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.

Recent  accidents:

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


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