The History of EIA
In 1984, Indians woke up to one of the world’s deadliest disasters – the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide factory resulted in the death of over 2,00,000 people, including children. This is when India decided to introduce certain laws and regulations to keep a check on commercial industries and thus, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was adopted and inculcated under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
EIA is defined as a process that will ensure proper and systematic assessment of “Big projects” that might have an impact on the Environment. Developmental projects and industries often see EIA as a barrier to making profit since there are around 8 screening procedures to obtain a license/ clearance certificate from the government. There is a panel of experts who will check the viability of a project and based on their report, it will be either approved or rejected. The existing EIA was last amended in 2006, and on 12th March 2020 a new draft of EIA was circulated in India. It is open for public opinion until August 11th, 2020.
(If you have any queries regarding the EIA 2020 draft, please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
Problems in the EIA 2020 draft
- Violates Freedom of speech & expression: Time to raise public opinion has been reduced from 30 days to 20 days. Moreover, the draft was put out at a time when a public hearing was least possible due to the nation-wide lockdown owing to Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from these, the new draft is not translated in all regional languages/ 22 official languages of India, which directly shuts the mouth of half the Indian population.
- Allows Post-Facto Approval: It simply allows huge projects to start functioning without having a clearance certificate. Thus, the 2020 draft paves way for illegal industries to function legally. These include 40 “Big projects” like coal mining, extraction of metals and minerals, etc.
- Strategic Projects: Any project that is related to National Security and Defense are considered strategic but according to the new draft of EIA, any development on coastal areas, expansion of roads, etc. will fall under the category of “Strategic Project” and hence the details of such projects will not be disclosed to people.
- Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA): As per the existing EIA(2006), wetlands, grasslands and marshlands are considered as ESA. These areas are home to various species of animals, birds, plants and indigenous people and therefore, no industry/business can exist here. But, the new draft 2020 removes these lands from the ESA category. This will shoot economic development but at the cost of our environment.
- Earlier, an exemption was given to projects that occupy less than 5 acres (20,000 sq.mts) to start their business without approval. But the 2020 draft increases the threshold, the limit of land has been increased to 40 acres (1.5 lakhs sq.mts).
While EIA is aimed at protection of Environment, this draft does not seem to be concerned about sustainable development. The conflict of interest is clear as the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and the Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises is the same person. EIA has been amended for over 12 times since 1994 and each time the changes made were favourable to corporates. This is against the basic structure and motive of EIA. We only have time till August 11th to take action.
What Can You Do?
- Spread awareness through your art/ voice/ actions about these problems on public platforms.
- Write an email to the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change. (To: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, and CC: email@example.com)
- File a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court of your State.
- Participate in online campaigns against this draft of EIA.
You can find a sample letter here.