Why is the EIA Draft 2020 Causing Heartburn to Environmentalists, Concerned Citizens?
Organisations, environmentalists, politicians, and normal concerned citizens! Indians from across the country are protesting against the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 that was released on 12th March by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
Although the ministry had invited public suggestions and opinions before finalizing the draft, people are literally fuming over the draft EIA 2020. Even as the last date for submitting suggestions – 11th August 2020 - is nearing, organisations and activists are urging people to stage protests over the draft. Even social media is outraged with the issue.
In Guwahati, the NGO, Save Guwahati Build Guwahati (SGBG), has appealed to all of the northeastern states to protest against the draft EIA that has been claimed to be detrimental to the fragile ecology of the northeast by experts. Also, many other organisations including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and environmentalist Sumyadeep Datta of the environmental NGO, Nature’s Beckon have taken a similar stance.
Padma Shree Ajoy Dutta, vice-president of SGBG, speaking to G Plus said, “With powerful lobbying in favour of the draft, it is very important that the northeast is united in its opposition to the draft EIA. At least the northeastern region must be kept out of the ambit of proposed amendments to the EIA.”
Saumyadeep Datta said, “The government has asked for suggestions from the citizens of the country and we have also presented our opinion. I believe that rather than taking sides, all should come together for a discussion. And the people of Assam must be made aware of the draft.”
So what is the EIA notification?
There is already a prevailing Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Its main objective is to identify, predict, and evaluate the economic, environmental, and social impact of development activities and to promote environmentally sound and sustainable development through the identification of appropriate alternatives and mitigation measures.
It has provisions for public opinion and hearing of the local experts and concerned citizens before any project is undertaken.
The new draft of 2020 is aimed to make modifications and amendments to the existing notification of 2006.
New additions to the EIA:
List of projects under ‘Category B2’ that are exempted from requiring an EIA clearance (Clause 13, sub-clause 11) rather than the present screening and clearance needed from Expert Appraisal Committees. Such projects include:
• Mining of minor minerals up to 5 hectares of the mining lease area
• Mining of major minerals including coal - dump mining
• Offshore and onshore oil & gas including CBM and shale gas, exploration, development, and production
• Hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW on the river valley
• Irrigation from 2,000 to 10,000 hectares of culturable command area
• Thermal power - 5 MW to 15 MW
• Nuclear Power or processing of nuclear fuel
• Coal washeries
• Small and Medium enterprises of Mineral Beneficiation and Chemical processing of ores/concentrate, pellet plants
• Metallurgical industries (ferrous & non-ferrous)
• MSMEs of cement plants and standalone clinker grinding units
• All acids except phosphoric or ammonia, and sulphuric acid
• MSMEs in dye and dye intermediates
• Bulk drugs
• Synthetic rubbers
• Medium sized paint units
• Inland water projects
• Expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km with defined parameters
• Aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas.
• Specified Building Construction and Area Development projects
Further, submission of annual reports by the project proponents on compliance with conditions has been reduced from two to one report.
Also, people can no more report on violations and non-compliance of conditions during the project. Instead the government will be taking cognisance of reports only from the violators - promoters, government authority, appraisal committee or regulatory authority. However, such projects can be approved with conditions including remediation of ecological damage.
Points of objection from the public: The cause of the heartburn
• Experts opine that majority of the projects listed under Category B2 are detrimental to the environment.
• Questions raised on the new provision of post-facto environmental clearance.
• Notice period of public hearing on the EIA reduced to 20 days from 30 days; its non- availability in the regional languages.
• For project expansion and modernisation, only those with more than 25% increase require EIA, and others with more than 50 % increase would require public consultation.
Given the very recent controversy over Coal India Limited’s illegal mining in Dehing Patkai and the still ongoing fire at the Baghjan well of Oil India Limited, both of which have led to major environmental degradation, people of Assam have raised their voice over the draft EIA notification.
Ajoy Dutta said, “Many states of India including the entire northeast, Uttarakhand, Himachal, and J&K will be affected. Our forests are already disappearing. The hills are broken down for tea gardens; quarrying, timber factories are exploiting our land already.”
“The government says it’s for the development of industries, but most of the indigenous industries are already dead. About 30 years back Guwahati had so many industries like Everest Cycles Ltd in Kalapahar, Kumar Iron, and steel in Zoo Tiniali, Assam Asbestos, then India Carbon, Assam Carbon, Assam Hardboard, Ashok Paper Mill and many other such factories in Chandrapur and in and around Guwahati. What happened to those?” he continued.
“We do welcome industries but those should be done on barren lands, not by destroying nature. All states must be united for the protection of the ecology and mostly for the interest of the northeastern region. We are not against development,” Dutta added.
“The present EIA of 2006 could not do much to prevent the damages caused by the industries and projects across the country. The present draft was formulated to make the necessary modifications and people should provide their opinions and proper discussions must be done before finalising the notification,” Saumyadeep Datta said.