CHENNAI: In a significant development, the Tamil Nadu government on Friday constituted a 12-member State Level Committee to look into all the aspects of the merits and demerits pertaining to the 'controversial' Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020.
The committee will be headed by Sandeep Saxena, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment and Forests Department with heads of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, National Centre of Sustainable Coastal Management, Commissioner of Municipal Administration, Chief Engineer of Public Works Department, industry and NGO representatives as members.
Interestingly, the committee was formed three days after public consultation ended on August 11.
The Union Environment Ministry had put the draft EIA Notification in the public domain on March 12 for comments.
Delhi High Court had directed the Central government to publish the notification in all 22 official languages by August 11.
The Karnataka High Court also directed the ministry to not publish the final draft notification till September 7 saying the notification was not being sufficiently publicised amid the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, the committee chairman Sandeep Saxena said that though the public consultation period was over, the Union Environment Ministry has to forward the final draft notification back to the States for comments.
However, he said: "We will not wait for the final draft notification, the committee will carefully study all the aspects of the notification and the opposition to it within a week's time and submit the comments to the Centre at the earliest."
Meanwhile, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) had submitted its comments on the draft notification to Tamil Nadu government on July 6. The SEIAA has reportedly made certain specific objections.
The comments from the Tamil Nadu government hold a lot of significance since the State would play host to numerous projects of national importance in the near future.
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.
This apart, India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project, Away from Reactor (AFR) spent fuel storage facility for Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) and defence corridor project are some of the other major Central government projects planned in the State.
All these proposals are either labelled as "strategic or national important" in the project applications submitted and the majority of them involves acquiring large tracts of wetlands, agricultural lands, forest areas, some fall within 10 km from the boundary of national parks etc. which meant these large scale projects would have adverse environmental impact if appropriate safeguards are not taken.
EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development taking into account inter-related social-economic, culture and human health impacts.
Ever since the draft notification was made public for comments, there has been an uproar across the country from environmentalists while social media campaigns were undertaken to call for its withdrawal.