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Modifications in EIA notifications: Can the government really ignore public notice?

Modifications in EIA notifications: Can the government really ignore public notice?

Between April 11 and 20, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFC) introduced a variety of amendments through three gazette notification — one set is proposed while the other two are completed — to the Environment Impact Assessment(EIA), 2006 notification that has been widely criticised by environmentalists.

The September 2006 EIA notification is to mandate prior environmental clearance for certain types of projects. The proposed and actual changes are worth much debate, but the way they are being implemented has been equally or more criticised.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released the first set of amendments for the EIA notification on April 11. These amends allow for exemption of environmental approval to several projects, such as defence related or border areas projects, up to 25MW thermal plants based upon biomass, or expansion of the terminal building of the airport, essentially for projects deemed public utility works.

The exemptions are subjected to the condition that standard environmental safeguards would be followed by the agency carrying out such projects. However, it is possible to mitigate the environmental impacts by incorporating environmental safeguards into the Environmental Management Plan.

On April 13, the next set of amendments was published, which extended the validity of environmental clearance for hydropower and nuclear projects.

A major amendment was made on April 20. It included the change that the Centre would now be able to grant environmental clearance to projects with national security or national defense importance.

Manoj Maishra, an environmentalist, is also Convenor for ‘Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. He said that “An amendment must be made to the principal Act to make any kind of change, small or large, possible to the Parliament.”

Mishra said that even if you give a notice to the public, you can get the opinion of stakeholders or the public. “Only if there are changes being made to the Rules (sets out of dos-and-don’ts that assist in implementation of a given Act), then a notice for stakeholders or the public of 30 or 60 days can be a way to go.

This is the ideal situation. The Environment Ministry has provided reasons ranging from ‘national security to ‘in public interest’.

The Centre stated that they have removed the requirement for notice under clause (a) under Rule 5 of Environment Protection Rule for ‘public interests’ under powers conferred under sub-section (1), clause (5), sub-section (2), section 3 of Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (29 of 1986) read with Rule (4) of Rule 5 Environment (Protection) Rules 1986.

Debadityo Sinha, Senior Resident Fellow at Vidhi Centre of Legal Policy, stated that such power is limited within Section 3 of the Act. This section states that the Central government is empowered to take measures to improve and protect the environment. This simply means that the exception cannot be used for purposes other than strengthening environmental safeguards. This power to make any regressive or relaxing change to an existing regulation is just a regressive and ultra-violent violation of the Environment (Protection) Act.

The Centre has seized the power of states to grant environmental clearance and assess for projects in category A that are of strategic or defence importance.

Sinha stated, “Stating that an overriding state’s authority is in the environment clearance process is undermining federal structure guaranteed under Constitution.” Sinha added that, “Land” is a “state” subject, while environment conservation and forest conservation are on the ‘concurrent’ list of the Constitution. Before any activity is undertaken on their land, the Centre must consult with the state and get their consent. This amendment is very problematic.

When asked last week about the amendments and poor implementation of the environmental management plan, Union Environment minister Bhupender Yadav told IANS that he was currently determining the modalities to address these issues and would soon issue a policy.

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The Environment Ministry had already suggested a number of amendments, which have been criticized heavily by environmental activists as ‘dilution’ to the EIA process.

These amendments, which were introduced in 2020, have yet to be finalised. These are the additional amendments.

–IANS

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(Only headline and photo of this report might have been reworked slightly by Business Standard staff; the rest is auto-generated from syndicated feeds.

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