The draft EIA 2020 notification, if implemented, will only promote a land grab and not development, Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, has said in his letter to the Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar.

Placing “my strongest (emphasis original) objections” to the proposed EIA 2020 notifications, Ramesh has said the proposed changes “reflect a mindset that sees environmental regulation as an unnecessary regulatory burden and not as an essential obligation to be met for the health and welfare of the people.”

Ramesh, a former environment minister and a negotiator for India at the climate talks, feels that the proposal in the draft to allow post-facto approvals for projects, which means a company can put up a project and then seek environmental approvals later, will “routinely legitimize illegality.”

And because the proposed notification increases the validity of environmental clearances, allowing projects to secure land for long duration even if the projects are not being implemented, will promote land grab. Also, EIA 2020 does away with environmental impact assessment altogether in many cases of expansion.

Furthermore, EIA 2020 gives full powers to the Centre to appoint State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities, which Ramesh sees as “yet another nail in the coffin of co-operative federalism.”

Ramesh told BusinessLine that the environmental record of the Modi government has been consistently dismal. He said the government diluted the coastal zone regulation rules, opened the door to privatisation of forests, reduced powers of the National Green Tribunal and opened rich forest areas to coal mining.

Experts criticise new EIA rules

Several experts have roundly criticised the new EIA 2020 rules, particularly on the leeway provided to entities to seek post-facto environmental approvals.

The recent accidents — the fatal styrene leak at the LG Polymers plant at Visakhapatnam and the blowout at Oil India’s Baghjan well in Assam, both of which had been operating without clearances — are often cited in the context of the draft EIA 2020 regulations.

“This is the worst moment in India’s environmental jurisprudence,” says Leo Saldhana, advocate and Co-ordinator, Environment Support Group and Convenor, Coalition for Environmental Justice in India. Minister Javadekar initiated it just a day before the lockdown began and nobody has had a good opportunity to study the draft notification and react.

Further, the Delhi High Court has directed the Ministry to get the draft notification translated in 22 languages, which has not been done, Saldhana told BusinessLine .