Government diluting Environmental Laws
“The environment and the economy are the sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.”
Now, not only our nation is battling with COVID’19 and geopolitical threats, but it will also have to fight against our government to save the environment. Regulations that are meant to save the environment are now being tampered by the Modi government.
Environmental damage is often irreparable — one cannot reverse an oil spill. It is cheaper to avoid damage to the surroundings than to remedy it. We are legally sure to the precautionary principle below international treaties and obligations, in addition to with the aid of Supreme Court judgments.
Since environmental regulation needs to balance damage to the surroundings with sustainable development and possible advantages of the project, an impartial assessment ought to be made on a precautionary basis, before investment, jobs, and infrastructure are placed on the line.
A signatory to the Stockholm Declaration (1972) on Environment, India authorized laws to control water (1974) and air (1981) pollution quickly after. But it was best after the Bhopal gas leak disaster in 1984 that the country constitutionalizes an umbrella Act for environmental safety in 1986.
Under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, India notified its first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) norms in 1994, placing a legal framework for regulating activities that access, utilize, and affect (pollute) natural resources. Every development project was required to undergo the EIA process for acquiring environmental clearance.
The 1994 EIA notification became changed with a modified draft in 2006. Earlier this year, the Modi governments redrafted it once more. The two important provisions that are meant to save the environment diluted by the government are-
1. The Environment Impact Assessment, an instrument used to evaluate the impact of development projects on the environment based on the terms of reference specified by the Regulatory Authority. The draft EIA report is prepared for Public Consultation.
2. The Mines and the Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1975 and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015.
The Draft EIA Report, 2020
1. Excluding Public Opinion
The 2020 draft offers no treatment for the political and bureaucratic hold on the EIA process, and thereby on industries. Instead, it proposes to reinforce the government’s discretionary power whilst restricting public engagement in protecting the environment.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) came into existence on September 14, 2006, and plays a very crucial role in sustainable development or the development that fulfills the needs of the present without hindering the resources for the future. The new draft, if put into force will replace the guidelines of EIA, 2006 for all future projects.
According to EIA, 2006 – “The Draft EIA Report is the EIA Report prepared for Public Consultation or as per the directions of the Regulatory Authority.”
Public Consultation is an important characteristic of EIA. It is a platform provided to the local people who will be affected by the project and have a plausible stake in the environmental impacts to voice their concerns on the proposed projects. Public consultations hence bring transparency. However, the 2020 draft EIA has limited the public engagements in protecting the environment.
Development projects are divided into two categories – Category A and Category B. Every development project needs environmental clearance before the inspection. Category A projects require a national level appraisal, which requires careful examination of all the applications and documents including final EIA report by the regulation authorities, while Category B projects are examined by the state.
The draft has exempted various projects from the public hearing that previously required public consultations. Some of these projects are – Irrigation projects, halogen manufactures, soda ash manufactures, chemical fertilizers, and standalone ammonia plants, acid manufactures, pesticide industries, fiber manufacturers, petrochemical processing units, bulk drugs, and dyes, manufactures of paints, varnishes, pigments plants, common municipal waste management, and building construction.
While projects concerning national defense or countrywide protection and security are naturally taken into consideration strategic, now the government gets to determine the “strategic” tag for other tasks. The 2020 draft says no data on “such projects shall be placed within the public domain”. This opens a window for speedy clearance for any mission deemed strategic without having to explain why to the public.
In the pursuit to scrape a better rank in ease of doing business index, our government is permanently degrading the environment. Many industries are highly polluting the environment. Also to expand their industrialization, the industries neglect the most vulnerable communities which are neither taken care of by any political institutions nor are included in any kind of developmental strategies. The poor community has barely been uplifted in all these years and is the first to get drastically affected by these industries.
In 2016, the real estate projects between 20,000 and 150,000 square meters were spared by the Modi government from obtaining environmental clearances. As it was presumed that the environmental interests were met under building bye-laws and codes. However, it was stated by the National Green Tribunal that such exemptions’ violated EIA, 2006 notifications.
Now in the new draft real estate projects are not only exempted from environmental clearances but also public consultations by including them under the Category B2 in which the norms surrounding environmental compliance have been relaxed.
All inland waterways projects and expansion or construction of national highways, the focused areas of the government will be exempted from any prior clearance.
This construction of roads and waterways projects includes cutting through forests and dredging of major rivers.
2. Diluting Coal and Minerals Laws
In March 2020, as COVID – 19 was spreading worldwide with great speed, the parliament made certain amendments to the mines and mineral (development and regulation) Act 1957 and The coal mines ( Special Provisions) Act,2015 stating that these amendments will help the Indian coal and mining sector to grow more and establish larger industries. However, just a few months back, India’s ranking in the world bank’s Ease of doing business 2020 survey had improved by 79 places from 142 to 63.
Earlier, coal that has been produced can only be used for assigned and confined purposes. However, today the end-use of coal is not required to be declared. Also, these amendments have made way for the companies with no experience in coal mining to bid for and procure coal blocks.
Also, the newbie in the mineral companies with no large experience can start their mining and can get the clearances based on credentials of those who were previously assigned coal blocks because these forest and environment clearances are directly transferred to the new owners of mineral blocks in a period of two years. The new regulation has also stated that power plants are no longer insisted to use washed coal- which is a process that helps to increase their efficiency and also reduces pollution by reducing emissions from burning.
There are still a lot of people who are forced to live in the degraded zones or lives in the forest sides and these relaxations in the new legislative rules over the environment can have major implications on them and the ecological wellbeing.
The zones which are referred to as a sacrifice or national sacrifice zones by the environmentalists can be so permanently damaged by these new regulations which are made to ‘ease the business’ and attract the foreign investors to make in India that no environment repair could repair them and the effect of the same will be inevitable.
The water bodies are being polluted by the industrial waste for centuries, the land has been surfaced mined to its bone, the fresh air is barely reaching to anyone’s nostrils, groundwater blocks have been exploited then contaminated, and the landfills have sacrificed themselves to the hazardous waste accumulated in it.
Some people face these issues every day and in the coming time, every individual may have to face the same. The Public’s health risk is on the peak and maybe the next generation’s future will be better in the tertiary department. But, they won’t be able to survive in this environment. So, it’s time that we stop this national sacrifice and apply what Gandhi Ji told us “There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.”