Environmental impact assessment commenced in the 1960s, as part of increasing environmental awareness. EIA is usually used when applied to actual projects by individuals or companies and the term “strategic environmental assessment” (SEA) applies to policies, plans, and programs most often proposed by organs of state. It is a tool of environmental management forming a part of project approval and decision-making.
The EIA notification is an important set of guidelines and safeguards for environmental and public welfare. The currently proposed Draft EIA 2020 by the government systematically dilutes these safeguards to favor industrial projects and their ease of doing business. If it came to pass, vast tracts of the country’s wilderness will be quickly taken over by corporates, while public and local communities will have very little say in the matter. We live at a time of climate breakdown. The present pandemic has shown us the stark social inequities which exist in our society. The cause of the COVID pandemic is also being strongly linked to the rampant loss of habitats, which buffer zoonotic diseases. If the proposed EIA draft came into force, these circumstances in India will worsen far more.
The Covid-19 emergency delayed the publication of the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 in the Gazette by 19 days. So, when thousands emailed to seek an extension to the mandatory 60-day window for public feedback, the Environment Ministry top brass thought it fit to allow another 60 days until August 10. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar set the new deadline on June 30, limiting the extension to only 20 days. It did not go down well with activists who have been pushing for the draft’s withdrawal altogether. Far from an improvement, the 2020 draft, they claim, is a regressive departure from the 2006 version it seeks to replace.
Today the Delhi High Court extended till August 11 the period for giving suggestions to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020, which provides for post-facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases. The court further said that it was not pleased with “this attitude” of the government and added that process of public consultation was “not an obstacle”.
As the window for public feedback to the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 closes on August 11, its various provisions aimed at facilitating the government’s doctrine of “ease of doing business” keep open the question if the notification is aligned to the purpose of the Environment Act. The last is yet to be heard on its legal validity.