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KEY CHANGES IN EIA 2020 EXPLAINED

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, with the intention of replacing the existing EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The government wants to incorporate modifications made to the regulations through amendments in the interim period.

Introduction

  • An EIA makes a scientific estimate of the likely impacts of a project, such as a mine, irrigation dam, industrial unit or waste treatment plant.
  • There is also a provision for public consultation in the rules, including a public hearing at which the local community and interested persons can give opinions and raise objections, based on the draft EIA report prepared by experts for the project.

How does the draft EIA Notification differ from the one now in force?

  • Among the major departures from existing regulations is the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.
  • A list of projects has been included under Category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA.
  • The projects under this category include offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW, irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area, micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, all inland waterway projects etc.
  • The projects in this list are, under existing norms, identified on the basis of screening by Expert Appraisal Committees, rather than being exempted through listing in the Schedule.
  • Also, coal and non-coal mineral prospecting and solar photovoltaic projects do not need prior environmental clearance or permission in the new scheme.

What are the apprehensions?

  • There is apprehension that the exemption from EIA and public consultation for listed B2 category activity and expansion and modernisation projects will seriously affect the environment, since these will be carried out without oversight.
  • Combined with a new provision for post-facto environmental clearance (of projects executed without prior clearance), this would further weaken protections.
  • Moreover, the notice period for public hearing has been cut and this will make it difficult to study the draft EIA report.
  • Similarly, for project modernisation and expansion, the norms in Notification 2020 are liberal, with only those involving more than 25% increase requiring EIA, and over 50% attracting public consultation.
  • Under the proposed changes, project proponents need to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions, compared to the existing two – and this is concerning because the CAG found in 2016 that the deficiency in semi-annual compliance reporting was very high.

How would the new rules enable post-facto approval of violations?

  • The EIA Notification 2020 excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance.
  • Instead, the government will take cognisance of reports only from the violator-promoter, government authority, Appraisal Committee or Regulatory Authority.
  • Such projects can then be approved with conditions, including remediation of ecological damage, which, again, will be assessed and reported by the violator (and not an unconnected agency), although Central Pollution Control Board guidelines must be used.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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