Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Government of India
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra Unit, firmly objects to the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020 (Draft EIA 2020) issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on March 12, 2020. The Draft EIA 2020, set to replace the EIA Notification, 2006 currently in force, goes on to dilute the existing provisions of the law which itself were far from ideal, at a time when it needed strengthening in the wake of the environmental crises faced by the country. Conducting this exercise during this difficult time when the nation is dealing with an unprecedented pandemic, the public is under tremendous strain making it impossible for them to be able to effectively participate in the process and the courts and democratic institutions are reeling under pressure, is unfair and uncalled for.
At the outset, we are extremely bothered by the process followed by the MoEFCC in issuing the Draft EIA 2020 at this time of crisis. Even as the nation was just acknowledging the Covid-19 pandemic, the Draft EIA 2020 was published on the website of the MOEFCC and objections were invited from the public on March 12, 2020. After much protest and legal intervention, following the order passed by the Delhi High Court, this time limit for the submission of the objections and suggestions to the Draft EIA 2020 was extended until August 11, 2020, to ensure that the public had sufficient time to study the Draft EIA 2020 and to submit their objections and suggestions to the proposed law. Even the time extension until August 11, 2020, is highly inadequate in light of the continuing Covid-19 crisis. There is no plausible explanation why the government chose the imminent time of the pandemic to release the Draft EIA 2020, instead of postponing the process to a time when public scrutiny and debate are possible i.e. after the pandemic crisis is successfully averted and some semblance of normalcy returns.
The Draft EIA 2020, which is set to overhaul the environmental jurisprudence of our country and by that impact the lives, livelihoods and health of all the people of the country and the environment, has not been published in local languages, making the entire process of public consultation non-inclusive, non-representative and a superficial formality. Most people from different parts of the country, affected communities and local stakeholders will be precluded from participating in this important process. The High Courts of Karnataka, Chennai and Delhi have raised questions regarding this, however to date, the government has failed to release the Draft EIA 2020 in local languages or suspend the process of public consultations till the requirement is fulfilled. We object to the process being followed by the MoEFCC and demand that the Draft EIA 2020 be immediately withdrawn and the entire process be suspended until after the pandemic crisis.
At the further outset, we object to the bringing in of a substantive procedural law for EIA by way of a notification. The law providing for EIA is important legislation that determines the potential environmental impact of projects and activities like setting up of industries, building construction, mining, infrastructure and power projects etc. It is pertinent that a law of such massive significance be brought in by way of an Act of the Parliament and not a notification that is susceptible to amendments and dilutions, as has been the case with the EIA notifications of 1994 and 2006 which have been chipped at and hollowed out extensively, at times bypassing public consultation process under the guise of public interest. What we need is to bring in a robust and effective law for EIA in place and instead of the existing and proposed policy.
The Draft EIA 2020 has been drafted without consulting with the robust community of environmental activists and experts in the country, which reflects on a bare reading of the proposed legislation. It is nothing but a compilation of dilutions to the existing legislation over the last several years and a further weakening of the EIA process to favour project proponents and disregard environment rights and rights of the people. We, after a detailed study of the Draft EIA 2020, are hereby writing to you to bring to your notice that the Draft EIA 2020 is completely contrary to law, unconstitutional, opposed to the well-established principles of environmental jurisprudence, unscientific, fails to meet the primary purpose of protection of the environment and fails to provide the necessary legal framework to support a robust and effective environmental regulatory and compliance mechanism. The Draft EIA 2020 thus fails in its fundamental purpose and must be immediately withdrawn.
As an organisation dedicated to protect and uphold the civil liberties and democratic rights of the people, PUCL Maharashtra, presents the following detailed specific objections to the Draft EIA 2020, which are not exhaustive.
Violation of principles of Environmental Protection
Grant of Post facto clearances
Detrimental changes to the EIA process
Takes away the independence of the committees
Dilutes protections under other environmental laws
PUCL Maharashtra rejects the Draft EIA 2020 in its current form on the above amongst other grounds, which expose the fundamental problems with the proposed legislation. It is clear that the Draft EIA 2020 has failed to capture the learnings from the shortcomings with the EIA process felt by the environmental rights community and civil society. The Draft EIA 2020 is guilty of centralising control while over-delegating administrative function, thereby curbing the independence of the process and encouraging corrupt practices. The proposed legislation is undemocratic, an attack on local governance through grass-root participation and defies the principle of federalism that is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. By removing the requirement for public consultation for a large number of projects and introducing anti-people changes to the public consultation process, the Draft EIA 2020 has revealed its discomfort with public participation in decision making, which is a must in environmental governance and considered to be a key to achieving sustainable development. The Draft EIA 2020 is violative of the international principles of environmental law and violates important treaties and conventions to which India is signatory including the Rio Declaration, United Nations Framework on Climate Change, Paris Agreement etc. and is hence, also telling of India’s commitment (or lack of it) to the achievement of SDGs. If this law is introduced it will inevitably take our country many leaps backwards in terms of the achievements in environmental jurisprudence of our country carefully put in place by the legislature and courts. Moreover, it will render fruitless decades of environmental advocacy and activism by local communities, vulnerable groups and activists. There is an urgent need to strengthen the environmental governance in our country by introducing a strong and robust law that meets the need for intergenerational equity, environmental protection and justice, especially in light of our dismal environmental and health indicators which are a direct fallout of the dilution of the environmental policies. However, this Draft EIA 2020 in the name of such change is a complete fallacy and shall push us back tremendously, and hence, entirely unacceptable.
PUCL Maharashtra accordingly calls upon the MoEFCC to unconditionally withdraw the Draft EIA 2020 and suspend the process of introducing new law on the subject until the Covid-19 pandemic is successfully averted and people of the country are in a position to effectively participate.
PUCL Maharashtra suggests that instead a fair and participatory process be initiated to put in place a robust and strong environmental regime and in particular law to provide for environmental impact assessment, in consultation with the local communities, experts, defenders and all concerned stakeholders; taking into account their learnings, experiences and suggestions.
We request that our objections and suggestions be considered and the Draft EIA 2020 be discarded at the threshold and without further delay.
For PUCL Maharashtra,
Convenor, Ad-Hoc Committee,
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra