The Centre should take a considered view on amending environment impact assessment norms

| Updated on August 11, 2020

The Centre should send out a clear signal that it will not brook environmental law breakers, even as it focuses on ease of doing business

There can be no disputing the argument that environment impact assessment (EIA) norms need to be revisited at least once in a decade, to readjust economic activities to the state of the environment. Hence, the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 was drawn up in March, just before the first lockdown, with a view to replacing its existing avatar prepared in 2006. Yesterday was the last day for receiving public feedback on the draft. The new draft has been criticised for exempting a number of projects from public consultations; legalising projects which have come up without an environment clearance ‘ex post facto’ by making them pay a fine; easing compliance norms for project proponents by making them submit just one compliance report annually instead of two at present; reducing the time window for public hearings; and not taking cognisance of public reporting of violations and non-compliance. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has refuted some of these allegations in a letter to the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. He has said that detailed consultations will precede any finalisation of the draft, while contesting the view that environmental rules are being given the go-by. Exemptions from public hearing for ‘B2 category projects’, he contends, are a feature of the 2006 draft as well. B2 projects, essentially Section 26 of the new draft, will be subject to a more relaxed process of appraisals. The areas include oil exploration, small hydel projects; broadly speaking MSMEs in the mining, minerals and chemicals sectors; small cement plants; inland waterway projects; expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km; aerial ropeways; and some construction projects. While the effort is consistent with the ongoing MSME push, promoting industrial activity without considering environmental impacts can push India into a deep environmental crisis, as China seems to have realised of late. The EIA draft, as the Minister has indicated, should be the outcome of a stakeholder consensus. Recent moves to pull down websites that raised questions on the draft were, however, regrettable.

The perils of disregarding EIA are visible around us, in the floods and landslides in Uttarakhand, and in industrial zones such as Valsad, Singrauli and Korba, to name just a few. As Ramesh observes in his book Green Signals: “As far as hydroelectric projects are concerned, we need to carry out cumulative impact assessments on a basin-basis and not just assessment of individual projects.” EIA norms need to be revisited — by adopting global best practices — with the realisation that the positive externalities of natural resources cannot be easily quantified.

The exercise of discretionary power should be avoided to help bonafide businesses. Yet, the Centre should send out a clear signal that it will not brook environmental law breakers, even as it focuses on ease of doing business.

Published on August 11, 2020

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like