In a report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 8th October, 2018 it was emphasized that only 12 years remained to prevent catastrophic and irreversible damages to the environment by limiting temperature change within a range of 1.5°C. Obviously such a situation demands emergency response from all nations that have a huge carbon imprint, particularly India, which currently ranks third in terms of emission of greenhouse gases. The RSS-BJP led central government has chosen this critical situation as the ideal time for pushing the revised Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020.
The draft EIA notification was issued by the environment ministry on 12th March and gazette notification was published on 23rd March in only English and Hindi. A time-window of 60 days is supposed to be provided for suggestions to come from all quarters. This consultation process has been mired in controversy as environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled the environment ministry by bringing the deadline to 30th June instead of 10th August. On 30th June Delhi high court set 11th August as the new deadline for public feedback on hearing a petition filed by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad. This new policy is meant to replace the existing EIA 2006. It seems that 23rd March was intentionally chosen as the date of issuance as the national lockdown started two days later which effectively prevented environmental activists and concerned individuals to come down on the streets to protest the diluted clauses of EIA 2020.
The propagated aim of EIA is to study and predict the effect of a proposed project on the environment and make subsequent modifications by taking into account all possibilities such that any adverse effect on environment can be mitigated. This policy was initiated in USA in the 70’s as environmental problems were bound to ride on the backs of extended periods of economic growth. As India’s doors were opened for foreign investment and
consequent plundering of environmental resources, this policy was pushed by the same International Financial Institutes that were instrumental in the neoliberal reforms of the 90’s. In January 1994, the first EIA notification was issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) of India that made Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for any
sort of expansion, modernization, or setting up of new projects.
Although EIA includes public participation it virtually acts as a legalization mechanism as almost zero projects get rejected under this policy. Despite all these existing problems the revised EIA 2020 is set to make the process even more anti-people, anti-environment, opaque, and pro-industry as is expected from an environment ministry that is headed by someone who also happens to be the minister for heavy industries and public enterprise.
Coming to the provisions of EIA 2020, many have been re-written vis-à-vis EIA 2006, fundamentally altering India’s environment regulations as promised in the 2014 and 2019 election manifestos of BJP. A provision for obtaining clearance after the project has already started operation by payment of a meager fine has been provided in this new notification. This completely violates the “precautionary principle” to which India is bound by international treaties. A concerted effort to limit public participation is also visible as the time frame for public consultation over the EIA of a proposed project has been reduced to 20 days from 30 days. Government can deem any project as ‘strategic’ and exempt it from EIA thereby making it opaque to public scrutiny. Violations can only be reported by
government officials or project proponents but not by the general public.
The draft also exempts projects like dredging of rivers, dams, barrages, sourcing of earth for linear projects (roadways, pipelines etc.), digging of foundation of buildings, solar photo voltaic power projects, industrial estate with project area below 500 Ha that are not housing any industry under A/B1/B2 categories, coal and non-coal mineral prospecting, crushing and sizing of ore, manufacturing of products from polymer granules etc. from obtaining prior Environmental Clearance (EC) or Environmental Permission (EP). All linear projects in the border areas (defined as area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India) are exempt from public consultation which includes the biodiversity hotspots like the north-eastern states of India.
The validity of EC for mining projects will be increased to 50 years from 30 years, river valley projects to 15 years from 10 years, and all other projects to 10 years from 7 years. The recent gas leak at LG polymers and Baghjan oil leak exposed the far-reaching and irreversible consequences of overlooking environmental regulations.
After this Notification was released environmental activists have been organizing online protests and mass email campaigns which led to suspension of websites of three green groups namely- Fridays For Future India, Let India Breathe, and There Is No Earth B. The Delhi police under the fascist RSS-BJP regime went a step further by leveling charges
against FFF India of disturbing ‘peace, sovereignty of India’ under section 18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). After public outcry Delhi police retracted the notice admitting that it was sent “mistakenly”. The websites have been restored as of now.
The chief aim of EIA Notification 2020 is to make the situation more favorable for unchecked loot of natural resources by imperialist forces in this stage of moribund capitalism. To achieve that end it is necessary for the government to erode away whatever little democratic means are currently available to the struggling Adivasis and other
marginalized sections to fight for their rights over Jal-Jangal-Zameen. From dilution of Forest Rights Act to opening Hasdeo-Arand for mining to coalblock auctioning to EIA 2020, the Modi-led regime’s desperation to decimate the ‘Atmanirbharta’ of the struggling masses solely dependent upon nature, in order to appease the imperialist masters, is conspicuous.