The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has issued a Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 to replace the current EIA Notification 2006. The government has sought comments and suggestions from the public. While some of the changes brought in by the government in the new version have been widely appreciated, a slew of modifications have not gone down well with experts and activists. Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Shri Prakash Javadekar spoke to Organiser Editor Prafulla Kelkar on EIA and related issues. Excerpts:
You have received lakhs of responses from people with regard to Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020. There are many apprehensions regarding post-facto clearances, etc. Are you going to withdraw this clause?
‘Post-facto sanction’ isn’t our invention. This was done in 2010, 2012 and 2013 through office memorandums (OMs) by the UPA government. The National Green Tribunal later quashed those orders, saying that OMs cannot override notification. The government was asked to issue a fresh notification. Then, there were three court decisions —from the Jharkhand High Court and the Supreme Court. The Jharkhand High Court said the Centre cannot refuse considering clearances except on merit and not on the issue of violation. The Supreme Court has clearly said closure of an industry is not the option before the government for violations. If the government gives environmental clearance to a company after it has gone through proper processes, it is given prospectively. There will be no ‘retrospective’ clearance. There will only be ‘prospective’ environmental clearance and heavy penalty will be imposed for the period of violation.
Talking about the need for the new notification, the 2006 EIA notification has been amended 55 times. 230 office memorandums were issued on it. The government is not proposing major changes, we are just revising and consolidating the changes made so far. There are three key changes we are proposing. In 2014, we had given general approval for all defence projects and border roads within 100 km of the LAC, this will now be reflected in the EIA. For defence projects, we are not giving blanket freedom; they will follow standard guidelines but the process will be expedited to save time.
As far as the final notification is concerned, there are 1.8 million views we have got through public feedback. Our final notification will come after considering these views. This is not a final document.
What do you have to say about the controversy regarding public hearing?
We have reduced the time limit for public hearing from 30 days to 20 days. Public hearing is conducted on a single day for a project and communication has moved faster now due to mobiles and other information technology tools. So, a shorter duration works well.
For projects with no environmental impact such as MSME and clean technology industry the condition for public hearing has been done away with. We are doing away with discretion given to states and the expert appraisal committees on environmental clearance and categorisation of industries —to do away with confusion.
The 2006 EIA notification which brought in the B1 and B2 categorisation of industries was the UPA’s creation, not ours. This gave states the discretion to decide which industry was in which category and has led to wide variation and confusion across states on exemptions. We hope to do away with this confusion. We are adding to the list of industries that will require public hearings –– power, steel, cement and 17 critically polluting industries even in industrially notified areas.
There is a provision that in the case of violations, only the violator or a government can complain and the general public. The provision for six-month compliance report has been changed to one year. What is your reaction on these issues?
In the electronic format, system of filing yearly compliance report is good. What one should emphasize is that these reports should be read by someone. Today we receive hundreds of reports every six months. There is no mechanism to check whether these are read by someone. We need to have to put in place a system of accountability.
What do you have to say about the criticism that the Indian government is pro-industry and anti-environment?
The world is appreciating India’s leadership in the area of environment. We are among the few countries who are walking the talk on the Paris agreement. We have promised 35% reduction in industrial emission intensity by 2030. By now, we have already achieved 21%. The forest cover has increased by 15,000 sqkm. We have run a bio-fuel aircraft first time in the world. We are mixing 10% ethanol in petrol. We have migrated to BS-6 and taken a new target of restoration of 26 million hectares of degraded land. We have 70% of world’s tiger population. India is home to 70% of Asian elephants and 70% of Asian lion population. The Prime Minister has launched Project Lion and Project Dolphin. In solar energy, we have already achieved more than 40 GW annually. We produce 87 GW of renewable energy annually. We propose to produce 100 GW of solar energy and 450 GW of renewable energy in the future. India is ahead of other countries in terms of renewable energy production. Those who were in power for 10 years could not even build a bypass road in Delhi. We built it in five years and now 60,000 vehicles which used to pollute Delhi every day do not enter Delhi.
- Transparent processes: The process of issuing environmental clearances has been made more transparent and expedient through implementation of an online system.
- It tries to strengthen the monitoring mechanism for compliance of conditions of Prior Environment Clearance by introducing the system of late fees/penalties in case of failure to submit yearly compliance reports by the project proponent.
- It aims to standardize the process of Environmental Clearance by reducing the overall time.
- Clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities and inter-co-ordination among the authorities has been made for Category A, B1 and B2 which was earlier more ambiguous especially in terms of category B projects.
- In case of violation cases, the project proponent is required to prepare and implement the EMP, comprising of remediation plan and natural and community resource augmentation plan corresponding to the 1.5 times and 2 times the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation in case of the suo moto applications or Government reported cases respectively.
- The project proponent is required to submit a bank guarantee valid for five years equivalent to the amount of remediation plan and Natural and Community Resource Augmentation Plan with the SPCB or UTPCC, as the case may be, and the bank guarantee will be released after successful implementation of the action plan.
- The EIA report structure has been made more standardized.
- An appeal can be made to the National Green Tribunal against the prior EC.
What critics say
- Re-categorisation of projects: Several large-scale projects are re-categorised as B2 which have multiple exemptions such as preparation of EIA report, public consultation, filing of complaint by the public and other agencies in case of violations. Such exemption poses a huge threat to the local people and environment.
- The mechanism to deal with violations is ambiguous regarding its applicability (in terms of expansion projects, already existing projects or new projects) and allows an ex post facto EC to such projects, which further raises the question of how such projects are existing without an EC in the first place.
- Climate change and related considerations have not been mentioned in the new draft.
- The previous EIA 2006 did not consider the cumulative impacts of multiple projects in an area and its scope has been further curtailed in the new draft.
- The Compliance report was earlier required to be submitted in six months which has now been relaxed to 1 year, which raises concerns over checking the environmental issues arising in between the mentioned time.
- As per the new draft: “In case, the Regulatory Authority does not refer the matter to the Appraisal Committee within 30 days of date of application in Form-I, sector specific Standard ToR shall be issued, online, on 30th day, by the Regulatory Authority.”, the standard TOR for a sector might overlook the geographical and social concerns of a particular area.
- Public Consultation will be undertaken only for Category ‘A’ and Category “B1” projects of new or expansion proposals or modernization with capacity increase more than 50 percent. It is unclear how and if this move will benefit the public as the environment damage assessment for anything less than 50 percent is not considered for public consultation.
- The Public consultation aspect was already weak in the previous notification and in the new draft its importance has been further diluted in the following ways: a) The time for public consultation has been reduced from 30 to 20 days; b) In case of category B2 it has been completely omitted; c) The regulatory authority can decide to not include the public hearing in the following case “ If the public agency or authority nominated under the sub-clause (7) above reports to the Regulatory Authority concerned that owing to the local situation, it is not possible to conduct the public hearing in a manner which will enable the views of the concerned local persons to be freely expressed, it shall report the facts in detail to the concerned Regulatory Authority, which may, after due consideration of the report and other reliable information that it may have, decide that the public consultation in the case need not include the public hearing”; d) it limits the power of affected communities to report the environmental violation.
- The new draft does not mention about clearances required from authorities other than Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (Forest Act) and recommendations of State or Union Territory Coastal Management Authority, in case of the project located in the CRZ area.
- The quality of decision making by the authority and assessment by consultants was already weak w.r.t. to the previous notification and the new draft also has overlooked this component.
What do you have to say about Rahul Gandhi’s criticism?
Anybody will welcome ‘no tax’ regime because earlier there used to be a lot of corruption. How can you forget Rahul Gandhi's brilliant idea of allowing the businesses to start their activities first and getting the necessary permissions within three years of its operation?
There will be no curtailment in any procedural requirements for environmental clearance. On the other hand, there will be more public hearings. In 2006 notification, there were nine categories that were kept out of public hearings. Now, there are only seven. They had exempted 17 categories which included industries which were located in the notified industrial areas to obtain case-wise public hearing. These included highly polluting industries like cement, paper, thermocol, etc. But we have made it mandatory.
There is a draft resolution doing rounds on platforms like change.org and they are claiming that industries like solar ash, acids, petrochemical, pesticides all of which use harmful chemicals are exempted from public hearing process. How far is it correct? Why is the government not able to counter this malicious campaign?
As far as construction is concerned, the 2006 notification says that public hearing is not required for building up to 1.5 lakh sqm. What we have done is we have applied standards and it has been reduced up to 50,000 sqm. However, for green buildings, they are exempted from the process.
We are not doing away with any procedures. The strategic area has been determined by country’s security concerns. These areas can have a different procedure.