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Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020

Topics Covered: Conservation related issues.

Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020:


Why in News?

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs have raised several concerns about the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020 and have asked the government how its provisions correspond with India’s obligations under international law.

Who are UN Special Rapporteurs?

They are independent experts working on behalf of the United Nations. They work on a country or a thematic mandate specified by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The three important issues raised by UN Special Rapporteurs are:

  1. The draft notification includes under Clauses 14 (2) and 26 an exemption of several large industries and projects from public consultation — as part of the environment impact assessment process — such as chemical manufacturing and petroleum products; building, construction and area development; inland waterways and expansion or widening of national highways.
  • These exemptions are unwarranted given the substantial environmental and human rights negative impacts that can arise from projects in these areas.
  1. The draft notification does not require publication of information or holding of public consultation for projects labelled by the Central government as ‘involving strategic considerations’.
  • The draft does not provide clarification regarding the criteria for categorizing projects ‘strategic’ by the Central Government and hence could be open to excessively broad interpretations.
  1. There is a clause on “post-facto clearance”. These are for projects that have started without obtaining the required environmental clearances or permissions.
  • This practice contradicts basic principles related to the environmental rule of law.

Background:

Under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, India notified its first EIA norms in 1994, setting in place a legal framework for regulating activities that access, utilise, and affect (pollute) natural resources.

  • Every development project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since.
  • The 1994 EIA notification was replaced with a modified draft in 2006.
  • Earlier this year, the government redrafted it again to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders issued since 2006, and to make the EIA “process more transparent and expedient.”

 Other contentious provisions in the draft:

  1. It shortens the period of public consultation hearings to a maximum of 40 days.
  2. It reduces from 30 to 20 days the time provided for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
  3. It also allows the declaration of some areas as “economically sensitive areas” without a public hearing or environmental clearance, and several “red” and “orange”-classified toxic industries could now operate as close as 0-5 km from a Protected Area in “callous disregard” for forests.
  4. The increased validity of the environment clearances for mining projects (50 years versus 30 years currently) and river valley projects (15 years versus 10 years currently) raises the risk of irreversible environmental, social and health consequences on account of the project remaining unnoticed for long.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. EIA process.
  2. Environment (Protection) Act, 1986- Key provisions,
  3. About the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.
  4. Article 253 of the Constitution.
  5. Who are UN Special Rapporteurs?
  6. Key provisions in the Draft EIA notification 2020.

Mains Link:

Explain the significance of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process in the Indian context. Also highlight the concerns associated with it.

Sources: the Hindu.