September 4, 2020 6:13:33 pm
The Centre has moved a plea in the Delhi High Court seeking review of its direction to publish the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in all the 22 languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution, saying that official documents are required to be published only in Hindi and English.
The law does not require notifications to be published in local languages, it has contended.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan on Friday issued notice to the environmentalist, on whose plea the high court had issued the direction, and sought his response by September 23.
Appearing for the Environment Ministry, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma claimed that the court was “misled” by the petitioner into passing the June 30 judgement, which had extended till August 11 the date for giving comments and objections to the draft EIA. It had also directed that the notification be published in all the 22 languages within 10 days of the verdict.
The June 30 order had come on the plea moved by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad.
The Centre had on July 28 moved an appeal before the Supreme Court against the high court decision.
On August 6, Tongad moved a plea seeking contempt action against the ministry for non-compliance of the June 30 direction. The apex court, on August 13, declined to entertain the appeal at that stage, but granted liberty to the ministry to seek review of the June 30 decision of the high court.
The top court also put on hold any contempt proceedings against the government till its review plea as disposed of.
In its review plea, the ministry has said, “The present petition is being preferred only to the extent that this court has directed the respondent/applicant (ministry) to make all arrangements for the translation of the draft EIA notification 2020 into various languages and at least the languages mentioned in the Eight Schedule to the Constitution.”
The ministry has contended that notifications or draft notifications and other official documents are required to be issued only in Hindi and English and there is no mandate in law to issue them in any other vernacular or local languages.
“Issuance of notifications in multiple languages would in any case result in translation and interpretation issues resulting in the meaning of the words being obfuscated and often even lost,” the ministry has said.
It has contended that the June 30 decision of the high court “suffers from error apparent on the face of the record”, as it did not consider that neither the Official Languages Act of 1963 nor the Environment Protection Rules require that the draft notifications have to be issued in any other languages other than English and Hindi.
It has also claimed that till August 14, the ministry had received 19.8 lakh responses to the draft EIA from across the country and several of the comments were also in vernacular languages “which suggests that the objective with regard to wide publicity of draft EIA notification 2020 has been achieved by and large”.
The ministry, in its review plea filed through central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, has also alleged that Tongad “misled” the court by claiming that the ministry has in the past published its draft notifications in several other languages apart from English and Hindi.
The ministry has contended that the statement by the petitioner was “completely fallacious”.
Tongad, in the last week of August, moved an application seeking modification of the June 30 judgement to the extent of granting a 60-day extension for receiving public comments on the translated versions of the draft EIA after they are uploaded on the websites of the respective State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs).
The high court on August 31 issued notice to the ministry and sought its stand on the application by September 23.
Tongad, represented by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, has contended that the draft EIA was translated into a few vernacular languages after the August 11 deadline expired, but has not been uploaded on the websites of the respective SPCBs.
The application, filed through advocates Srishti Agnihotri and Abishek Jebaraj has also claimed that the ministry has also failed to upload the draft EIA in the English and Hindi language on the websites of the state environment departments and pollution control boards.
The draft EIA 2020, according to the plea, provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases.
The petition by Tongad had claimed that the draft EIA 2020 completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms. “This draft notification proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 45 days to 40 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects,” it had said.
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