There have been a number of amendments to foundational laws that relate to the environment. These amendments, if experts are to be believed, have raised questions about the role of the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change in 2021.
The outlook for 2022 is grim, as the government promotes ‘ease of doing Business’ rather than going against the grain on environmental conservation.
After a terrible hangover from introducing an amendment of the Environment Impact Assessment Act in 2020 amid pandemic-induced lockdown, Ministry tried to get permission from the High Court for translation into 22 official languages’ for the first EIA halves of 2021.
The Ministry finally agreed to the request at the end of August 2021, and made the drafts in all 22 languages available in November. It claimed that the Ministry had received over 15 lakh responses.
The Ministry will work within the deadline to receive comments, critiques, or suggestions.
In July 2021 the MoEF&CC established a new procedure for dealing post-facto with industrial projects that have not received prior EIA approval.
The second half of 2021 was especially interesting after Bhupender Yodav, a practicing lawyer, took over as Minister. He saw a series of proposed amendments and, in the case involving the Forest (Conservation) Act a note about government’s intention to dilute it to suit business.
Vikrant Tnga, founder and activist of Social Action for Forests and Environments (SAFE), stated that the government is moving in the direction of a dilution or laws. They had requested translations in 22 languages.
The most alarming development in October 2021 was a Consultation Paper that sought multiple amendments to 1980’s Forest (Conservation) Act. The proposed amendment of the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification 2019 sought to exempt oil and gas exploration and development activities from the requirement for mandatory prior clearances.
Yadav introduced two bills, one to amend the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA), in December 2021.
These changes are suggested when natural disasters like the Chamoli glacier Burst, high intensity cyclones, and cloudburst-induced flooding have taken a huge toll in 2021. Despite this, climate change has a significant impact.
The environmentalist was not pleased that MoEF&CC and the two other ministries reached a consensus to grant approval to seven hydropower projects in Uttarakhand’s higher reaches. This includes plans to clear large tracts of old Hasdeo Arand forests for mining. Last but not least, the cabinet approved the SPV for Ken Betwa Interlinking of Rivers, which has yet to receive specific statutory clearances.
Ranjan Panda, an Odisha water and climate change expert, stated that environmental legislations will be loosened to allow more coal mining, hydropower, solar energy projects and less forest destruction. This will leave the issue of erosion of rights over natural resources that have been enjoyed by indigenous and local communities that are dependent upon these resources and have been protecting them.
These negative steps have far outweighed the few positive ones taken by the Ministry. The MoEF&CC has, for instance, embarked upon the Dolphins’ census and has developed an action plan for delineating elephant corridors. It has also given a tremendous push to conservation of wetlands and urban forest.
What’s in store 2022?
Tonga observed that it is difficult to change the attitudes of individual officials. This can lead to positive policy changes.
Rahul Choudhury (an environmental lawyer) is the co-founder and chief executive of Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment. He stated that conservation was not on the agenda. None of the laws seems able to demonstrate their approach towards Conservation.
Choudhary is concerned about the possibility of “some laws being modified through notification.” It will almost imply delegated legislation, which is done at the administrative levels. Does this mean that laws will not be challenged? Does this mean that the government would have no problem passing the laws? Do we say good-bye to the environment? Panda stated that public consultation processes have been weakened, causing massive damage to environmental conservation governance.
Experts said that there is still a lot to be done before people can condemn these laws.
Choudhary stated, “Although it may not be legal, there may not have been much resistance.” The issues of environment, pollution, or forests have not yet become political. If these laws are passed, no constituency will be endangered; there is no other pressure.”
Tonga however had a different perspective. “There will be Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh shortly, and then the countdown for the 2024 General Elections will begin. They won’t see any significant changes.
The article above was published from a wire source. There were no modifications to the headline or text.