Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said that former environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s concern about the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification giving ex post facto regularisation to violations is an “absolutely wrong connotation”, and that the intention of the draft is to bring violators under the regulatory regime and levy stringent penal provisions.
Javadekar was responding to a letter from Ramesh, who is the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on environment, forests and climate change and science and technology.
On Ramesh’s concern over dilution of public participation in environmental clearance that is provided by the existing EIA, Javadekar said that in effect there would be no reduction in the time for public participation. Javadekar also said that the ministry has received “hundreds of thousands” of objections and suggestions to the draft EIA, and these would take time to consider.
Ramesh wrote to Javadekar on Thursday requesting that the draft EIA 2020 notification be kept “in abeyance till the Committee completes its deliberations”.
The deadline to file objections or suggestions to the proposed draft on the ministry website is August 10.
Ramesh wrote that the next meeting of the standing committee, which is on Friday, will address the issue of the EIA notification as the panel has been “inundated with requests from various stakeholders to give them the opportunity to present their views”, and that officials have been called to explain the need for such a notification.
Over the past two weeks, the former and present environment ministers have exchanged a series of letters over the draft EIA notification. On July 25, Ramesh wrote to the minister “strongly objecting” to the proposed draft on five grounds — that it allows for post facto approval of violations which would “routinely legitimize illegality”, reducing public participation in all steps of the environmental clearance process and doing away with it in certain categories of projects, doing away with environmental clearance in certain categories of modernisation and expansion, securing land for long durations without having to construct on it or develop which would lead to land grab and dilution of cooperative federalism by giving the Centre full powers to appoint State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities. The draft reflects “a mindset that sees environmental regulation as unnecessary regulatory burden and not as an essential obligation to be met for the health and welfare of our people and for ensuring development that is sustainable”, Ramesh wrote.
Javadekar responded to this on July 26, calling the concerns “unfounded and based on misinterpretation”.
Ramesh responded with a four-page letter explaining and supporting each of his concerns, citing clauses in the draft.
“The environmental clearance which will be issued is prospective in nature and previous actions resulting in violation will be made liable to stringent penal action as per the statutory provisions. The main purpose of this provision is to bring all violators under the regulatory regime by imposing heavy penalty. You will also agree that we will not let such companies in perpetual unregulated status. When I look back on the records it is noticed that such violators are allowed to regularise on a permanent basis via an office memorandum in 2010. You must be knowing that this was struck down by the NGT,” Javadekar wrote to Ramesh.
The minister also said that while 30 days’ time is given under the current EIA to the public for feedback on a project, that the actual consultation takes place only on one day in the presence of district officials. Javadekar said that in effect the ministry was not reducing the time for public participation.
Javadekar also pointed out that seven states/UTs – Delhi, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, Nagaland and Goa – have not appointed State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities, in which case the Centre will now appoint them.
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