Draft EIA Notification 2020 Threatens Tenets of Environmental Protection

by GoNews Desk 1 month ago Views 3316
By Vijay Panjwani, Advocate, Supreme Court of India

 

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There is anger and rage amongst the young GenZ against many proposed amendments in the circulated Environment Impact Assessment 2020 draft. The draft notification invites objections and suggestions from the public. The procedure of public consultation is laid down in the draft notification itself. In 1994, the Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued the first EIA Notification. In 2006, a comprehensive EIA procedure was notified. From 1994 to 2019 it was tinkered by way of amendments many a time to suit a given situation. Amendments are necessary to meet the exigencies at the time as they arise.

EIA rules apply to very big projects falling in Category ‘A’ ‘B1’ ‘B2’ which are capital intensive, energy guzzlers, requiring large number of workmen , vast land areas, large volume of water and over a long period of time. The object of EIA is to make aware in advance to people, the government and the project proponent about the degree of intensity of adverse impact of the project on the environment, which includes the workmen, residents, inhabitants, the trees, the soil, clean water from myriad sources, ponds, rivers, wells, tanks, lakes, ground water, drainage system, solid waste management, the air and the noise level. In addition, to know the benefits the project would bring to society in terms of health, employment, earning capacity, technical training, education, sports, and general improvement in the quality of life. In short, to assess the Cost-Benefit of the project to establish or construct or renovate or add. If the cost to the environment is huge and does not justify the likely irreversible damage then the project report has to be rejected. Restoration of closed mines is a huge new business opportunity for GenX.

Constitutional Protection to Eco-Sensitive Areas

is proposed here that constitutional protection may be extended to Eco-Sensitive Areas and Zones, wetlands, water bodies, forests with its minor & major produce, deemed forests and dense cluster of trees and other notified items. All MoEF EP Act notified areas and zones by name may be included in the new proposed Schedule 13 to be made with the aid of Article 48-A read with Article 37. Article 37 compels the government to apply the principles of state policy in making laws. Article 48-A of the Constitution of India says, “Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life: The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.

Draft notification Clause 3 Item 21 defines Eco-Sensitive Areas (ESA) are Areas notified under Section 3(2) Environment Protection Act, 1986 and subsequent amendments from time to time.

Similarly, Clause 3 Item 22 defines Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) are Zones notified under Section 3(2) Environment Act,1986 and subsequent amendments from time to time.

It is proposed to identify and include in Schedule 13 more eco-sensitive areas and zones and not restrict the number to those notified by MoEF. The State Policy is given in Article 48-A. Article 37 mandates that in the making of laws the principles laid down in the State Policy indicated in Article 48-A shall be enforced. This is the route to making of Schedule 13 with the title Protection to Eco-Sensitive Areas (Under Article 48-A).

Preparation of EIA Report

The EIA Report prepared by the consultant of project proponent must contain the following information demanded in Appendix-X format of the Draft EIA Notification 2020:

Introduction.

(ii) Project description.

(iii) Environment description.

(iv) Anticipated adverse environment impact and mitigation.

(v) Analysis of alternatives to land site, sources of water, habitation etc.

(vi) Environment Monitoring Program.

(vii) Additional studies after public hearing & public consultation.

     Severe impact may require rehabilitation & resettlement.

(viii) Project benefits.

(ix) Environment cost-benefit.

(x) Environment Management Plan.

(xi) Summary and Conclusion.

PUBLIC CONSULTATION

Clause 14 says public consultation is very important.

PUBLIC HEARING: It comprises of face to face hearing at a pre-notified time and place with the project proponent in the presence of officers of government and the state pollution control board. There is no restriction on entry for peaceful participation. Project proponent is liable to give his response in a proper manner to meet the apprehensions of the gathered public.

WRITTEN RESPONSE: In addition, the District Magistrate shall call for public response in writing. The EIA Report is usually a heavy document of more than 300 pages containing technical data about the machines, the technology, the manufacturing procedure, the volume of emitting gases with toxicity composition, the volume of solid, semisolid industrial waste with characteristics and composition, volume of waste water discharge with characteristics and composition and volume of hazardous waste and its safe disposal.

After due advertising in newspapers of the public hearing, usually word about it is spread by beat of drums. If the project land is covering more than one state then public hearing would be organized by the concerned District Magistrate (DM) in his jurisdiction. It is vehemently argued that 20 days’ notice for public hearing and written public response is horribly insufficient. The NGOs and concerned citizens know little about the technology or the emissions and those who have the expertise to understand know the alleged cut and paste job being done by the Accredited Environment Impact Assessment Consultant Organisation. It is alleged in comments on the internet that heavy voluminous EIA Reports have a large number of common pages. It’s like several different dishes with a common gravy being served in restaurants. Yet trees, forests, water bodies, rivers, wetlands have to be protected. Protests, writing letters, writing petitions, using the internet are some ways of peaceful resistance even as anyone from the public approaches the courts. Post corona pandemic courts are accepting petitions by email. It is convenient and cost-effective. Virtual courts have brought the citizen inside the court room face to face with the Judge. There is heavy reliance on the written word as the face value of a lawyer decreases with time.

The District or Divisional Level Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC), the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and the Regulatory Authority (MoEF) are responsible to give fair decisions keeping in view principles of precaution and sustainable development.

These authorities comprise technical and legal experts. An expert can be a member of only one authority at a time. The age limit of 70 years age is arbitrary, even as it is universally admitted that 60 is the new 40, that makes 70 the new 50. The MoEF EIA draft notification can easily delete the age limit or increase the appointment age to 75 years from the notified 70.

Appraisal committees, and the Regulatory Authority are expected to take into consideration the reasonable suggestions and objections of the public and the requests and guiding recommendations of law courts and the National Green Tribunal while giving decisions without fear or favour.

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