The draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 proposed by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change dilutes further the current EIA Notification 2006. Proposed changes in the name of “ Ease of doing business” relax further and totally overhaul the environmental clearance system to benefit large corporations and mining MNCs. Many of the proposed clauses in the present draft on environmental clearances are anti democratic as they avoid public consultation and seriously affect the livelihoods of people especially indigenous people dependent on eco system.
The new Draft contains many new provisions, several of them virtually re-written to dilute environmental assessments and easen approval of projects. To please the corporates, in the name of “transparency”, “efficiency” and “ ease of doing business” the draft altered compliance of basic environmental safeguards imposed on industrial projects.
By reducing stringency , ambit and scrutiny of impact assessment, the proposed regulatory processes will prove detrimental to the environment. For instance, maximum scrutiny is now reserved for only a few projects. Several categories of projects can instead apply for an “environment permission” by filing a simple application, with no environment impact assessment required. Even projects can be established within the National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Coral Reefs or Ecologically Sensitive Areas. These will be subjected to public consultations only within that specific district, although the project might extend beyond boundaries of a single district or across various states with serious environmental concerns. Exempted from seeking environmental clearances or permissions from the Centre or States are nuclear power projects, oil installations now named as “strategic projects”, with no need for public hearings. Exemption is given to coal and non-coal mineral prospecting, with potential ecological damage. Mining projects are given priority by extending the duration of environmental clearance from the earlier 30 years to 50 years. Projects including inland waterways and hydroelectric power generation of up to 25 MW capacity, which can potentially destroy hill ecology do not need public hearing or consultation.. Strangely for example under Para 26, the draft notification exempts Solar Photo Voltaic power projects, Solar Thermal power plants and Solar Parks. Environmental impact especially damage to agricultural land, ground water, birds is well known. Recently farmers in Tanjavur in Tamilnadu protested against proposed oil prospecting project in a fertile three crop fertile lands. Maximum scrutiny is now reserved only for a fewer projects.
After the release of the draft EIA 2020 in March, recently there were two severe disasters. A gas leak at a polymer chemical factory belonging to Korean MNC, LG Polymers Pvt Ltd in Visakhapatnam, India led to death of 18 people and health hazards to hundreds of civilians. Another blowout in an Oil India Ltd well in Baghjan, Assam, where a massive fire caused widespread displacement of local communities. These accidents happened due to absence of proper environmental clearances.
Lack of public consultation:
There was no publication of the notification in any regional or local newspapers, it was online only in English and Hindi. Major stake holders- rural people and forest people are not literate enough to follow the EIA 20202 draft and suggest necessary modifications. Firstly, the draft should be published in all Indian (regional) languages and should be sent to all Village Panchayats as part of wider consultation.
Karl Marx and sustainable production:
Karl Marx in his theory on “ecological sustainability as nature imposed necessity for human production”, in context of ecological crisis in mid 1850’s developed the concept of sustainability as nature imposed condition for any production and continuation of human race (In: Organization & environment, V.10:3, Bellamy Foster, 1997). Humanity should coexist with nature with sustainable production and not plunder the natural resources and destroy it in pursuit of big profits.
Present NDA government as part of implementation of it’s neoliberal economic agenda is accelerating privatization of all public enterprises and community assets so as to please large corporations and MNCs. Plundering of natural resources in name of ‘Development’ capitalism in it’s mindless pursuit of profits is destroying environment. In this context we should oppose the present EIA 2020 draft to avert further degradation of mother nature to preserve and safe transfer of it to future generations.
The proposed Indian EIA 2020 should be withdrawn immediately. Ministry of Environment & Forests should seek suggestions from local people at the level of village Panchayats and consult various community, environmental groups, scientists before approving future environment regulations. We should fight not only for securing the important clauses from the EPA, 1986, but also demand the right to clean and healthy environment under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Dr Soma Marla, Principal Scientist (Biotech)ICAR. New Delhi