GUWAHATI, July 29 - Flaying the draft EIA Notification, 2020 as it rides roughshod over legitimate environmental concerns, over 50 environmental groups, organisations, eminent ideologues and activists from across the Himalayan region, including the northeastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir and Ladakh, have urged the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to scrap the draft notification immediately.
The organisations have also issued a joint statement titled �Stop accelerating ecosystems distress in the Himalayas� and �Withdraw draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020�. It comes in the wake of an attempt by the MoEF&CC to dilute the environmental regulations to facilitate ease of doing business.
�The Himalayan region today is in the most vulnerable position with massive climate-induced disasters, increasing deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, drying of rivers, death of groundwater sources, melting glaciers, hollowing of the mountains, solid and hazardous waste related pollution. As it is, this ecological region is known to be fragile, where even small changes in the landscapes lead to rapid and wide-ranging impacts on the lives of millions of people,� the statement said.
Asserting that the ecological crisis has worsened due to poor implementation of regulatory and governance mechanisms, it said that the lack of adequate and thorough scientific planning and impact assessment studies, non-compliance of environmental norms and social accountability laws, diminishing space for democratic public participation in decision making processes had further worsened the situation in the past few years.
The latest move of the Central government proposes more exemptions in environmental rules to be followed by companies and project developers under the EIA notification. The EIA is a legal process, under the 1986 Environment Protection Act, for evaluating the likely environmental and socioeconomic impacts of a proposed project or development scheme. Decision making under this process has a series of mechanisms, including participation of affected populations through the �public consultation�, and review by technical and scientific experts, to ascertain that costs of projects do not outweigh the benefits.
�However, this notification has been amended and read down several times, in the last two decades, in favour of �easing the norms� for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality whereas what is required for the protection of the Himalayan ecology are stricter and more robust environmental laws.
�The fact that the Government of India, under the Climate Change Action plan had set up a separate national mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems, almost 10 years ago, is indicative of the criticality of protecting the biodiversity, geology and sociocultural fabric of this region. From the Western to the Eastern Himalayas, there are about 12 States which fall in the Indian Himalayas sustaining a population of close to 80 million, dependent almost entirely on land and forest based livelihoods,� it added.
Voicing concern that over the last three decades, governments, both in the states and at the Centre have pushed policies and projects which have contributed to severe ecological distress, the statement said that hydropower development, mindless construction of highways and infrastructure for commercial tourism, and growing industrialisation were the three most threatening developmental activities that had met with strong resistance from local communities and environmentalists.
Hydropower development is being undertaken in the entire Himalayan region of India, to develop a potential of 150,000 MW power. Nearly 90 per cent of Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and 27 per cent of these dams would affect dense forests. If all proposed 292 dams are constructed, on the basis of the current global number of dams, the region will have highest density of dams in the world.
�The climatic crisis is already a threat for the region with erratic rainfalls, changing weather patterns, and climate-induced disasters disrupting lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants. Every year the Himalayan states see crores of rupees worth of damage due to landslides, flash floods, abrupt rains and forest fires. The impacts of the disasters are further exacerbated by the nature and scale of construction that is going on,� it said.