On Wednesday, the ministry of environment and forests released its latest draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 which proposes to bring projects that have violated or will violate the environment clearance process, overhauling some of the procedures underlined in the 2006 notification.
“The said notification (2006) defined violation of projects which have started the construction work, or have undertaken expansion or modernization or change in product mix without Prior Environment Clearance. However, such violations being recurring in nature may come to the notice in future during the process of appraisal or monitoring or inspection by Regulatory Authorities. Therefore, the Ministry deems it necessary to lay down the procedure to bring such violation projects under the regulations in the interest of environment at the earliest point of time rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” says the new draft.
As per the draft notification, all projects and activities have been divided into three categories -- ‘A’, ‘B1’, and ‘B2’ based on “the potential social and environmental impacts and spatial extent of these impacts.”
In a new section “Dealing with violation cases”, the draft notification states that cognizance of environmental violations will be taken in four ways -- suo moto application of the project proponent; or reporting by any government authority; found during the appraisal by Appraisal Committee; or any violation found during the processing of application, if any, by the regulatory authority.
As per the draft, the cases of violation will be appraised by Appraisal Committee with a view to assessing whether a “project can be run sustainably under compliance of environmental norms with adequate environmental safeguards”, among other things.
If the assessment is negative, the project will be directed to shut down. If not, it will be appraised for ecological damage etc. Such projects will have to pay a late fee depending on the size of the project. The company will also have to submit a bank guarantee valid for five years, equivalent to the amount of remediation plan with the state pollution control board.
However, some environmental experts have expressed reservations over the draft EIA notification.
Reacting to the draft, Vikrant Tongad, an environmentalist, said “ultimately, in a single line, this draft is a compilation of the violations. We have been opposing several drafts that were proposed earlier and we have objections over the current one as well. The foremost thing is the flawed monitoring mechanism which relies on self-compliance. This is a huge gap, the government is asking for a compliance report every six months, the government is using the project proponents themselves to file this and upload the documents, leaving a lot of room from discrepancies. We are demanding that proper personal verifications need to be done by the government.”
The draft EIA 2020 also proposes new committees and procedures, taking into consideration all previous amendments made to the 2006 notification. It seeks to fast forward clearances by digitising the process and standardising the approvals needed.
Criticising the draft notification for benefitting project proponents rather than the affected people, environment expert Kanchi Kohli from the Centre of Policy Research said: “The draft is specifying assistance and information that will be available to project proponents as ease of availing environment clearance.It appears that the ministry is bringing clarity through definitions and pooling together all the previous amendments. But the draft amendment has much more. It includes new exemptions, reduced scope of public hearings, annual monitoring instead of 6 monthly requirement and institutionalising the amnesty scheme for projects which have violated the environment clearance process.”
Currently, the 83-page draft is open for suggestions and objections for the next 60 days and is currently being reviewed by policy experts.
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