ENVIRONMENT IMPACT ASSESSMENT DRAFT, 2020 – A GUIDEBOOK TO UNDERSTAND BAKED CONTROVERSIES.9 min read

BY- MADHUSHREE PAUL

Without a doubt 2020 is the punctured wheel for every country worldwide. Almost every aspect on which a country runs has come to a stop. The sudden shockwave felt due to the rising spread of COVID-19 has left people clueless. The noble corona virus has made the world’s leading economies drop to their knees. Labourers are stuck in different states with meager amount of food and income. Numerous companies are sacking their employees to make ends meet and that has led to a tremendous amount of unemployment. In return, unemployment has led to an un-accounted measure of non-maintenance of various families and children.

The plausible solution to stop the transmission of the infector virus – putting the countries into lockdown.

And guess who took the most benefit out of such lockdown?

Earth.

For starters, Ganges dolphins are back home! This alone is such beautiful news, since these critically endangered South Asian dolphins are only specific to the Ganges and they were last spotted nearly 30 years ago.

And why leave the flamingos out? Tens of thousands of flamingos were spotted in Navi Mumbai, even as far as making the water look pink from up in the sky.

Thanks to the lockdown, it has left the air fresh to breathe in.

 But for Indian’s it’s pretty common knowledge that the Air Quality index has seen worse days. There’s no better example than Delhi – Delhi’s AQI was marked at 900 when the pollution was at its peak. At times it was even categorized as “Off the Charts”. The Smog had turned India’s capital into a “Climate Emergency”.[1]

Effectively, Delhi was ineligible of being “meri jaan.”

(An AQI of 200 in itself is harmful. To be precise, AQI 200 is 25% into the unsafe level as declared by the World Health organization. There are reports mentioning that breathing in the air is same as smoking 50 cigarettes a day.)

The Ganga Action Plan has been going on for more than a decade, but what did the Ganges really need? Negligible human interference. Ganges river water is now fit for drinking near Haridwar. The stopping of Industrial work has led to cleaning the upstream river. (Though downstream Ganges, Varanasi still has a long way to go.)

To sum it up, the pandemic has single-handedly brought down air-pollution, water-pollution and global warming. But sadly, it has taken the Human population down as well. Even though the mortality rate is much lower than anticipated, this virus has taken lives. (Not to mention, nearly 8 Billion people is way over the sustainable level of Earth.)

With that being said, it is evidence enough that earth has the power to recover from Human torment. Without human interference, recovery for Earth is like a piece of cake.

But here’s the deal.

To get back to SQUARE ONE (yes, that’s in capital letters) a new draft was issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on the 23rd of March, 2020 –

Environment Impact Assessment Draft, 2020.

In other words, A guidebook on – How to Understand Baked Controversies.

The Top Coat :-

The draft was issued on the 23rd of March by the MoEFCC, which was supposed to be issued 19 days earlier. Due to the delay caused by the pandemic, the initial date set by the MoEFCC for public feedback was 10th of August.

And here is what our beloved Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar thought would be fine since no one in this country is suffering due to the pandemic. He deemed it okay to cut short the deadline till 30th June.

Resulting in clash with environmentalists and activists, a petition was moved in the Delhi High Court. As a result, the date was extended till 11th of August.

With that being done, numerous projects have been exempted from public consultation. These include projects like modernization of irrigation projects, building and construction development projects, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, etc.

 “Linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas will not require any public hearing. The ‘border area’ is defined as “area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India.” That would cover much of the Northeast, the repository of the country’s richest biodiversity.”[2]

The general public, more or less, have no say on whatever projects are being launched.

The Cheesy Bit :-

The 2006 draft demanded the project proponent to submit report within 6 months. But with the new draft, the fresh timeline for the project proponent to submit the report has been stretched to 1 year.

Because, of course, if a project is already running that may affect the environment in a stipulated time period that’s within six months, it will definitely be unethical to stop such construction even though it’s affecting the environment!

Here’s a fun fact!

In the EIA Draft of 2006, construction in areas more than 20,000 sq. m were required to get an environment clearance after detailed inspection by the required committee. With the new draft, EIA, 2020, it is stretched all the way to 150,000 sq. m of area.

Someone needs to shout out to them that 150,000 sq. m area is almost equivalent to an airport!

The more construction there is the more amount of Carbon footprint is being left out into the environment. And it is common knowledge how construction material promotes air pollution and generates Greenhouse Gas emission.

“Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding major structures in Jharkhand lacking EIA, 05/05/2020.”[3]

“Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding non-implementation of EIA in the construction of buildings, Jharkhand, 06/01/2020.”[4]

Daily Court Digest: Major environment orders (May 8, 2020)”[5]

The National Green Tribunal has been trying to compel the Jharkhand Government about various large projects to comply with the Environment Impact Assessment Draft, 2006. But hey, that’s not needed anymore since we have the new draft here.

