Before undertaking any major project, an Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is done to identify the consequences of a proposed activity/project on the environment. EIA covers projects such as mining of coal or other minerals, infrastructure development, thermal, nuclear and hydropower projects, real estate and other industrial projects. It is a process that acknowledges and takes into consideration the views of the people on whether a project should be approved or not.
Many activists have called the new EIA draft ‘anti-environment’ and ‘pro-industries.’ Activists claim that far from an improvement, the 2020 draft is a ‘regressive departure’ from the 2006 version it seeks to replace. It is an attempt to weaken environmental regulation and silence affected communities. The draft also seems to favour industries while largely neglecting the balance between sustainable development and environment protection.
The 1994 EIA notification was modified in 2006 and to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders since then, it was drafted again in 2020. The draft aimed to make processes more transparent and beneficial for the people. But, on the contrary, the draft proposes the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.
A signatory to the Stockholm Declaration (1972) on Environment, India enacted laws to control water (1974) and air (1981) pollution soon after. But it was only after the Bhopal Gas disaster of 1984, that the country legislated an umbrella Act for environment protection in 1986 brought out to ensure all-round safety of the environment. It later got replaced by the 2006 EIA notification.
Every developmental project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since the norms were notified in India in 1994.
Why the EIA draft 2020 is so controversial
The two significant changes that the draft tries to bring are the ‘post-facto clearance’ and the restriction of public participation. Where the post-facto clearance is concerned, the Supreme Court of India in an order stated that “Environmental law cannot countenance the notion of an ex-post-facto clearance. This would be contrary to both the precautionary principle, as well as the need for sustainable development.” Furthermore, the 2020 draft increases the government’s power and provides no remedy for the political and bureaucratic stronghold on the EIA process while also favouring the industries.
Most of the nations in the world have implemented EIA. On one side it acts as a key to control the activities of private corporations. While on the other hand, it is a prerequisite for grants or loans by international financial institutions.
How does it prove to be dangerous?
The impact of the provisions of this draft could be a possible danger to North India as compared to PAN India. In the draft, the border area is defined as “area falling within 100kms of aerial distance from the line of actual control with bordering countries of India.” This means it will cover a large portion of North East India, which is considered as the country’s biodiversity hotspot.
A prime example is the Baghjan fire that took place in Assam earlier this year. The blowout was so dangerous that along with destroying human lives as well as flora and fauna, the entire place is still burning. The State Pollution Board of Assam had reported that the oil plant had been operating for over 15 years without any prior consent. Such is the consequence of establishing a project without proper clearance.
If this draft becomes a law, it will mean a death sentence for the environment without allowing people to raise their voices. Strict action must be taken against a draft like this to protect our environment from any further damages.