Objections to the Draft EIA Notification 2020

Dimple Oberoi Vahali

[The objection to the draft EIA Notification 2020 is submitted to the MoEF & CC. The most crucial objection to the draft lies in its anthropocentricity. It is mainly centred around human concerns. Consequently, the respect and recognition of the identity of the bio-eco system other than humans had got subdued. “We must save the environment because it is in our interest”, remains too predominant a discourse in the society. The response focuses on moving away from an anthropocentric perspective, the need to uphold a balance, to acknowledge the equal rights of all living processes to thrive were some of the main issues that she has dealt with. This tradition is growing in India but as of now it is feeble. Secondly, during the whole period of long struggle by the author to save the city-hill-forest ecosystem of Shimla from destruction by the builders’ lobby, she has been focusing on the usefulness of the Precautionary principle and disaster risk analysis. The same has played a key role in creating the powerful judgment that was given in her case in the NGT. Hence this point is also highlighted in her representation. Many other points are akin to what most objections are stating. While developing some of these points, she has also taken help from other objections to the MoEF.]

The Secretary,
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road, Aliganj, New Delhi- 110 003,

e-mail address

Dated: 29.06.2020

Subject:   Objection to the Draft EIA Notification (2020) issued in New Delhi on March 2020 seeking suggestion/ objection within 30 June 2020
Ma’am/ Sir,
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Draft Notification (2020) is against all norms of protecting the bio-ecosphere; it is anti-life, unethical, irresponsible, unscientific and against the spirit of the Constitution.  In solidarity with so many ecologists, concerned people, I strongly reject the said EIA Draft 2020.

The very purpose of the Environment Protection Act (EPA 1986) by the ministry of Environment and forests was to implement the decisions of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, UNCHE, Stockholm, June 1972 for the protection and improvement of the human environment and prevention of hazards to humans. In 1986 the central government enacted the EPA (1986) to take all such measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment”. Forty-eight years since the aforesaid Stockholm Conference and thirty-five years after the EPA (1986) we are in a different era altogether. The extreme dangers of global warming, climate change and the role of destructive, non-sustainable development as the primary cause of destruction are clear to all. The unprecedented emergence of the people’s realisation and ecological activism to save our planet in the last few decades began to bring some degree of change in the awareness at the governmental levels as well. The belated realisation emerging amongst officials  in governments in most countries in the last few decades has been that the principle of Sustainable Development and Precautionary principle are not just to preserve our natural resources, forests and environment for future, but more importantly, it is  the prevention of environmentally destructive development on emergency footing to slowdown the catastrophic collapse of the life of the bio-ecosphere of the planet due to the prevailing business-centric practices of development. This realisation related to the extreme urgency of avoiding destructive development was the basis of adding the words CLIMATE CHANGE to the name of the MINISTRY OF FORESTS AND ENVIRONMENT in 2014. The altered name then became

Consequent to its changed name, the role of the Ministry was expected to alter.  It was to become an uncompromising referee to business lobbies in order to ensure that the principles of Sustainable Development and so on are not violated. This became all the more urgent. The earlier EPA (1986) and the existing EIA Notification initially issued in 1994, then in 2006 and the many amendments issued since then had fatal flaws as is evident from the track record of its gross failure to protect the bio-ecosphere.

Ironically, the new Notification (‘EIA Notification, 2020’) by the renamed Ministry makes a mockery of the aforesaid realisation and mandate. Supposed to be an update upon the earlier one, not a single one of the amendments proposed in the Draft EIA Notification 2020 (henceforth called the Draft-2020) is to improve its mandate of protecting and improving the quality of the environment. Rather, each one of the amendments has been designed to give advantage to the irresponsible and environment destructive development that is so profitable for capitalism to flourish. The Draft is anthropocentric, that too, just for the corporate few and it completely goes against the living organism – bio-ecosphere. The Draft per-se is against the people’s right to survive, as often their survival depends upon the health of their environmental base and democratic rights to express their opinions regarding crucial questions about their well being and survival, in this respect, along with many others, it is against the spirit of the constitution.

