What is Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA)
In a broader view, UNEP defines EIA as a mechanism to identify the environment, social and economic impacts of a project before decision making. EIA is a predictive method to identify the damage that occurs to the local environment, erosion of ecology ,flora & fauna, local community, forests and wildlife. EIA is designed to evaluate the potential risks of the proposed project in the long run.
The projects were categorized into A&B need an appraisal by expert committees. Projects under category A and B1 are mandated to submit EIA to the Expert Appraisal Committee(EAC)& State Expert Appraisal Committee(SEAC).
What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put on it.Henry David Thoreau
Why EIA draft 2020 is controversial
On March 23, the MOEFCC released a draft notification on EIA in the exercise of powers under the Environment Protection Act 1986. This draft has come under severe criticism by many experts and academicians.
The EIA draft 2020 reluctantly reduces public consultation time from the existing 30 days to 20 days. Public opinion was supposed to play a vital role in EIA since the local community people directly suffer at the proposed project location. Further, the projects under B2 and increasing/modernization capacity up to 50%, exempted from public consultation. Also, the draft was published only in English and Hindi languages that many communities can not read. The draft should have published in all the 22 languages that were recognized by the constitution.
EIA2020 exempts environmental clearance(EC) and environmental permission(EP) to many processing units that deal with chemicals such as dyes, soda ash, petrochemical products, biomedical waste, and other fertilizer units. These processing units have the potential to pollute groundwater, rivers, and air. According to the State of India’s environment report, 2019, 12.5% of deaths in India are due to pollution. Dredging, which attributes to illegal sand mining in river beds, was also exempted.
The newly added projects in the B2 category need EC&EP like hydroelectric projects up to 25MW, potentially impacting the river ecosystem. Extension of Highways b/n 25-100KM under the B2 category may infringe farmers and forest dwellers’ rights. MSMEs are growth engines to any economy and also a significant contributor to industrial pollution. Approximately 70% of industrial pollution is due to MSMEs in India. And there need many projects to be scrutinized in the B2 category. Compromising quality standards in this sector will only add to the current pollution level.
Construction projects with 20000 sq.mts to 50000 sq.mts and 50000 sq.mts to 1.5lakh sq.mts with green building certificate are listed under the B2 category that does not need ant EC&EP. Earlier in EIA 2006, projects with more than 20000 sq.mts need EIA and it was extended to 50000 sq.mts in 2016 which was challenged in National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The EIA draft 2020 says that all the violators will be brought ‘under the regulatory regime’ with penalizing them. But the EIA 2006 mentions imprisonment of violators. By diluting this provision, the violators may get ex post facto clearance escaping the punishment for violations strengthing pollute and pay the principal.
Some experts warn that the EIA 2020 will have adverse impacts. India’s ecosystem is more fragile. Allowing projects with no scrutiny can cause irreparable damage to nature, wildlife, flora & fauna. EIA draft 2020 received more than 17 lakh comments from the public urging to modify/withdraw the draft.
What we are doing to the forests of the world is a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one anotherMahatma Gandhi
India, still a developing country, is vulnerable to natural calamities caused due to human activities. Comprising in qualities, relaxing norms over industries will have adverse climate impacts. Moreover, human existence and well being is closely connected to the sustainability of the environment. Institutions like the World Bank always insist on comprehensive EIA reports. The government is yet to respond on such a massive public outrage over this EIA 2020 draft notification.
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