GUWAHATI, June 16 - The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 issued by the Union Government on March 23 last, is viewed by environmentalists as the product of a design to �legalise� all sorts of illegalities of the industrial and developmental projects. For the purpose, they allege, the notification has proposed �post-facto clearance to almost all the industrial and development projects and has steps for virtually crushing the National Green Tribunal,� among others.
The last date for filing objections to the notification, which is sought to be made applicable all over the country, including its �territorial waters,� is �extended� till June 30, 2020. Significantly, it was first notified on March 23, 2020 when the attention of the whole of the country was drawn by the COVID-19 outbreak, with a 60-day limit for filing objections. However, after protests from some environmentalists, the date for filing objections was �extended� till June, 30, with the Government, both in the State and at the Centre, continuing to invoke COVID-19-related advisories that virtually acted as blinders for the people.
Some quarters have described the EIA Notification, 2020 as a notification that would �enable India�s auctioning of its forests� to the corporate sector of any origin, rather than helping the country in mitigating the adverse impacts of the industrial and development projects on its natural environment. �The Draft EIA, 2020 will weaken every aspect of the EIA process,� they maintain.
The draft EIA Notification has excluded from purview the dam projects, the river linking projects, in case the proponents of these projects claim that these projects are meant for drinking water, industrial water or commercial water supply, flood control or for any other purpose, except hydropower and irrigation, ash pond dams and mining waste dams.
All flood control and flood management projects, including embankments, all riverfront development projects, the non-dam projects that affect the rivers or wetlands or water bodies, all inland waterways projects or maintenance dredging projects, have also been excluded from its purview, clubbing them in the B2 Category (listed in column 5 of the notification�s schedule). This means that there would be no real scrutiny of their adverse impacts on the natural environment and people, and, there would be no public consultation process while granting environmental clearance (EC) to these projects.
Himanshu Thakkar, one of the leading environment activists of the country, who is heading the environment group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) maintains that the �Draft EIA Notification has said that the irrigation projects are not even river valley projects, only hydro projects are river valley projects.�
Moreover, the draft has left scopes for inclusion of many people in the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) with conflict of interest and it has weakened further the process of monitoring and compliance of the environment clearance conditions while making the environment impact assessments, Thakkar said.
In addition to the B2 category projects, the Draft Notification has also lengthened the list of the projects that are completely exempted from the EIA process. This means, no EIA study would be needed to be conducted on such project�s adverse impacts on environment and people, he said.
Moreover, it has institutionalised the violations indulged in by the project developers routinely, Thakkar said, adding, �� There is no independent committee set up to go through the submitted comments (on the draft EIA Notification) and then prepare a report, taking the comments into account. Secondly, the whole process is happening essentially in English language� The notification should be available in language and manner that everyone can understand and participate. Thirdly, the process clearly cannot happen in lockdown period.