CHENNAI: The 70s was a great time. Most nations were free from colonial rule and had already established functional governments of their own. The Green Revolution had taken a foothold in the late 60s, commercialising agricultural practices and technology. It was around the same time that environmental awareness was being advocated by governments around the world. The Australian government was the first to introduce the Environment Impact Assessment Notification in 1970. They made the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) mandatory for the approval of any infrastructure project.
Soon enough, the rest of the world caught up and by 1978 most countries had set Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notifications. The public was made a stakeholder in the EIA process, giving it a direct portal to influence the making of environmental laws. India introduced the EIA notification in 1976, when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine river-valley projects from an environmental perspective. Although the Water Act (1974) and the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of (1972) were already present when the EIA notification was introduced, the value of public opinion helped bring about changes in the Acts that were overlooked before.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and the Biological Diversity Act 2002 were results of inputs received from public opinions via the EIA notification. Despite the ongoing movement to spread environmental awareness, it was only in 1994 that India promulgated the EIA notification for environmental clearances, making it mandatory for expansion and modernisation. In 2006, the Congress government, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, revised the clauses of the EIA notification.
Priority was given to local voices and environmental experts. Several years later, it is now that the BJP government with Prakash Javadekar as the Environment Minister has introduced a draft of the EIA notification with revised points. Experts have studied discrepancies and issues that might affect public interest.
In May, Asar Social Impact Advisors organised a webinar to discuss the amendments put forward in the 2020 EIA draft. Discussing the history of the EIA notification and the impact the new draft will have, once brought into action, Niraj Bhatt, researcher at Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) and Manju Menon, senior fellow at Center for Policy Research, reviewed each point the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had changed from the 2006 draft.
District Magistrate has the authority to grant approvals for industrial infrastructure. The DM is also the chairman of the district environment impact assessment authority (DEIAA) and is supposed to take decisions to protect the environment.
- “The District Magistrate is reviewed by the central government based on the infrastructure projects they allow in their respective districts. Hardly any credit is given when they take a decision as the chairman of the DEIAA. This automatically puts power in the hands of the central government who may not pay as much head to the cries of the people to protect the environment ecosystems,” Niraj says.
- According to the 2020 draft, the ministry believes that the environmental impact for category B projects will only expand to five kilometres and category A to ten kilometres. However, projects like power plants are known to have adverse environmental effects over a much larger area.