The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, with the intention of replacing the existing EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
What is an EIA?
- An EIA makes a scientific estimate of the likely impacts of a project, such as a mine, irrigation dam, industrial unit or waste treatment plant.
- There is also a provision for public consultation in the rules, including a public hearing at which the local community and interested persons can give opinions and raise objections, based on the draft EIA report prepared by experts for the project.
How does the draft EIA Notification differ from the one now in force?
- Several activities have been removed from the purview of public consultation.
- A list of projects has been included under Category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA (Clause 13, sub cl. 11).
- The projects in this list are, under existing norms, identified on the basis of screening by Expert Appraisal Committees, rather than being exempted through listing in the Schedule.
What are the apprehensions?
- There is apprehension that the exemption from EIA and public consultation for listed B2 category activity and expansion and modernisation projects will seriously affect the environment, since these will be carried out without oversight.
- Combined with a new provision for post-facto environmental clearance (of projects executed without prior clearance), this would further weaken protections.
- Moreover, the notice period for public hearing has been cut from 30 days to 20 days. This will make it difficult to study the draft EIA report, more so when it is not widely available or provided in the regional language.
- Similarly, for project modernisation and expansion, the norms in Notification 2020 are liberal, with only those involving more than 25% increase requiring EIA, and over 50% attracting public consultation.
- Under the proposed changes, project proponents need to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions, compared to the existing two.
- The move is seen as retrograde, because the CAG found in 2016 that the deficiency in semi-annual compliance reporting was between 43% and 78%, while failure to comply with conditions ranged from 5% to 57%.
- Non-compliance was encountered particularly in river valley and hydroelectric power projects and thermal power projects.
- The EIA Notification 2020 excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance.
- Instead, the government will take cognisance of reports only from the violator-promoter, government authority, Appraisal Committee or Regulatory Authority.
- Such projects can then be approved with conditions, including remediation of ecological damage, which, again, will be assessed and reported by the violator (and not an unconnected agency), although Central Pollution Control Board guidelines must be used.