The gas leak in the pesticide plant of the Union Carbide in Bhopal The fire that broke out at an oil well in Assam A gas leak in a chemical plant at Vishakhapatnam I do not need to count and tell you how many people have died in these disasters and how many people have been affected indirectly I’ll come straight to the point and ask you- Would you want such a disaster to take place right beside your home? or in your village or your towns? If not, then read this article carefully and do what I tell you in the end.
After the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984, the Indian government realized that the then-existing environmental laws in India were insufficient If we want to avert such disasters from happening in the future, then there was a need for stronger and more powerful laws This is why the Indian government came up with the Environment Protection Act in 1986 There was a new process in this act- EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) This process is applicable for all projects in India That is a real estate in construction somewhere in India, or an infrastructure project like the construction of a dam or a highway or a coal mine or a chemical plant EIA is applicable on all of these This process tells us that we should see what the impact of any project on the environment will be If a coal mine is going to be built somewhere, then how many forests would be axed in the process? What will happen to the people in the villages nearby? Would they lose their livelihoods? We should look at both the positive and the negative impacts of the project and then efforts should be made to reduce the negative impact as much as possible and if the Environment Ministry feels that the negative impacts are far too adverse, then such a project should not be granted clearance So, environmental clearance would be granted based on EIA.
Let me show you a brief overview of the entire process First, there is a process of site selection- choosing where the coal mine would be made Then Environment Impact Assessment would follow Following which, the NOC (No objection certificate) would be applied for And then a public hearing would be conducted- the public would be asked the people living there would be asked their opinion Based on it, a report would be prepared which would then be passed on to the environmental appraisal committee which is a committee of experts and scientists They would judge whether it would be okay to build a coal mine in that place or not Whether the negative impacts are far too many or if they have a suggestion to reduce that negative impact or if something else could be done For example, the people living in the villages nearby could be provided with other means of livelihood and to compensate for the deforestation, trees could be grown somewhere else This committee will decide and put forth suggestions before the company and then the project would be accepted and environmental clearance would be granted by the Ministry of Environment.
The process sounds all great, but in reality, its implementation is not that effective There are a lot of shortcomings in this law and it has been grossly misused as well Many cases have been observed wherein a coal mine or a power plant has been constructed without conducting a public hearing For example, in the case of Chattisgarh, a steel and power limited plant was constructed and public hearings for it were not conducted in a proper manner In other cases, public hearings are conducted but the company sends its own people to threaten people against speaking up against the project In some cases, the EIA reports are fake Studies are not conducted properly And this is exactly why disasters like Vishakhapatnam gas leak happen in our country In this specific case, this plant had not even been granted environmental clearance and despite that, it was in operation And the story behind the fire in the oil wells in Assam was that public hearings for the project were not conducted The project was violating the environmental laws and despite that, it was in operation So, you can clearly see that these laws were not being implemented in a sound manner which leads to disasters like these So, there is no doubt about the fact that the law needs to be made stronger and its implementation needs to be strengthened further today But what is actually happening? The government is doing the exact opposite in the new draft of EIA that it has just released.
Environment Impact Assessment Draft 2020
The government declared that it was bringing about some changes in the process of EIA this year And they released their draft in March. It is a document of around 80 pages It is available on the government’s website This draft entails the changes that the govt wants to bring about in Environmental impact assessment which they, ideally, want to make into a law They have given the public time until the 11th of August and if any of us feels that there are some shortcomings with this law and if we have any suggestions to make, then we may put them before the government by writing to them on this email id The problem is that there are several issues with this new EIA draft Instead of making the environment act stronger, it makes it weaker So that all the industries are easily able to exploit it and this will cause the disasters that we see today to multiply in the future How is that? Come, let us see- one by one.
