Why draft EIA 2020 has resulted in such an outcry

Why draft EIA 2020 has resulted in such an outcry

The dilution of the EIA process will allow development projects to seek clearance more easily

Credit: iStock Photo

As public outcry increases over the dilution of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) rules, the Delhi High Court overruled Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar’s decision to decrease the time period for public feedback on the draft notification from the currently allotted 60 days to 20 days. 

The last date to submit feedback has been extended until 11 August.

While the extension is a step forward to ensure that the public gets adequate time to give feedback on the changes brought about in draft EIA, 2020, the draft itself has major loopholes that will dilute the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006.

What is EIA Notification, 2006?

The EIA or Environment Impact Assessment was a provision under the Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986 which acted as a safeguard against rapid and arbitrary industrialisation. It evaluated the possible environmental, socio-economic and health impacts of a proposed construction or developmental project.  

The EIA Notification, 2006 proposed thorough scrutiny which included four steps -- Screening (the project is screened on the basis of the type of development, location and scale of investment), Scoping (potential impact, zone of impact, mitigation and monitoring), Public consultation (experts, environmental groups and residents around the project site would be consulted) and lastly, Appraisal (detailed scrutiny by an expert of the final project report). 

The EIA 2006, therefore, was a process that would ensure proper precaution was taken and monitoring was done by companies before the project took off.

What are the changes in draft EIA Notification, 2020?

The proposed changes, that were made public in March 2020, state that a wide range of projects will not have to go through with the public consultation stage of the EIA process as laid down by EIA Notification, 2006.

Moreover, a centralised body of experts and government officials will take over the scrutinising aspect of the process instead of state-level officials.

The draft EIA 2020 also made it legal for companies to obtain an Environmental Clearance after the construction is underway. The draft also gives leeway to developers to avoid public scrutiny. 

These changes would result in dilution of the EIA process which previously acted as a buffer to reduce the adverse effects of development. 

What impact will these changes have?

According to a Huffington Post article, if the draft EIA 2020 is passed as law in its current form, projects ranging from inland waterways, drug manufacturing, cement plants, and chemical plants, approval given would be tokenistic instead of rigorous scrutiny. “These projects are known to have large scale impacts on the environment and living conditions of communities around them,” the article quoted an analysis by Centre for Policy Research. 

Parul Gupta, an environmental lawyer, criticised the move in a document by Vindhyan Ecology and Natural History Foundation. “If the changes proposed in the draft EIA notification 2020 come to pass, projects which previously underwent greater scrutiny before being granted environmental clearance will now just have to prepare an Environment Management Plan and write an application and they will get ‘Environment Permission,” she wrote.