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500 scientists, academics tell ministry how draft EIA ‘threatens environmental security’

In open letter to environment ministry, researchers say draft EIA notification should be withdrawn, call for an improved and more inclusive environmental decision making process.

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New Delhi: As many as 500 academics, scientists and researchers from over 130 institutes and universities came together Wednesday to express their concerns with the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the signatories have urged the environment ministry to withdraw the draft EIA notification and instead strengthen the EIA notification of 2006 with a new proposal.

The letter has signatories from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), among others.

“Rather than strengthening the EIA process, the Draft Notification tends to promote industrialisation at the cost of the environment,” it said.

The draft EIA has been criticised by various other groups in the past few months for giving more discretionary powers to the government in deciding regulation of natural resources.

Wednesday’s open letter called for an improved and more inclusive environmental decision making process. It also said a limited circulation and publicity of the draft EIA notification, along with its unavailability in most Indian languages, have hindered “true and inclusive public participation”.

Traditional communities in rural India who are usually most affected by developmental projects were not able to take part in the public consultation exercise due to lack of technology and access, the letter argued.

The signatories also said the draft notification, in its present form, was likely to “seriously threaten our country’s ecological and environmental security” as it neither adheres to the objectives of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 nor with India’s various other international agreements and commitments.

Under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, India decided its first Environmental Impact Assessment norms in 1994. These norms set in place a legal framework to regulate activities which utilise and impact natural resources in the country. Each new development project has to get an environmental clearance through the EIA process.

The new draft EIA notification seeks to amend the 2006 modified version of the 1994 norms. Issues raised over the draft EIA notification include limiting public engagement, exempting projects from public consultation and letting the government decide which projects are strategic and about which no information will be placed in the public domain.

Also read: Land comes in the way of Modi govt’s Neighbourhood First and Act East, study shows

‘India needs ecologically sound developmental measures’

The letter listed seven main concerns with the draft EIA, which include legitimising “ex post facto” environmental clearances and encouraging industries with no prior clearance to commence work.

Another major concern was exemption of highly polluting industries from public consultation and diluting post-clearance monitoring of firms.

Speaking about India’s poor performance in the Global Environment Performance Index 2020 (it ranked 168th out of 180 nations), the letter said India needs “immediate pro-environmental and ecologically sound developmental measures”, which were not addressed by the draft EIA.

Also read: Modi govt’s 2020 draft makes EIA a mere formality, fails on transparency, study shows


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