NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has directed the Centre to ensure that the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020 is published in all the 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution within 10 days.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan issued the direction while extending till August 11 the last date for giving suggestions to the draft EIA 2020, provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases.
The court said looking at the far reaching consequences of the public consultation process for which the draft notification has been published, "we are of the view that it would be in aid of effective dissemination of the proposed notification if arrangements are made for its translation into other languages as well, at least those mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution".
The bench said the translation may be undertaken by the Centre itself or with the assistance of the state governments, where applicable.
"Such translations should also be published through the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India as well as on websites of environment ministries of all states as well as those of state pollution control boards, within 10 days from today," the court said in its order dated June 30, which was made available on Wednesday.
The bench said publishing the translated versions within 10 days "would further enable the public to respond to the draft within the period stipulated in this judgment".
With the direction, the court partly allowed and disposed of the petition moved by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad, seeking extension of the time to respond to the draft EIA 2020 till September or till the COVID-19 pandemic subsists.
Tongad, represented by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, had contended that the draft has been published only in English and Hindi, whereas it is proposed to have effect all over India and to several industries and comments have naturally been elicited from all over the country.
During the hearing, Sankaranarayanan had argued that in the past, the Centre has published its draft notifications in several other languages also.
On the issue of extension of time to respond to the EIA 2020, he had argued that the notification was published on April 11 giving everyone 60 days to give suggestions and objections.
However, on May 8 a notification was issued stating that the period for giving comments has been extended by another 60 days and it would get over on June 30, the petition said.
Sankaranarayanan argued that there was, therefore, no clarity as to when the further period of 60 days would end.
"If the 60-day period commences on the date of the draft notification, i.e., March 23, 2020, the extended date of expiry will be July 18, 2020.If the date of notification in the Gazette (i.e.April 11, 2020) is taken as the start of the sixty-day period, the extended date of expiry will be August 9, 2020," the petition, filed through advocates Srishti Agnihotri and Abishek Jebaraj, had said.
It had also stated that at the same time a contradiction arises in the extension notification as an end date of June 30 is specified, which is less than 60 days from the date of issuance of the extension notification of May 8.
The bench had on an earlier date asked the Centre to address the "ambiguity".
However, when the Centre took a stand that its intent was to end the period for giving comments on June 30, the bench said it was surprised at the Centre's "obstinacy" in not addressing the "ambiguity" pointed out by the court.
"There is not a word (in the affidavit) on the ambiguity. Your reply is silent on the main point. We are, frankly, a little surprised at the obstinacy of the central government. The government is being obdurate in this matter," the bench said during the hearing held via video conferencing on Tuesday.
The bench also observed that "absolutely no effort has been made to address the court's query on ambiguity. Your reply is conspicuously silent about it. It amounts to not answering our query."
The court further said that it was not pleased with "this attitude" of the government and added that the process of public consultation was "not an obstacle".
"It (consultation) has some importance, it has some sanctity," the bench had said.
According to the petition, the draft EIA 2020 completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms.
"This draft notification proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 45 days to 40 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects," it had said.