Because, you see, it’s always amazing to have dust instead of edibles in your cake.

The Cake :-

The EIA Draft, 2020 gives us the “The Post – Facto Approval”. To simplify: – projects that had not received clearance under the 2006 draft can now very easily be legalized. Projects considered violative under the Environment Protection Act can now resume their work and revive all that sleeping damage.

And to make the cake even softer, the 2020 Draft specifically states that only a government official or the developer themselves can recognize and report any sort of damage to the environment, very effectively cutting the whole process from the people.

“Assam gas leak: Massive flames continue to erupt from Oil India gas well in Baghjan.”[6]

Gas started leaking from an Oil Indian Limited site in Baghjan Assam from May 27th igniting a fire on June 9th. The blowout triggered more than 2,500 people who lived nearby to run for their lives. More interestingly, the site is less than a kilometer away from Dibru Saikhowa National Park and 500 meters from the wetland Maguri-Motapung Beel.

Why is this so interesting, you might wonder…?

Last month, Oil India Limited, a public sector utility, was granted environmental clearance by the MoEFCC to carry out extension drilling of oil and gas at seven locations in Dibru Sikhowa National Park in Assam.[7]

VIZAK GAS LEAK CASE – In an affidavit submitted to the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), LG Polymers India admitted that as of May 10, 2019, the unit did not have a “valid environmental clearance”.[8][9]

And this was before the Draft, 2020 was issued. Guess now they won’t even need clearance to work in a residential area anymore. Sweet!

The Crust :-

Now hold your breath tight, because this is the most important part for the cake *coughs* Draft.

Strategy… Strategic…

Slow claps for the Marvelous words added into the draft.

Holding projects concerning national defence and security under the tag strategic is quite natural. But was it enough?

No it wasn’t.

With the Environment Impact Assessment draft, 2020, the government gets to decide what falls under strategic and what does not even for other projects. Projects not related to defence or national security.

Oh and information related to strategic projects shall not be placed in public domain.

And that, my friends, opens a whole new window of clearance for any project that is deemed strategic without having to explain why.

Again, violation can only be reported by government officials, appraisal authority and other concerning bodies.

To Conclude.

The real question: Is the EIA, 2020 Draft, anyhow, helpful?

Yes, it is. It has a whole section for all the clauses that will undoubtedly make understanding the Environment Protection Act, 1986 much easier for the general public. That’s it.

The first time India enacted laws in regard to water pollution (1974) and air pollution (1981) was after the signatory Stockholm Declaration 1972 on environment. But the Environment Protection Act, 1986 was legislated after the Bhopal Gas Leak tragedy in 1984. The first EIA draft norm was issued in 1994 which was later replaced by the 2006 draft. Every development project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since.

The backbone of the EIA draft norms has been single handedly punctured with the newest EIA draft of 2020. It has also been categorized as “Ease of doing business”.

Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, enables the government to impose restrictions and setting up new rules for new projects or expansion, modernization of existing projects.

The purpose of this section is to aim for the benefit of the environment. The whole Environment protection Act, 1986 was made to make sure that the environment is not at stake. Somehow the meaning was lost to the Environment Impact Assessment Draft, 2020. Since Areas notified as eco-sensitive zones only by the MoEFCC will be recognized.

So, sit tight as you see those beautiful Flamingos in Navi Mumbai, South Asian dolphins in the Ghats of Kolkata, other bird sites, shores, coastlines, rivers, everything projecting wilderness pushed towards vulnerability.


REFERENCES:

[1] https://time.com/5718012/new-delhi-pollution-2019/

[2] https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/draft-environment-impact-assessment-norms-explained-6482324/

[3] http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/467514/order-of-the-national-green-tribunal-regarding-major-structures-in-jharkhand-lacking-eia-05052020/

[4] http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/466610/order-of-the-national-green-tribunal-regarding-non-implementation-of-eia-in-the-construction-of-buildings-jharkhand-06012020/

[5] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/daily-court-digest-major-environment-orders-may-8-2020–71007

[6] https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/assam-gas-leak-video-baghjan-oil-field-flames-oil-and-natural-gas-corporation-624939

[7] https://thewire.in/environment/how-malleable-laws-pliant-panels-helped-oil-secure-clearance-to-drill-in-biodiverse-area

[8] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/vizag-gas-leak-lg-polymers-india-green-nod-6399440/

[9] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/2-workers-died-4-hospitalised-following-gas-leakage-in-visakhapatnam-factory/articleshow/76702505.cms

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