation. Is it permissible for the government to sacrifice the environment for the sake of progress? Do raise questions! Or else another “ Masterstroke” is waiting to happen.