After 36 years, history is repeating itself. In the year of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy occurred, and in 2020 Oil well fire in Assam, Styrene gas leak in Visakhapatnam happened. How many people were directly or indirectly were affected by these events? Is still a mystery, death count shown by Government were less than the actual figures. After the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Indian Government had realised the existing environmental laws were not enough to avoid such disasters; and We needed strong environmental laws and more powerful laws. To adhere that, in 1986 Govt. of India brings up with an Environment Protection act. This act had a process named – “EIA (Environment Impact Assessment)“. This process applies to all possible projects, i.e. Infrastructure project, setting up a Factory/Power plant. It quantifies the risk that environment is going to face before establishing any project; We have to look for the pros and cons of the projects and try to minimise the cons. If the Environment Ministry(MoEFCC) feels that the negative impacts are far too adverse, then clearance should not be given to such projects. While doing so, a pivotal point to be considered project satisfy EIA or not.
The bitter truth is the implementation of this EIA process. It has various loopholes that were used by various leaders/owners of the Projects, and the environment suffers. In case of the Gas leak at Vishakapatnam, no environmental clearance provided, and yet it started operating. In case of oil well fire in Assam, public hearings were not conducted, and yet they managed to start the “OIL’s Baghjan oilfield.” The EIA draft notification released in the public domain on March 12th 2020. Instead of reinforcing the implementation of the EIA process, it weakens the law. This draft favours industries to exploit and escape the whole process.
EIA draft added various clauses, like Post-Facto Clearance, Public Hearing Period reduced, Exemptions from Public Participation, Strategic Exemptions.
Post-Facto Clearance – This clause permits industries/projects to start/operate without any environmental clearance; they can get environmental clearance afterwards. Let say, If a coal mine/Hydroelectric projects started after cutting-off the Forest, and the Government permits them to do so as they can get Environmental clearance afterwards. However, what about the environmental loss already happened. Of the 14,000 sq km of forests cleared over three decades of mining (4,947 sq km) and hydroelectric projects (1,351 sq km) had contributed most.
Public-Hearing reduced to 20 days – Earlier 30 days were provided for a public hearing, but now we have 20 days to do so. Thirty days were still less for a public hearing on large scale projects that took several years come in action. People now have to assess the pros and cons of the project impacts in just 20 days and point them out to government officials. People need to estimate four years of impact in just 20 days, are they a time traveller or something?!!
Exemptions from Public Participation – If a project infringes Environmental laws then, the public have no rights to point them out; This can only be notified by the Govt. of India or the violator itself. This clause asks us to accept everything blindly because we do not have any rights to point it out.
Strategic Exemptions– No public hearing will be conduct on strategic projects which is reasonably right, but in the current draft a new point is added that it is on Govt. to choose what projects are strategic and what is not. We do not have the right to point out in the projects that are approved to be strategic. However, we do not know for sure it concerns national security. That means, “No Open Session for Strategic Development.”
Furthermore, many such Clauses prohibits public consultations, participation that has a grave impact on our ecological system. However, We still have hope. We can bring the change in this EIA draft. We have time to submit feedback to the Ministry of the Environment to avoid this draft adopted as law until August 11th, 2020. The environment belongs to us, and we belong to it, So raise your voice to bring up the change.
Email id for suggestions– EIA2020-MOEFCC@GOV.IN
Sign Petition– http://chng.it/9Q8FZnnq
EIA Draft 2020 Download