Draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
Environmental Impact Assessment is the study which predicts the environmental, social and economic effects of a proposed industrial or infrastructural project. It prevents the proposed project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account. It is a formal process practiced in more than 100 countries before making the decision regarding the industrial projects. The Assessment is carried out by Expert Appraisal Committee, consisting of scientists and project experts.
It falls under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains the provisions on the methodology and process. Under this Act, India notified its first EIA norms in 1994.
The proposed draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020 seeks to replace the current notification that dates back to 2006.
Why is the new EIA problematic?
- Allows Post-facto clearance
It means that any project without environment clearances could carry out operation. This amounts to legitimisation of violations as any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off.
Post-facto approval is a clear violation of fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence including ‘precautionary principle’.
- Projects exempted from assessment
Any project the government categorises as ‘strategic’ is exempted from assessment. Once a project is classified as strategic, then no information related to the project shall be placed in the public domain. All inland waterways and national highways have been excluded from the public consultation. There is also a provision to exempt the construction projects up to 1,50,000 Sq.mts
- Reporting the violations
Violations can only be reported by a government representative or the project proponent and not by citizens. This goes against the principle of natural justice.
- Public hearing
Any EIA is presented for a public hearing. It gives the public a chance to understand the project and its whole process. The draft 2020 notification shortens the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to furnish the responses on the project. This diluted public consultation process questions the transparency and credibility of the assessment.
- Reduction in the frequency of monitoring requirements
The new draft requires the promoter to submit a compliance report only once in a year, whereas it was required to be submitted every six months in the 2006 EIA notification. Several consequences – environmental and social might go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time.
On the positive note, The draft EIA 2020 has a clause dedicated to the definition of several terms related to EIA. This removes the ambiguity in the present EIA Rules.
Consequences of dilution of EIA rules
- Recent incidents such as the gas leak at the LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant points out the importance of EIA in our country.
- In Samarth Trust Case, the Delhi High Court has ruled that EIAs are an essential part of participatory justice which intends to give voice to the voiceless. Therefore, any dilution in the rules would go against the democratic norms.
- Lack of trained EIA professionals might lead to irrelevant reports and this runs the risk of ignoring the indigenous knowledge
Many environment experts are of the opinion that many of the provisions of the new draft EIA 2020 proves to be a regressive departure from the earlier version. In order to improve the ease of doing business, steps should be taken to cut short the bureaucratic delays, complex laws and dispute resolution process.
EIA also needs to be accompanied by Social Impact Assessment to measure the impact holistically and to achieve sustainable development.
Environmental issues are best handled through the participation of all the concerned citizens. Hence, the government should ensure access to information and provide an opportunity to all the stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process.