On Wednesday, Karnataka High Court has asked the centre government to start giving wide publicity to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification issued on March 23. The top court sought the action so that citizens can lodge their objections to it. The last date for submitting objections is scheduled to be August 11.
The bench consisting of Chief Justice AbhayOka and Justice M Nagaprasanna says during the hearing, “In days of the pandemic, it (notification) cannot be limited to official gazette and website. The Central Government can exercise powers under the Environment Protection Rules and give wide publicity to the EIA notification dated March 23, so that citizens will be in a position to lodge objections prior to August 11, 2020.”
Advocate PrinceIssac and Bhavya AC, representing the petitioner, argued “when such notifications were issued by the government in past, it used to give wide publicity even in vernacular newspapers. But the present notification published during the period of lockdown is notified only in the official gazette and on the official website of the Ministry. Thereby, it has deprived the large general public of their legitimate right to file suggestions and objections, which is a violation of natural justice”.
They also argued that the date of the submission should be extended by December 31 keeping in view the situation of this current pandemic. The bench rejected the prayer and says that the court cannot direct the government to change the deadline fixed by it.
The High Court posted the hearing on July 16 and directed the Central government to file its memo or written submission on the next date of hearing.
DRAFT EIA NOTIFICATION 2020
Environment impact assessment is a process under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which prevents industrial and infrastructural projects from being approved without proper oversight. This process ensures that every project should go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance.
The projects are assessed based on their potential impact on the environment. Based on the assessments, they are granted or denied environmental clearance by a panel of experts. the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, that seeks to replace the current notification which goes back to 2006.
According to the government, the new notification is being brought in order to make the process more transparent and expedient by the implementation of an online system, further delegation, rationalization, and standardization of the process. However, the environmentalist said that the draft will further dilute the EIA process
ISSUES RAISE IN THE DRAFT EIA NOTIFICATION 2020
- Post-Facto Approval- The new draft allows for post-facto approval for projects. It means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is a principle of environmental sustainability.
- Public Consultation Process – The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
- Compliance Report Issue – The 2006 notification required that the project proponent submit a report every six months, showing that they are carrying out their activities as per the terms on which permission has been given. However, the new draft requires the promoter to submit a report only once every year.
- Bypassing EIA Process- Through the draft notification, the central government gets the power to categorize projects as “strategic.”Once a project is considered as strategic, the draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain. The draft notification states that the new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres (instead of the existing 20,000 square metres) do not need “detailed scrutiny” by the Expert Committee, nor do they need EIA studies and public consultation.
A plea was filled in the Delhi High Court challenging the notice period provided in the notification dated 23 March which stated that public comments are invited for suggestions on the draft EIA policy. Because of COVID -19, it was extended till 30 June.
The petitioner argued that extension is woefully inadequate and it discourages people from raising their concerns. Moreover, it has been only released in English and should be released in the vernacular language as well.
The Delhi High Court on 30 June 2020, thereby extended the time period for filing objections till 11 August. It also directed the notification to be published in 22 official languages.
(This news has been written and submitted by Ms. Agrima during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Agrima is a third year law-student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh.)