Madras HC seeks GoI’s reply on plea to consider ‘climate change’ factor for EIA report

The court has interpreted Articles 14 (equality before law and the equal protection of laws) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution as important sources of this distinct right.
Madras HC
Madras HC(File Photo | EPS)

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the Union government over the new Constitutional ‘climate’ right recognised by the Supreme Court earlier this year and gave two weeks for the Centre to respond.

On March 21, a three-judge bench of the apex court, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, delivered a landmark judgment in the Great Indian Bustard case recognising the right to be free from the adverse impacts of climate change as a fundamental right.

The court has interpreted Articles 14 (equality before law and the equal protection of laws) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution as important sources of this distinct right.

Based on this, G Sundarrajan, managing trustee of Poovulagin Nanbargal and member of the Tamil Nadu Governing Council on Climate Change, filed a PIL before the Madras HC seeking consideration of climate change aspect while preparing environment impact assessment reports for the large-scale projects.

The Union Environment Ministry issued the EIA Notification in 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The notification deals with large-scale construction projects which must be carried out after obtaining prior environmental clearance.

The clearance mechanism has four stages --screening, scoping, public consultation and appraisal. Para 7II(i) of the EIA notification deals with scoping, the process by which the expert appraisal committee determines the terms of reference by addressing all relevant environmental concerns for the preparation of the EIA report.

However, para 7II(i) does not speak about ‘climate change’ though it is one of the most important concerns for the preparation of the EIA report. The petition said, in its absence the entire paragraph becomes unconstitutional and violative of Articles 14 and 21 in the light of a recent Supreme Court ruling. When the PIL came for admission, the first division bench of Acting Chief Justice R Mahadevan and Justice Mohammed Shaffiq said the plea appeared to be “for good cause” and asked for the Centre’s reply to it within two weeks.

Vinuta Gopal, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bengaluru-based NGO, Asar, told TNIE that the SC ruling had kick-started an important discourse on the need to include climate change in human rights.

“Currently, the EIA Notification doesn’t look at large infra projects with a lens of climate impact. The most affected due to human-induced climate change are predominantly the marginalised groups. India needs a legal framework to recognise the new fundamental climate right,” she said.

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