[Solved] How does the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 differ from the existing EIA Notification, 2006? (UPSC GS-3 Mains 2020)

Q7. [Solved] How does the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 differ from the existing EIA Notification, 2006? (UPSC   GS-3 Mains 2020)

As of late, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) warning 2020, that looks to supplant the current EIA notice which returns to 2006.

Changes in EIA, 2020

Post-facto approval

The notification introduces idea of post-facto approval where the projects that are already under construction before Environment Impact Study will be given approval to go ahead regardless of the findings of the report.

Feedback time

The previous notification of 2006 gave a feedback time of 30 days for residents of the area to file objection to the project. This feedback time has been reduced to 20 days under the new notification.

Compliance report

The projects given permission for go-ahead have to file compliance report every six months under the 2006 notification. In the new notification, the compliance duration has been increased to once a year.

Strategic go-ahead

There has been a new addition to mandatory go-ahead through concept of strategic project. The projects that are branded strategic will be given permission without any need for feedback or compliance study.

Major Differences Between Draft And Current Notification

  • Post-Facto Approval: From a stark departure from the current notification, the new draft allows for post-facto approval for projects.

  • It means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.
  • Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is a principle of environmental sustainability.
  • Public Consultation Process: The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.

  • If adequate time is not given for the preparation of views, comments, and suggestions to those who would be affected by the project, then such public hearings would not be meaningful.
  • Compliance Report Issue: The 2006 notification required that the project proponent submit a report every six months, showing that they are carrying out their activities as per the terms on which permission has been given.

  • However, the new draft requires the promoter to submit a report only once every year.
  • Diluting Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Process: Unlike the existing notification, with the draft notification, the central government gets the power to categorize projects as “strategic.”

  • Once a project is considered as strategic, the draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.
  • Further, the draft notification states that the new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square meters (instead of the existing 20,000 square metres) do not need “detailed scrutiny” by the Expert Committee, nor do they need EIA studies and public consultation.

What are the concerns with the recent notification?

  • The stated reason is to streamline the EIA process and bring it in line with recent judgments.
  • If put into force, the EIA Notification, 2020 will replace the EIA Notification, 2006 for all future projects.
  • But the Draft EIA Notification dilutes the effectiveness of the process, and shrinks its scope.
  • The most devastating blow to the EIA regime is the creation of an ex-post-facto clearance route.
  • Under this, the project proponent can enter an assessment procedure, with some minor fines for the violations.
  • In other words, it offers a route when an EIA clearance is not sought or granted, and the construction of the project had taken place.
  • Where such ex-post-facto clearances were being granted previously, the courts cracked down on them as illegal.
  • Therefore, what could not be ratified will now find itself notified.
  • The legality of sidestepping the courts is questionable and will have to be tested.
  • In essence, the EIA would become a business decision as to whether the law needs to be followed or the violation can be “managed”.
  • The argument that this route will be an “exception” is difficult, given the long history of expanding the exception into the rule.
  • The draft notification also shortens the time for the public to furnish responses on the project.
  • The project-affected people are frequently forest dwellers.
  • For these and others who do not have access to information and technology, this will make it harder to put forth representations.
  • Monitoring requirements have also been relaxed.
  • The draft EIA notification halves the frequency of reporting requirements from every 6 months to once a year.
  • It also extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors such as mining.
  • The scope of the EIA regime is also set to shrink.
  • Industries that previously fell under the categories that required a full assessment have been downgraded.
  • The construction industry will be one such beneficiary, where only the largest projects will be scrutinised fully.
  • Defence and national security installations were always understandably exempt.
  • But, a vague new category of projects “involving other strategic considerations” will also now be free from public consultation requirements.

How serious is this?

  • A deadly gas leak at LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant in May 2020 killed 12 people and harmed hundreds.
  • What came to light after the disaster was that the plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades.
  • Given such incidents, weakening the EIA process is essentially anti-democratic.
  • Seismic shifts in the local environment can threaten livelihoods, flood a valley or destroy a forest.
  • For affected communities, public consultation is a referendum on such existential threats.
  • To curtail this is to silence the voices that are scarcely heard otherwise.
  • It seems that the government views environmental regulation as an impediment to the ease of doing business.
  • During the nationwide coronavirus-led lockdown, the MoEF has been working swiftly to clear projects.
  • It is even carrying out public hearings over video conference.
  • Notably, the Minister for Environment and Forests and the Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises is the same person now.
  • Two charges that are oppositional are vested with the same person and the resultant conflict of interest is debatable.

There need  to be additional measures to prevent misuse of new guidelines to harm environment. Thus, the new draft EIA notification has the potential to reduce effectiveness of EIA study. This is can be detrimental for future environment protection.

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