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Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

The Delhi High Court extended the deadline for public feedback on the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020.

Background to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

  • A signatory to the Stockholm Declaration (1972) on Environment, India enacted laws to control water (1974) and air (1981) pollution soon after.
  • After the Bhopal gas leak disaster in 1984 that the country legislated an umbrella act – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • Under the Environment Protection Act India notified its first EIA norms in 1994, setting in place a legal framework for regulating activities that access, utilise, and affect (pollute) natural resources.
  • Every development project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since.

The contention: EIA’s flaws

  • The 2020 draft offers no remedy for the political and bureaucratic stronghold on the EIA process, and thereby on industries.
  • It proposes to bolster the government’s discretionary power while limiting public engagement in safeguarding the environment.
  • While projects concerning national defence and security are naturally considered strategic, the government gets to decide on the “strategic” tag for other projects.
  • The new draft exempts a long list of projects from public consultation.

What’s exempt?

  • All inland waterways projects and expansion/widening of national highways will be exempt from prior clearance. These include roads that cut through forests and dredging of major rivers.
  • The 2020 draft also exempts most building construction projects of built-up area up to 1,50,000 sq m.

The big shift

  • The two most significant changes in the new draft are the provisions for post-facto project clearance and abandoning the public trust doctrine.
  • Projects operating in violation of the Environment Act will now be able to apply for clearance.
  • In an order on the Supreme Court held “ex post facto environmental clearances” contrary to law saying Environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance.
  • The 2020 draft also spells out how the government will take cognisance of such violations.
  • There is no scope for any public complaint about violations. Instead, the reliance is on the violators to disclose, suo motu, that they broke the law.

-Source: Indian Express

July 2024