Author: Rohan Talreja

Third Year, BBA LLB

BVDU New Law College, Pune

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.”

—Leo Tolstoy

Environment Impact Assessment is a process under the Environment Prevention Act, 1986, which ensures proper and systematic assessment of the industrial and infrastructural projects which might have an impact on the environment. EIA is a necessary regulation that prevents such projects from being approved or cleared without required safeguards. United Nations Environment Programme defines it as a tool to identify the social, environmental, and economic impact before starting any projects. It is used to predict the ecological impact of a project at an early stage in the planning process and to find out the ways to reduce the adverse effect. EIA covers projects like thermal, nuclear and hydropower projects, mining of coal and other minerals, real estate, infrastructure development, and other industrial projects. The EIA norms are used for regulating activities that access, utilize, and pollute natural resources also performs the vital function of assessing and regulating the impact of new projects on the environment.

The process by which the assessment is carried out by an Expert Appraisal Committee (ECA) is formed, which is consists of scientists and project management experts. Further, a preliminary report is made by examining the detailed overview of all the impact which an effect on the environment. Also, the reports are officially available to the public for the public consultation process. Then the final appraisal of the project is sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

But in the current scenario, the EIA has become a mere waste of time for the industry as it does not help practically to the environment; it only extends the time for the project work. The industry claims that this process only leads to an increase in red-tapism.

The new Environment Impact Assessment Draft, 2020, on March 23, 2020,has been introduced by superseding the previous 2006 notification. It has drastically impacted on the opposite side of the norms established by the international laws. The purpose of drafting a new bill should be to improve the rules established; besides, it hampers the environment in a very horrendous manner. The significant critical changes in the new draft, which could have a substantial impact on nature are as follows:

1. Allows Post-Facto Clearance

The new draft allows any project which comes without environment clearance could carry out the operations and can take the clearance whenever they like. It is not new as in March 2017, and the Environmental Ministry has passed the notification that provided industries with a chance to regularize the projects and started the construction or undertook expansion without prior environmental clearance. But now it seems to be creating a permanent set up for such post-facto clearance.

In a case, SupremeCourt ruled that the “concept of an ex-post facto EC (environmental clearance) is in derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence,” “detrimental to the environment, and could lead to irreparable degradation.”[1]Further, the violator will only need two plans for remediation and resource augmentation, which is to 1.5-2 times the ecological damage assessed and economic benefits derived due to violation. Also, the penalty per day of late clearance is minuscule.

In a recent case (i.e., Vizag gas Leak) when the documents were submitted to the SEIAA (Andhra Pradesh Environment Impact Assessment Authority),the company admitted that “the unit did not have a valid environmental clearance substantiating the produced quantity, issued by the competent authority for continuing operations.”[2]

2. Reduction in Public Hearing Time

Under the Environment Impact Assessment, the process of public consultation takes place where the project affected people to put their objections, which is reflected in the final appraisal report, which is sent to the MoEF. But the new draft reduces the timing of the public response from 30 days to 20 days, which gives local affected people less time for taking any necessary objections. It also reduces the days from 45 days to 40 days for the whole public hearing process. The time of consultation should be increased because people residing near the forest are the ones who are majorly affected and are not well informed and equipped as there should be no violation of natural justice. In an instance where the recent Oil Tragedy in Assam takes place, there was no proper hearing of the construction of the plant.[3]

3. Exemption on linear projects in Public Consultation.

Under the Public consultation,the exemption of “all linear projects under item 31 and 38, in Border Areas”in this linear project means such as the construction of roads, pipelines, etc. These projects will be exempted from falling under 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with the bordering countries. Imagine the area cover by the northeast region of India, which is rich in biodiversity, will be tampered badly.

4. Suo-moto application of the project proponent.

The draft suggests that there will be no participation of the local public in reporting the hampering of the Environment laws; only the government official or the violator of the commenced violation can tell the government. It means that the public has no authority to report any such violation. For example, if a person is making a coal mine in the centre of the forest by cutting the major area of the forest and the local public the victim of the violation, but the public cannot report the violation only the violator has the power to report or any government official.

5. Extends the validity period for critical sectors.

The critical sectors such as mining and other heavy industries have been increased for mining projects 30 years to 50 years and for river valley projects 10 years to 15 years. It is resulting in irreversible damage to the environment, social, and other health consequences.[4]

6. Increased Discretionary Power.

The government has now increased the discretionary power and limiting public engagement in safeguarding the environment. As it was there that the projects which are concerning to national defence and security are considered to be strategic,the information of such projects did not reveal to the public as the projects were strategic. But now, in the new draft, the government has the only power to make any project as a strategic project, whether it concerns national security or not.

7. Big bearing on the building and construction sector.

Before the EIA Draft 2020, the buildings of 20,000 sq. m (5 acres) or above were required the environmental clearance after detailed scrutiny by the state appraisal committee. But now the area has been changed to 150,000 sq. m (40 acres) that’s 8 times the previous area equivalent to the size of an airport. This type of clearance will mostly affect in Tier 2 and 3 cities and will result in air pollution and destruction forest area.

EIA 2020 will have a significant impact on the current nature situation as an increase in the industrial sector and coal mining sector as the draft significantly weakens the actions of environmental impact assessment, public consultation, and expert appraisal. It is portrayed as it will bring change in environmental protection, but in reality, it will increase the destruction of the environment.

[1]Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd. vs Rohit Prajapati, (2020) 4MLJ 277. [2] Vizag Gas Leak: LG Polymers Operated Without Appropriate Environment Clearance, The Wire Staff, https://thewire.in/government/vizag-styrene-gas-leak-lg-polymers-environmental-clearance [3] Oil India Skipped Public Hearings Before Expanding Drilling in Assam’s Baghjan, The Wire Staff, https://thewire.in/environment/exclusive-oil-india-skipped-public-hearings-before-expanding-drilling-in-assams-baghjan [4]Vikrant Rana and Tulip De, Draft EIA Notification 2020- Deadline to file objections extended till August 11, 2020, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=6efb1422-5ed5-49ec-99e8-1df9edf83657

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