The Draft EIA Notification, 2020: Reduced Regulations and Increased Exemptions
The regulatory framework for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) lays down a process to assess possible environmental impacts of industrial, mining and infrastructural projects before approving or rejecting its environmental viability. In India the formal legal framework governing the EIA process was brought about in the form of an EIA Notification in 1994, which was enacted under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The 1994 Notification was amended several times in a span of 11 years before the EIA Notification of 2006 replaced it.
The system created by the 2006 Notification is far from perfect. Over the last 14 odd years, there have been quality issues with respect to EIA reports, several procedural lapses during public hearings and a poor track record with respect to post clearance monitoring and compliance. The 2006 Notification has also undergone changes over the years. Despite that, the 2006 Notification has been the most popular legislation used by the project affected people and non-governmental organizations to reduce the social and environmental costs of projects.
On 23rd March 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released a new draft EIA Notification and invited public comments on it within 60 days. However since the period for public comments coincided with the national lockdown in lieu of the COVID 19 pandemic several environmental groups demanded for the comment period to be extended. The MoEFCC has now extended the time for public comments till 30th June 2020.
This draft notification proposes changes that can dilute protective provisions of the 2006 Notification to a great extent. This analysis presents a clause by clause comparison of the EIA Notification, 2006 and the draft EIA Notification, 2020 to illustrate the lacunae in the proposed changes and their possible implications on the environment and communities, if implemented.