India now ranks third in the world with respect to the number of Covid 19 patients. The corner stone of Ram Mandir was laid on by the PM, a few days back. NEP has made its way into the limelight. We have got three differently polarised incidents. We may find that these episodes that are ‘accidental’ have much to do with the epoch making history of India, but I believe it’s not. The so called democrats and seculars now stand divided. They are left to get confused with too much of incidents happening around them. That’s how the whole system is working. The whole national focus and media attention is not at all fixed upon a specific issue. It keeps changing. We miss those salient things that require utmost concern and consciousness. EIA has been one among them.
Dating back to 1992 in Rio De Janeiro, UN took an initiative to sign a global treaty regarding the EIA or Environmental Impact Assessment. This came into life in 1996. Nations posses their own EIA guidelines taking into account the sustainability and well being of the life zones of their parent environment. India has formulated the guidelines and legalised them in 2006, which comes in the purview of Environment Protection Act 1986. For years, these have been followed and now, a revised EIA proposal draft is at the threshold of implementation.
The latest update regarding EIA is the proposal of the new draft of National Environment Impact Assessment with a deliberate intention of replacing the existing norms and policies that were formalised in 2006. Setting up of industries and mining centres are exempted from government approvals. The project proponents are now only supposed to submit a single report annually in place of two that shows the compliance of the industry or company with the specified conditions regarding its working, which further weakens the protective and sustainable nature of environment. The industries are also in full freedom to benefit from the ‘ex post facto clearances’ in which they are free to go on with their industrial complexes regardless of the larger ecological desecration that they are capable of. This sole idea has been largely criticized by the Apex Court of our country in the case of Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd vs Rohit Prajapadi , stating that ‘Ex Post Facto Environment Clearance is unsustainable in law.’
The primary aim of EIA notification 2006 is to enforce and implement adequate precautions to mitigate ecological degradation that could occur as a consequence of industrial development. The Ministry’s latest proposal of EIA perpetuates the faults and loopholes that were instilled in the former draft. The maximum scrutiny or let’s say, the stringent obligations and measures are now made limited to only a few projects. For the rest, applying for an environmental permission has been made into a simple application for which clearance is almost guaranteed, which is the only formality to be exculpated. Surprisingly, this simple solicitation is the only major requirement for larger projects like inland waterways and hydroelectric power generation of up to 25 MW capacity, which can potentially destabilize and destroy the riverine and hill ecology. To be more precise, the sole idea of sustainable development is decimated into nothing but farce. Everything is gradually transformed into an ‘act of letting go’ in the draft.
The novel draft posses no formal notifications or proposals in the view of climate change, one of the biggest perils in the closest vicinity. India’s vulnerability towards this acute phenomenon has been left unattended. This also contradicts with the Paris Agreement which India has signed with pride. The new proposal also undercuts the access to basic information regarding an infrastructure or industrial project to the public. For instance, the revised draft has been left to public approval only in English, disregarding regional languages. Besides, the 60 day tenure for critical evaluation of any project proposal being put forward by an individual has been reduced to 45 days. We, the public are left with no time to be well informed and educated about the overall functioning and to seek additional information on the same. Thus the ideas of collective thinking, citizen’s mandate and public opinion are completely ignored. This poses a question mark in front of the country’s most glorified status – that is democracy.
In toto, it’ s actually a bigger step for a relatively smaller but a powerful section of industrialists and corporates to make full advantage of the new draft to fill their pockets leaving a bleak future ahead of us. Undoubtedly, it’s a deliberate movement to commodify environment as a whole. This seems to be the last episode of the mockeries and ridicules we have been witnessing for the last few months .For the government, this is probably the best time to implement such a controversial and seriously biased legislation because the public has no chance to hold a physical resistance regarding this.
We have seen how illegal mining has reduced the richness of biodiversity of Dehing Patkai in North East. Similar fate awaits the Western Ghats as soon as the novel draft comes into being. It is said that 21 lakh trees and the ecosystems around will be massacred in the Western Ghats alone after the implementation of EIA 2020. We also witnessed the gas leak tragedy in Vishakhapatnam happened due to the mismanagement of the chemical plant, causing 11 deaths and 1000+ fatal injuries. An impending tragedy is at the threshold if we do not learn from these lessons.
To conclude, this shouldn’t be the way the whole system should go. Enough damage has already been inflicted on the environment and we are collectively bearing the consequences of the same. So, priority should be fixed upon amending of those anti environmental activities that have been practised in the past. Or else, disasters seem inevitable.