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Parliamentary committee begins discussing EIA draft despite NDA members’ objections

The BJP-NDA members, while underlining that environment is an important issue, are learnt to have suggested that the committee can discuss the final draft once it is released.

Jairam Ramesh, chairman of the committee, however, managed to get the discussion going, suggesting the panel was not going to give a report or recommendation immediately.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change began discussing the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification despite objections raised by some BJP-NDA members at a meeting on Friday. The ruling alliance members, it is learnt, argued a discussion is not needed since it is just a draft notification which will undergo changes.

The BJP-NDA members, while underlining that environment is an important issue, are learnt to have suggested that the committee can discuss the final draft once it is released. They also pointed out that Hindi copies of the draft notification were not made available to them.

Jairam Ramesh, chairman of the committee, however, managed to get the discussion going, suggesting the panel was not going to give a report or recommendation immediately and that the members should hear the ministry representatives who had come to brief them.

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Explained | Reading the draft Environment Impact Assessment norms, and finding the red flags

Ministry officials gave a detailed presentation, after which members raised questions. It is learnt that a couple of members raised concerns regarding lack of enforcement and asked whether the draft envisages a dilution in public participation process.

The meeting saw AIMIM’s Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi and NCP’s Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan raising questions.

Owaisi, it is learnt, argued the draft EIA notification dilutes existing norms, standards and processes. He said it provides for bypassing rigorous assessment by officials for an expanded category of projects and project expansion plans. He said the draft, for example, exempts building construction projects of built-up area between 2,000 and 1,50,000 sqm and for mining projects with mine lease over 2 hectares. He said the EIA is also exempted for expansion of projects by up to 25 per cent.

Read | EIA draft aims to bring violators under regulatory regime: Prakash Javadekar

Owaisi said the draft takes away the rights of citizens to be consulted for large projects by narrowly defining the affected people. He also claimed giving retrospective approval to those who developed projects without clearance will pave the way for pay and pollute principle. He pointed out that the application for clearance by LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam, where a styrene gas leak had killed many people, is still pending.

Chavan raised the issue of exemption for digging of foundations for buildings. She said builders are digging deep to create parking spaces, which end up cutting into aquifers that are important for groundwater.

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