New Delhi: Over 50 student unions and youth groups from across the country urged the Environment Ministry on Thursday to put on hold the current draft of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), alleging that changes it proposes can prove to be "destructive" for the ecology and the people.
In a letter to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, the students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, and outfits such as All India Students Federation and 48 others sought the draft EIA be re-written as per recommendations from environment experts once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
The letter to Javadekar said the ministry, "under your leadership", released the Draft EIA 2020 Notification in March, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are writing to you today to request you to put the current draft on hold on account of how destructive it can prove to be for the ecology and the people of our nation," said the letter.
"We petition for the draft to be rewritten as per recommendations by experts and released once health and survival are not a critical issue, thereby leading India into a green recovery."
It alleges the new EIA draft proposes to bring in "controversial amendments" such as: post-facto grant of approval, exemption of several large industries from public hearings, permission for industries to submit just one compliance report a year rather than two, increased validity of the environment clearances for mining projects and river valley projects, and many more.
The ministry published the Draft EIA notification on March 23, inviting public opinions and suggestions till May 22.
However, after several representations expressing concerns over the publishing of the notification during COVID-19 lockdown, the government on May 7 extended the period for submitting public opinion till June 30.
Students from universities and groups in Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab, Goa, Pondicherry, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and more, wrote the letter demanding that economic revival should be done without compromising the environment.
“We should use the EIA to bring India out of the COVID-19 pandemic as an environmentally aware country through a green recovery,” said Anjali Dalmia, a student from Ashoka University in Haryana.
“While economic revival is a national priority, this should be done without compromising the environment and society, as in the long run, it is our natural ecosystem which will support us”, she said.
The comprehensive letter has been signed by student groups, including AISA, Youth4Swaraj, JNUSU, IISER, Jain University, Jindal Global Law School and others.
“The youth of India, whose future will directly be impacted by the decisions made today, strongly believes that the current amendments to the EIA pose a serious threat to the environment and society, giving a free reign to several businesses and destructive industries such as mining and construction,” said Taanika Shankar and Smruthi Ananth, members of the Sustainability Committee at Azim Premji University, in a statement.
“In recent months/years, we have observed the effects of a weak environmental policy. Mumbai's Aarey forest was cleared to build a metro shed despite massive protests. Vizag's LG Polymers caused a gas leak on 7th May. Assam's Baghjan gas leak is another recent example,” they said.
“Land was cleared to extend the ports in Goa regardless of protests in 2016. Despite the obvious improvement of rivers and lowered pollution levels during the lockdown period, the MOEFCC is still approving destructive projects,” they added.