Post Facto Clearance
The first problem is that there is a clause of “post facto clearance” in the draft that is, say a project has already started construction somewhere without environmental clearance then it is not an issue say a project is already in operation somewhere without environmental clearance then it is not an issue either The project can get its environmental clearance later This is extremely dangerous Because you have already seen the Vishakhapatnam gas leak The chemical plant involved in that case was operating without an environmental clearance As per this new law, that would have been completely right and legal Think about it- say, a coal mine is being constructed after clearing off a forest, and the government says it’s okay for them to do so. They can get an environmental clearance later if they haven’t been provided with a clearance earlier In April, Supreme Court had even passed a judgment declaring that post facto clearance is a wrong approach and that such a law should not be made.
The second problem- The time for the public hearing has been reduced Earlier, 30 days were designated for the public hearing. Now, only 20 days would be provided This is clearly stated on page number 47 The last line of point 3.1 states- “A minimum notice period of 20 days shall be provided to the public for furnishing their responses.” 30 days were already insufficient. Now it has been reduced to 20 Think about it- Say, a large dam is being constructed the construction of which might take 6-7 years and yet you’re providing 20-30 days to villagers to assess the negative impacts of it? It is a very short window for them to do that and put their points before government officials.
The third problem- if a project violates environmental law, then the public has no right to point out that violation This violation can be revealed by the violater himself or the government Let me explain with an example- say I’m building a coal mine in the middle of a forest After clearing off the forest, I build a coal mine in the middle of a national park which violates the environmental law The public sees it happening, but they can’t do anything The public has no right to point out that violation This violation can be revealed by the violater himself- So I can myself state that I’m doing wrong by constructing a coal mine and I’m violating the laws or the government can point that out Page number 29. Point number 22 “The cognizance of the violation shall be made on the suo moto application of the project proponent” suo moto application means that the person working on the project can himself point out the violation or it can be done by the government authority or the appraisal committee or the regulatory authority This is complete malarkey- they are expecting that if someone has committed a theft, then the thief himself can say that he has committed theft None of you can point that out.
The fourth problem- Until now, any project that was concerned with national defense or security then that project was not put up for public hearing and the information related to it was not made public which is right because it is not necessary for some important matters that concern national security But the government has added an extra line in this new draft Page number 9, point 7. “All projects concerning national defense and security or involving other strategic considerations as determined by the central government.” This third part is problematic The government says that the strategic projects according to the government public information regarding that would not be revealed by the government and no public hearing would be held That means, the government can put a stamp of “strategic” on any project Tomorrow, if someone builds a coal mine in the Ranthambhore park, and the public asks why that is happening and asks for details, the government can merely stamp a “strategic” stamp over it and refuse to disclose any information on it It is up to the government to decide what is strategic and what isn’t even if it doesn’t concern national security.
Fifth problem- The government has defined several projects that would be exempt from public consultations I’ll show you an example- Go to page number 19, point number 2 It states that “Public consultation is exempt from the following-” and they have listed out the points as projects in which there would be no public consultations The point number f in that includes all linear projects in border areas And if you look at the definition of border areas on page number 3, point 6, then you will see that Border area means area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the Line of Actual control with bordering countries of India So, basically, in the entire region of Northeast India, there’d be almost no public consultations And it is already an extremely ecologically sensitive part There are so many forests in Northeast India that have not yet been cleared and are still untouched Now, they would be endangered because of this The government would no longer consult the public here Look at how large an area of 100 kilometers is. Look at the 100-kilometer line from the borders in the northeast How far does it span? It covers almost all of North East India where there would be no public consultations for projects any more Forests would be cleared. Coal mines and chemical plants would be built here without public consultation.
But there is still time. The government has not yet implemented these changes. It is only a draft right now We have time until August 11 We have a deadline on 11th August and have time until then, thanks to the High Court has extended the deadline by putting pressure on the government We can send our suggestions and the changes that we want in this draft to the government We can send in our suggestions on this email id- firstname.lastname@example.org My first suggestion would be to write all that I have explained to you in this article in your own words and then send it to the government on this email address I know that not everyone has the time to read the 80-page draft.