In1994 when the first norms of the EIA were notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This notification was replaced by another one in 2006, and the one issued in March earlier this year seeks to replace that to make the Environment Impact Assessment 2020 process “more transparent and expedient”.

The Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020, a plainly worded, short legal instrument is a global symbol of neoliberal environmental regulation. Scholars state that its origins are tied to the period of US economic liberalisation.

The Need for an EIA

Every major development project has to undergo an Environment Impact Assessment and obtain environmental clearance from the government before any ground is broken. Depending on the assessment carried out, the project either proceeds as proposed, is modified, or (rarely) scrapped altogether. The purpose of the Environment Impact assessment is to ensure that decision-makers consider the environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project.

On  March 23, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020, which will replace the EIA notification of 2006. The proposed deadline for public opinion and suggestion was May 22nd, and it was further postponed to June 30. The Ministry has sought comments from the public for the draft, and the new deadline for submission now is  August 11, 2020.

Points of Concern

  • Environment Impact Assessment notification 2020 allows projects that are in violation of the Environment Protection Act (EPA) to apply for clearance.
  • Another issue is that the draft introduces the term strategic, by which the public will not be able to access any information about projects, and providing the provision for industries to submit compliance reports only once in a year.
  • A decrease in the number of days for the public to raise a concern about contentious projects 
  • Lack of need for public hearings for projects 

Why So Much Discussion?

Environmentalists argue that the new Environment Impact Assessment notification 2020 dilutes the existing rules 2006 EIA, which, in turn, will be disastrous for the green cover across the nation. The activists have, therefore, started the #SaveEIA campaign on social media to safeguard the provisions of the earlier notification. Many environmentalists and activists condemn the new Environment Impact Assessment notification 2020 saying that the process of conducting the EIA has been apathetic. Its core objective is to safeguard the environment, but they argue that little has been achieved on this front. They also argue that industries instead enjoy multiple de facto concessions.

The De Facto Allowance

The issue of de facto is explained by The Better India. It reports, “What is problematic is not the precedent it sets for the environment, but for the overall rule of law. Originally, the Environment Impact Assessment notification was based on the notion of evaluating the environmental impact before a project starts. If the new draft is finalized, the field is clear for industries to violate EIA norms first and seek clearance afterward. The government is relying on the violators to disclose that they broke the law. What was understood as a one-time amnesty scheme for all projects that violated Environment Impact Assessment notifications in 2017 to disclose that they had indeed done so and will go through a remediation process or a penalty process has been normalized,” says Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer. 

The source explains that if the cost of compliance is much higher than the cost of non-compliance then industries will see the benefit of non-compliance. At the end of the day, It’s not just about the environment, but a society governed by the rule of law.