EIA 2020: Changes And Controversy

EIA 2020: Changes And Controversy

The recent Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Draft Notification 2020 issued by the Indian government is seeking to modify public participation and the importance of environmental clearance in project.

Crux of the Matter

EIA 2020
The Delhi High Court recently extended the deadline for feedback for the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 to 11 August. The move came after the Central government extended the deadline from 10 June to 30 June, with the Court intervening after protests from activists.

What Is EIA?
The EIA was formulated in 1994 after the formation of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) of 1986 to regulate activities that “access, utilise, and affect natural resources”. It assesses the impact of activities like coal mining, industrial development, etc. on the environment, with the EIA clearance being compulsory before the initiation of any development project. It was first modified in 2006, with the next modification proposed in 2020.

So What’s New?

  • Post-facto clearance: Several projects operating in violation of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) would now be eligible for clearance application. The provision would be applicable only for solar thermal plants, digging of wells for drinking or irrigation, paper manufacturing from waste paper (or without bleaching), and other non-mining activities.
  • “Cognizance of the violation”: Recognition of the violation would now be done only the “project proponent” or the government authorities.
  • Cases of violation could now be possibly dealt with by levying 1.5-2 times “the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation”.
  • “Inland waterways projects” and “expansion or widening of national highways” now exempted from prior clearance.
  • Projects concerning national defence development, highway expansion, modernisation of irrigation systems, projects under notified industrial areas, etc. now exempted from public consultation (it is feedback from local people and people having “stake in the environmental impact of the project”).
  • Linear projects concerning roads and pipelines in border areas (area within 100 kms aerial distance from LAC) would also be exempted from public consultation.
  • The maximum limit of 30 days for public feedback applications now reduced to 20 days.

Background And Rulings
The EIA 2020 aimed to implement the 2014 ruling of the Jharkhand High Court, which stated that the “proposal for Environment Clearance must be examined on its merits, independent of any proposed action for alleged violation of the environmental laws”. The modification is also driven by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently asking the Central government to “strengthen the monitoring mechanism for compliance of conditions of Prior Environment Clearance”.

Controversy And Impact

  • Violations can now be reported only by the “project proponent” or the government authorities.
  • Reduction of public response time from 30 days to 20 days cited as “weakening” of public participation.
  • Mass deforestation due to highway expansion would now be possibly unchecked as the project would be exempted from public consultation.
  • Several projects are already operating in the violation under the existing laws. Post-facto laws are expected to further diminish the adherence to laws.
  • As linear projects (roads, pipelines, etc) near the border areas are exempted from the public consultation, experts have shown apprehension over the biodiversity-rich areas of North-East.
  • Experts have claimed the draft as going against the recent statement of the Supreme Court of India, which stated on 1st April that “environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance… which would be contrary to both the precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development”.

Recent Examples Of Mishap

  • Oil India Limited obtained the clearance to dig 7 wells inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, Assam for gas extraction. The clearance was acquired a few days before the Baghjan oil leak in Assam, which killed several dolphins and other endangered animals.
  • The Vizag gas leak in May, which killed 11 people, occurred in the LG Polymers plant, which had been operating without the Environmental Clearance and was held guilty of the leakage.
  • Team Trees was a collaborative fundraiser that managed to raise 20 million U.S. dollars before 2020 to plant 20 million trees. The initiative was started by American YouTubers MrBeast and Mark Rober, and was supported by personalities like Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, Marc Benioff, Susan Wojcicki, and many others.
  • Life cycle assessment is a methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life-cycle of a commercial product, process, or service. The goal of LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services by quantifying all inputs and outputs of material flows and assessing how these material flows affect the environment.
  • The Leopold matrix is a qualitative environmental impact assessment method pioneered in 1971. It is used to identify the potential impact of a project on the environment. The system consists of a matrix with rows representing the various activities of the project, and columns representing the various environmental factors to be considered.