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DILUTING THE EIA PROCESS

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Introduction

  • Around the world, legislative interventions mandating EIAs began to burgeon in the late 1960s.
  • The basic credo of these measures was to ensure that the state had at its possession a disinterested analysis of any development project and the potential impact that it might have on the environment.
  • It took India, though, until 1994 before it notified its first set of assessment norms, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • This policy mandated that projects beyond a certain size from certain sectors — such as mining, thermal power plants, ports, airports and atomic energy — secure an environmental clearance as a precondition to their commencement.
  • But the notification, subject as it was to regular amendments, proved a failure.

Abandoning rigour

The 2006 EIA increased the number of projects that required an environmental clearance, but also created appraisal committees at the level of both the Centre and States, the recommendations of which were made a qualification for a sanctioning and the programme also mandated that pollution control boards hold a public hearing to glean the concerns of those living around the site of a project.

In practice, the 2006 notification also proved regressive

  • The final EIA report was not made available to the public
  • The procedure for securing clearances for certain kinds of projects was accelerated
  • There was little scope available for independent judicial review.

Concerns with the 2020 notification

  • It enables a sweeping clearance apparatus to a number of critical projects that previously required an EIA of special rigour; where some industries require expert appraisal under the existing 2006 notification, they will, under the new notification, be subject to less demanding processes.
  • These include aerial ropeways, metallurgical industries, and a raft of irrigation projects, among others.
  • The new proposal does nothing to strengthen the expert appraisal committees on which so much responsibility is reposed, leaving the body rudderless.
  • It also does away with the need for public consultation for a slew of different sectors, negating perhaps a redeeming feature of the 2006 notification.
  • If there is a singular logic to the EIA process, it is that an environmental clearance is a prerequisite to the launching of a project.

Conclusion

We need a renewed vision for the country; one that sees the protection of the environment as not merely a value unto itself but as something even more foundational to our democracy.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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