ENVIRONMENT IMPACT ASSESSMENT 2020 – KEY CHANGES AND ITS IMPACTS
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
By M. Palani Selvi, B.Sc.,
Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process which sets a legal framework for regulating industrial/infrastructural activities. It prevents the industrial/infrastructural projects from being approved if they are unfavourable to the environment. EIA covers projects such as mining of coals or other minerals, infrastructure development, thermal nuclear and hydropower projects, real estate and other industrial projects. It provides alternatives for a project, which represents both development and environment friendly. There is a provision for public consultation at which the local community and interested persons can give their opinion about the projects. It is currently practised in more than hundred countries.
India signed the Stockholm declaration in 1972 on the environment. After that, India enacted Water act (1974) and Air act (1981) to control water and air pollution respectively. But only after the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, India enacted an umbrella act called Environment protection act 1986.
Under Section 3 of Environment protection act 1986, India drafted its first EIA in 1994 to impose a restriction on setting up of new projects or expansion or modernisation of existing projects. In 2006, the modified draft of 1994 EIA notification was released.
Environment Impact Assessment 2020
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) amended the EIA 2006, to make the EIA process “more transparent and expedient”.
But the new 2020 draft of EIA has been widely criticised for its problematic changes in rules. The 2020 draft of EIA allows post facto clearance. It means any project could carry out their operations ever without environment clearance.
If a project is categorized as ‘Strategic’ then no information related to such project shall be placed in the public domain. Projects concerning national defence and security are naturally categorized as ‘Strategic’. In the new EIA draft, there is a list of other projects exempted from assessment and considered as ‘Strategic’. For example,
· All inland waterways and national highway projects.
· Building construction projects for an area up to 1, 50,000 sq m.
· Linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas.
Under existing EIA 2006 norms, the above projects in the list should be screened by Expert Approval Committees. But in EIA 2020 norms it is placed under the ‘Strategic’ category.
New EIA allows only the Government representatives or the project proponent to report against any violations and the citizens cannot complain against such violations.
The draft cuts down the notice period for public consultation from the current 30 days to 20 days. This questions the transparency and credibility of the assessment process.
Another change is, the project proponents are asked to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions. But according to EIA 2006 norms, they have to submit two annual reports.
The EIA 2020 draft added a provision to regulate Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) and Island Coastal Regulatory Zone (ICRZ) properly. This provision is seen as a positive amendment since it will check the illegal tracking and smuggling.
The draft diluted the regulations over industrial and development practices which may cause negative impacts on the environment.
What is the Aarhus Convention?
The Aarhus Convention, adopted by the United Nation Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 25th June 1998, establishes the number of rights of the public in matters of the environment. They are as follows,
· The right of everyone to access environmental information.
· The right of public participation in environmental decision making.
· The right to access to justice to challenge the public decision with respect to the above-mentioned rights
Aarhus convention specifies that sustainable development can be achieved only when the involvement of stakeholders, government accountability and the environmental protections are interconnected and the interaction between public and public representatives should take place in a democratic context. This shows that the public domain should be given a major role in decision making in matters of environmental protection. But the newly drafted EIA 2020 exempts the public domain in many important matters.
The importance of EIA and its stringent impositions can be realised through recent incidents such as the LG polymer plant in Visakhapatnam and the blow and fire at the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Assam. The provisions of EIA should contain strict rules and restrictions to safeguard the environment and to prevent any further disaster to take place in the future.