In his second letter to the Union Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member, Jairam Ramesh, has stressed that his concerns over the controversial draft EIA 2020 notifications are “founded very much in what is there in black and white” in the draft notifications and not “unfounded and based on misinterpretations” as the Minister said.
On Friday, Ramesh, who is also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, wrote to Javadekar observing that the proposed changes to environmental rules reflected “a mindset that sees environmental regulations as an unnecessary regulatory burden”.
The letter said, among other issues, that allowing entities to seek post-facto environmental clearances would only legitimize illegality.
Javadekar wrote back to Ramesh saying “all your suggestions are unfounded and based on misinterpretations.”
Pointing out that the decisions of the government are “open to scrutiny by Parliamentary and Standing Committees”.
In a detailed, four-page response to the Minister, Ramesh, who is also a former environment minister and former India’s negotiator at the climate talks, noted that the government, through a notification of March 14, 2017, had given projects that violated ‘environmental impact assessment’ notification a one-time, six-month window to approach the ministry for post-facto approvals.
“Since then, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has set up a special ‘violations’ EAC (committee) which is regularly reviewing post-facto approvals,” Ramesh said. “This including large mining projects, real estate projects and also projects like the LG Polymers where there was a recent gas leak.”
Now, the draft EIA 2020 accepts that “such violations being recurring in nature,” and introduces a mechanism under Clause22 for “Dealing of Violation cases”. This, Ramesh notes, is a direct contradiction with the requirement of ‘prior environment clearance’.
“The draft EIA 2020 also charges a fee for reviewing for accepting applications for regularization in clause 22(8),” Ramesh has pointed out. He also stresses that the Supreme Court has observed that post-facto clearances are not recognized under environmental jurisprudence and are also against precautionary principle held in the 2016 case, Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd Vs Rohit Prajapati & Others .
The proposed draft EIA 2020 says that if a project is to be expanded up to 50 per cent of its existing capacity, no environment impact assessment is required to be done. Also, 20 types of projects, including onshore and offshore gas exploration are exempt from public consultation, Ramesh points out, reminding Javadekar of the recent Oil India’s Baghjan oil well fire in Assam.
EIA 2020 increases the validity of environmental clearances for projects—which varies by the nature of the project. However, an entity may “secure” and level land without felling any trees, even before obtaining environmental clearance. This, Ramesh, feels will only promote land-grabbing. He also cites certain clauses of the proposed rules to underpin his point that the rules give full powers to the central government to appoint State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities.
“You say my suggestions (surely you mean my concerns!) are unfounded. All I can say is that these concerns are founded very much on what is there in black and white in the Draft EIA 2020 Notification,” says Ramesh.
The proposed rules have invited widespread criticism that they dilute environment protection measures, which are already weak.
Leo Saldhana, advocate and Co-ordinator, Environment Support Group and Convenor, Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, says that while the UPA government was “no saint” in environmental protection, the Draft EIA 2020 represented the worst point in environmental jurisprudence.
He said that if brought into force, the rules can be challenged first on technical grounds. Today, Jammu & Kashmir is a full-fledged state of the country and the citizens of the state have full rights as any other India. The state still does not have internet connection—how then would people there know about the proposed regulations and offer their reactions? This, according to Saldhana, is reason enough to strike down the notifications.
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