Five hundred scientists, researchers, and academics from India’s leading institutions like Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) wrote an open letter to the Union environment ministry on Wednesday urging it to withdraw the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, saying it is likely to seriously threaten the country’s ecological and environmental security.
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The ministry has received around 1.7 million letters and emails with suggestions, comments, and objections to the draft. The draft was released on March 23 as part of the process to overhaul environmental regulations for infrastructure projects. Environmental groups have opposed it citing its contentious clauses. The clauses include the one pertaining to the regularisation of projects, which violated the EIA Notification, 2006, by starting constructions before environmental clearance or by expanding their capacity. The draft also proposes a shortening of the time for public hearings, which offer people affected by projects the opportunity to understand them and give their consent for them.
“Overall, we have come to the conclusion that the Draft Notification, in its current form, is likely to seriously threaten our country’s ecological and environmental security. The Draft Notification neither adheres to the fundamental objectives of its parent legislation, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1983 nor does it align with our country’s commitments under various international agreements and conventions,” the letter said. HT has seen a copy of the letter
The letter highlighted flaws in the draft saying it legitimises ex post facto environmental clearances and thereby encourages industries, with no prior clearance, to commence operations. It added the draft reclassifies many potentially ecosystem-damaging and even some highly polluting Red Category industries as ‘ B2’ category thereby exempting them from public consultation and scoping. The letter said the draft allows only project proponents and government authorities to officially report cognisance of violations.
Sayan Banerjee, a PhD scholar at Bengaluru’s National Institute of Advanced Studies, said some of them in different institutes like the Indian Institute of Science (Bengaluru) are concerned with this draft notification. “We compared the EIA Notification, 2006, and draft EIA Notification, 2020, and found several discrepancies and issues. We reached out to other institutions like IITs, ATREE [Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment], IISER [Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research], etc and also discussed with faculty members in various institutes. Before releasing our open letter, we also discussed and shared our thoughts with various policy scholars that is how we put this together,” said Banerjee, one of the signatories of the letter.
Environment ministry officials did not respond to HT’s queries on the open letter.
Union environment ministry secretary RP Gupta, in an interview to HT last month, said the ministry has set up a committee to assess all the comments and objections to the draft. He added the panel will compile and come up with a summary of issues raised.
The letter said the existing EIA Notification, 2006, has been deemed insufficient in meeting its stated aims. It added flouting of environmental safeguards by non-compliant and unmonitored industries and practices often leads to environmental disasters like the Vizag gas leak and the Baghjan oil well blowout in Assam.
Eleven people were killed in the gas leak at Visakhapatnam’s LG Polymers chemical plant on May 7. The oil well in Assam caught fire on June 9 days after the blowout, or an uncontrolled release of gas or oil. The blowout triggered fears about environmental damage to nearby Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the ecologically-sensitive Maguri Motapung wetland.