Policy

Jairam Ramesh convenes Parliamentary Standing committee meeting to discuss EIA 2020 notification

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on August 02, 2020 Published on August 02, 2020

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh   -  V Sreenivasa Murthy

Senior Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, has called a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change — a committee he chairs — to discuss the controversial draft EIA 2020 notification. The meeting is to be held on August 7.

The notification, which proposed to ease many rules relating to getting environment approvals for projects, has been much criticised for what is seen as disregard for environment. The draft notification is open for public comments till August 11.

Letter to Javadekar

Jairam Ramesh, a former environment minister himself and a former negotiator at international climate talks, has been one of the most vocal critics of the draft notification. In a letter of July 25 to the Union Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, he called the proposed rules a reflection of a “mindset that sees environment regulations as an unnecessary regulatory burden.”

Acknowledging the letter the next day, Javadekar said that Ramesh’s concerns were “unfounded and based on misinterpretations.” Promising Ramesh that “I will reply you in detail (later)”, the letter also said that all government’s decisions “are always open for scrutiny by Parliamentary and Standing Committees”.

 

“I had not planned to call the meeting,” Ramesh told BusinessLine, but “Mr Javadekar has very nicely opened the door for me.” Asked if he had received the promised detailed reply from the Union Minister, Ramesh said, “he (Javadekar) always says ‘I’ll get back to you’ but he never gets back.”

It is not clear as to what effect the meeting of August 7 could have on the draft EIA 2020 notification. Ramesh himself admitted that the notification is an executive order. However, the meeting could raise the decibel level of opposition to the proposed notification.

Voicing concern

Many political parties have expressed their misgivings over EIA 2020. For instance, DMK’s RS Bharathi, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha, has written to Jairam Ramesh saying that “such a major and regressive executive action should not be permitted without adequate Parliamentary scrutiny and legislative oversight.” Observing that the notification “strikes at the heart of public consultative process,” Bharathi has urged Ramesh to convene the Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting.

Two aspects (among many) in the notification have been found particularly unacceptable by the political class and intelligentsia — the allowing of ex-post-facto environmental approval for projects and the reduction of space for public hearing.

Speaking at a webinar on ‘Environment and Economy’ on Saturday, which was organised jointly by the CAN Foundation, a body of alumni of the various national law universities, and the Himachal Pradesh National Law University, senior advocate Nidhesh Gupta, ripped through the notification saying that “everything said in it violates some principle laid down by the Supreme Court.”

 

Calling the notification a “shocking document”, Gupta said that the practice of ex-post-facto approval was derided by the Supreme Court in the ‘Alembic Pharmaceuticals Vs Rohit Prajapathi & Others’ case of 2016 – the apex court had said that giving approvals after a project was set up was “in derogation of environmental jurisprudence”.

The judgment said, “environmental law cannot countenance ex-post-facto clearance” which was “contrary to both precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development.”

Gupta also noted that EIA 2020 proposed no prior approval for projects in 40 named industries, which included metallurgical foundries up to capacity of 100,000 tonnes per annum. Further, the notification does away with public hearing for certain types of projects and reduced the time for holding the hearings for some others.

The stance of the proposed notification is ‘utmost good faith’, trusting project proponents to follow environmental laws while implementing the projects and seeking the government’s approval later. If the Environmental Appraisal Committee found non-compliance, it could call for closure of the project. On this, Gupta said that closing a project after the damage to the environment had been done would serve little purpose.

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Published on August 02, 2020
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