Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 Draft

Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 Draft
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The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has proposed a new Draft Notification of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to amend the EIA Notification 2006 with an aim to increase the production and availability of a few drugs. The draft EIA Notification 2020 has been released to invite comments from public regarding it. The last date to invite public comments was June 30, however, the Delhi High Court has extended the date to August 11, 2020.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process that assesses the effect of a newly proposed industrial or infrastructural projects on the environment. The EIA prevents the approval and initiation of any project without proper supervision.

What are the objectives of the EIA?

·Identify & evaluate environmental, social and economic impacts of projects

·Predicts environmental consequences of projects

·Ensure environmentally sound & sustainable development

What is the EIA Process?

1.      Screening

2.      Scoping

3.      Public Hearing

4.      Appraisal

When was the first EIA Notification issued?

The Indian Government issued the first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in the year 1994 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA). This notification was replaced by amended draft in 2006, which is valid up till now. Both the notifications performed the similar function of evaluating the impact of projects on environment.

Though the draft introduces some changes to ramp up the drug production, many have criticised it for some complicated changes. Here we have shared below the details of the new draft including what is Environment Impact Assessment, changes introduced in new EIA 2020 draft and issues regarding it.

Key Changes & Issues regarding Draft EIA Notification 2020

Re-Categorisation of Projects: The draft EIA Notification 2020 re-categorises all the projects and activities related to the production of bulk drugs and intermediates for several ailments from ‘A’ category to ‘B2’ category.

Clearance Post-facto: The draft states that the projects or activities can receive clearance post-facto. It implies that those projects can also seek clearance that violate the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA). However, the Supreme Court order dated 1 April states such clearances are against the law.

Exemption of projects: The new draft exempts various projects from the EIA including the "strategic" projects labelled by Government, national highways and inland waterways projects. The Draft EIA states that such projects will be placed in public domain.

Issue regarding time allotted for public comments: These have also been issues regarding the timeline announced to invite public comments  on the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020. Earlier, the last date for public comment was June 30. The Delhi High Court has extended the date to August 11.

Exemption to Construction Projects up to 150,000 sq m: The Draft also exempts up to 150,000 sq m construction projects from the assessment. These projects can now gain environment clearance after scrutiny by a state-level expert appraisal committee. Earlier, the exemption was granted to construction projects of up to 20,000 sq. m or above.

Karnataka High Court stayed publication of EIA Notification 2020: The Karnataka High Court stayed the publication of EIA Notification 2020 till September 7. The ruling came on a PIL filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust (UCMCWT), seeking to translate the draft in all the 22 regional languages mentioned in Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The PIL also seeks to extend the last data of receiving comments to December 31, 2020.

Issues pertaining to 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.

This also means that any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off as the violations get legitimised.

As the only remedy would be to impose a fine or punishment; but that would not reverse the detrimental consequences on the environment.

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.

In 2017, post-facto clearance given to projects in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras high court.

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.

The danger is that if adequate time is not given for the preparation of views, comments and suggestions to those who would be affected by the project, then such public hearings would not be meaningful.

Unless a public hearing is meaningful, the whole EIA process would lack transparency and credibility.

Further, the reduction of time would particularly pose a problem in those areas where information is not easily accessible or areas in which people are not that well aware of the process itself.

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.

During this period, certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time.

For example, if a mining project is being carried out at someplace which can be potentially hazardous to the nearby population and can contaminate the air, and water nearby, a half-yearly compliance report would better help in addressing these concerns.

Bypassing EIA Process

Through the draft notification, the central government gets the power to categorise 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.

Violations can only be reported suo motu by the project proponent, or by a government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority. This is against the principles of natural justice.

Further, 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.

On a positive note, the 2020 draft notification has a clause dedicated to definitions to several terms related to EIA. It may be beneficial in the sense that it consolidates the EIA rules and has the potential of alleviating some ambiguity in the present law.

Finally, the concerned party should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process.