The Draft EIA Notification, 2020: Reduced Regulations and Increased Exemptions Part I & II
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 had extended the time for public comments till 30th June 2020. The Delhi High Court in Vikrant Tongad v Union of India has as of now further increased the date for sending comments till 11th August 2020.
This draft notification proposes changes that can dilute protective provisions of the 2006 Notification to a great extent. Part I of 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. Part I can be accessed here.
On 22nd July 2020, The MoEFCC submitted a statement of objections in response to the matter of United Conservation Movement Charitable Welfare and Trust v. Union of India before the High court of Karnataka. The Ministry claims that it has facilitated wider publicity to the Draft EIA 2020 since they had circulated a Zero Draft of the EIA Notification in the form of an Office Memorandum with the State Governments and other state level administrative bodies, an year ago. This Zero Draft was released on 15th april 2019, while the country was focusing on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The MoEFCC has claimed the Zero Draft of 2019 to be the same as Draft EIA 2020 in their statement of objection.
The Zero Draft of 2019 and the Draft EIA 2020 Notification are however significantly different and cannot be considered as the same document. Part II of this analysis discusses the major differences between the Zero Draft of 2019 and the Draft EIA 2020 and presents a clause by clause comparison of both the drafts. Part II can be accessed here.