Scrap draft EIA 2020, say Himachal’s green activists

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Shimla, July 1 (IANS) Green activists in Himachal Pradesh have written to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to scrap the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 proposed by it.

The EIA notification, first issued in 1994, under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, is a mechanism that regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country.

It is one of the environmental decision-making processes that makes it mandatory for project developers not only to study the socio-economic, ecological and other impacts of a proposed project but also place them in front of the affected communities for their opinions and objections.

However, this notification has been amended several times in the last two decades in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business, experts said.

The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality.

“In the context of the already vulnerable and sensitive Himalayan region, flouting of various provisions of even the present EIA notification has heavily impacted the local ecology and livelihoods of the people,” said the Environmental activists.

“The new amendments will only legitimise and legalise these violations and this will mean irreparable damage to the Himalayan ecosystem.”

The key objections raised by them are about exemptions of a variety of projects from the mandatory ‘public consultation’ process as well as the dismantling of this process itself.

“The reduction of the time prior to public hearing from 30 to 20 days is also highly objectionable. In the given 30 day period itself the information about public hearings does not reach all the affected people which are often spread out widely in case of mountains with some project-affected communities residing in remote and inaccessible terrains,” said the letter.

“Here accessing information takes a long time and reducing this time to 20 days will completely exclude such people from raising their grievances and suggestions in the public consultation. This is a clear attempt to block their participation in the environmental decision making process” said R.S. Negi of the Him Lok Jagriti Manch of Kinnaur.

Another activist Prakash Bhandari of Himdhara Collective said it was shocking that the amendments include allowing post-facto clearance, which means that the project proponent can start work before they have obtained environmental clearance.

“If the basic precautionary principle on which the EIA notification is grounded is itself not followed it can lead to a disastrous situation for the ecology and local people,” he added.

They said the 2020 draft also diluted the guidelines for monitoring and compliance of environment conditions.

“Already the system of monitoring is weak, the pollution control board and companies non-accountable, thus leading to widespread destruction of local ecology and impacting health, lives and livelihoods of project affected communities. In case of hydropower projects, for instance, the illegal and unmonitored dumping of muck along river beds, in forests and on common lands, has damaged pastures, disrupted the flow of the rivers and caused massive disasters when floods occur,” said Kulbhushan Upmanyu of the Himalaya Bachao Samiti.

Notably, the Union environment ministry had called for citizen’s comments before May 11 but this deadline was initially extended till June 30 and now till August 11 as environmentalists expressed outrage that calling public inputs on this critical law amidst the Covid-led lockdown is unjustified.