CHENNAI: It’s not just activists and NGO’s that have a problem with Centre’s Draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2020 -- that grossly dilutes environmental protection norms. Sources tell Express that the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) too, has recorded “certain specific objections” to the new policy in its comments submitted to the State government on July 6.
Activists have raised several issues with the new EIA, including a brazen clause that says that only government authorities or project proponents can flag violations made by the said project. As the legislation came amid the Covid pandemic, the Supreme Court last month extended the time given to public to register their objects till August 11.
The changes will have severe impact on Tamil Nadu, which has several projects lined up. Under the Central government’s flagship programmes - Bharatmala Pariyojana and Sagarmala - there are at least a dozen projects proposed in Tamil Nadu that are under active consideration before the Union Environment Ministry for approvals. That apart, there’s the neutrino observatory, an away-from-reactor at Kudankulam, and defence corridor project that are also pending approvals and clearances.
All these projects are labelled as “strategic or national important”, and almost all of them involve acquiring large tracts of wetlands, agricultural lands, and forest areas. Some even fall within the 10km radius of national parks. The ecological impact of all of these, could be huge if precautions are not taken.
Last year, when Union Environment Ministry had circulated Zero Draft of EIA Notification, Tamil Nadu government had raised some valid objections. These were totally ignored by the ministry in the final draft EIA Notification. In the letter dated June 18, 2019, SEIAA member secretary D Jayanthi had pointed out that exempting building project with build-up area less than 50,000 sq.m for obtaining environmental clearance was against the NGT order that had stayed such a move.
G Sundararajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal says if this draft EIA Notification becomes a law in present form, it would spell doom for TN. “Union Environment Ministry has stated in the notification that all projects concerning national defence and security or involving other strategic considerations as determined by the Centre, don’t have to obtain prior environment clearance and no information relating to such projects shall be placed in public domain. This means, the Centre can terms any project of their choice as strategic and bypass the EIA regulations. TN will suffer the most,” he said.