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Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2020: A Dilution of the Responsibility

Updated: Aug 17

Introduction


This pandemic has shown us with a brutal blow how much nature is important to us and how apathetic we were towards our mother nature. Again, it was harshly pointed out that we need nature for our survival. The newly drafted Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification is a very regressive measure taken by the Union Government, thus, putting the environment at stake. The goal of EIA was to recognize the proposed project’s impact on environmental, health, social, and economic aspects of that region, is the environment and public, along with the Sustainable Development Goals as the primary concern. The argument of the Union Government favoring this attitude by saying it will reinforce more transparency, as well as economic development, pushes us into a topsy-turvy situation.



Background And Process Of EIA


Being a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration on Environment (1972), India formulated laws to control air and water pollution soon. Under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, India for the first time notified EIA norms in 1994 with the aim to check the negative environmental impact and lessen the pollution of natural resources. Modified EIA draft in 2016 replaced the EIA draft of 1994 to make the EIA process more expedient as well as transparent.

The assessment is done by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). EAC committee members consist of scientists, field experts, and project management experts. The project plan is thoroughly screened by the committee on terms of impact, investment, monitoring needs, and the possibility of mitigation. The surrounding environment is assessed, positive and negative impacts are noted as well as the permanent and temporary changes are predicted. A preliminary report is made which is published for public consultation. The views expressed by the public and environmental groups are informed to the project-in-charge who then answers the major queries raised. A report is made by EAC keeping in mind the norms of EIA, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and EMP (Environmental Management Plan). The report is forwarded to the Ministry of Environment and Forests who may or may not provide clearance based on the report submitted.


Issues With The Notification


One of the most criticized reasons for this notification was that it allows for post-facto approvals, which, in itself is against the very basic cause of the Environmental Assessment process. It means a Project can develop and start working without getting clearance, and it will not be considered as illegal as there will be a scope of subsequently getting ratified and notified. It strikes the concept of Public Trust Doctrine, in which it is considered that the Government act as a trustee of all the natural resources, and such resources should be used primarily for the benefit at large. In recent scenarios such as the LG Polymer Plant disaster in Visakhapatnam and Oil India Limited incident, it was found that both breached environmental norms and lacked needed clearance. It needs to be understood that damage to environmental damage is irreversible and can have a catastrophic effect on human society.

Another most important viewpoint widely expressed and condemned is undermining public involvement. This Notification reduces the time flat from 30 days to 20 days for expressing views and suggestions of the public affected by such a Project. There is also a list of numerous projects exempted from the public hearing, or in simple terms, cannot be questioned. It also makes the mandatory bi-annually report of the activities annually, leaving it in a more vulnerable stage. It also mentions that projects which are considered as ‘strategic’ will not be subject to EIA and no information about such a project shall be available in the public domain. The Draft Notification also provides that new construction projects not more than 1,50,000 square meters do not attract ‘detailed scrutiny’ by the expert committee and public consultation. The area for such terms was up to 20,000 square meters before the 2020 Notification.

Way Forward


Due to the sophistication and automation of machinery, many threats cannot be accessed beforehand. This new Notification not only ‘Ease the Business’ for the revival of the economy after pandemic by diluting the provisions, but also act as a trepidation for human health and environment. Disasters caused by modern projects are not only tremendous but also difficult to foresee. In such a situation proper precaution, strict regulation, and compliance are the key factors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debmallya Sinha is currently pursuing Law at ICFAI Law School

They can be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/debmallya-sinha-a71972119

Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair.

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