1. The EIA process in India along with the EIA Notification (2006) is basically flawed in regard to the understanding and the concerns of the “primary stake holders”, people of the affected area and the bio-ecosphere. There are no built-in safeguards or provisions so that the people concerned and the voice of the bio-ecosphere (represented by the local/ concerned people and ecologists) can play a leading and participatory role in the whole EIA process. The “updated” Draft, rather than engaging with this grave issue, from its constitution to its functioning has by-passed and blocked all space for consultation with affected primary stakeholders of the impacted zones. This has been done even in the constitutive process of the Draft 2020 and most of the operational features of the amendments described below.

1.a       The time of the presentation of the Draft for public hearing, consultation, giving of suggestions/ objections is in itself highly objectionable. The Draft has been sprung on the people when the Covid19 pandemic is raging to its maximum level; when people are living the trauma of death, mourning, committing suicides, starving; when lockdowns and serious travel restrictions are all around and there is a massive disruption of communication and life. Moreover, besides this, in the areas where most of the projects like mining, Hydel power and so on (involving large-scale damage to the ecosystems, forests, hills, rivers, coastal areas and with  significant ability to damage agriculture, life and local economies), are located, usually far away from the urban centres where the communication is difficult even in normal times, it has  surely has worsened in the present, therefore expecting people from these areas  to respond to the EIA Draft exposes the government’s hypocrisy to the utmost. Obviously the people of the impacted zones, the adivasis and other forest dependent people, pastoralists, women, fisher people, and farmers, the local activists and concerned representatives of the  bio-ecological processes who are the ‘primary stake holders’ in protecting the local ecology have to be consulted in the Draft Notification as it is their first right.  These primary stake holders are the communities and the constituency of bio-ecosphere who have always been the main victims of the un-sustainable model of development offered by the government to them. The timing of seeking people’s consultation on the Draft 2020 is so terrible that it makes one wonder whether this was deliberately done so as to pass such a horrendous Draft when the people are already helpless in coping with the crises related to the Covid tragedy! This Draft is one among the many atrocious actions that the state has imposed on people within this period and also in the past, therefore, a lot of questions regarding such like issues and this specific issue comes forth in the open.

1.b       The ‘primary stake holders’ for the environment and its protection were already relegated to a peripheral role in the original draft of the 2006 EIA. There were no built-in safeguards or provisions even then to ensure that the concerned stakeholders could play a leading and a participatory role in the whole EIA process. If the earlier draft did not provide any safeguards, the “updated” Draft does not even pose this central issue. On the contrary this Draft 2020gives all the more power to the project bosses to organise the EIA! It subsequently reduces the ability of the primary stake holders to consent givers only.

1.c       The procedures around Prior Environmental Clearance (Prior-EC) at the Central level and the state-level Prior Environmental Permissions (Prior-EP), as well as procedures relating to violations by project proponents in the Draft -2020 are of particular concern. Here there is no transparency or space for participation of the people or ecologists of the affected zone whose life would get massively affected by the concerned projects. The whole clearance and permissions are to be taken behind closed doors by the company representatives and officials. Even independent specialists and judicial authorities will not get a chance to be present and offer their opinions with respect to the clearance of these projects.

1. d      The Draft notification dilutes provisions related to public consultations and hearings. The Draft EIA notification 2020is apparently supposed to update the EIA of 2006 which specifies a “minimum of 30 days” for people to respond. Unfortunately, the 2020 version only provides a “minimum of 20 days” of notice period. The same also requires that the public-hearing process be wrapped up in 40 days, as against the existing norm of 45 days.

As it is, the existing EIA procedure for public notice, informed suggestions/opinions and hearing gave very little space for the local people and people of the total affected area (that may be much larger) to be properly informed and hence give their response to the project proposals. The said protocol was based on the assumption that the public of the affected zone read newspapers, and that all are well connected by roads and railways. On the contrary the case in most project affected zones is opposite to the above assumption. The people here are usually living in remote hilly areas, in hundreds of scattered villages, outside routine communication processes. Who will explain to these people as to how their lives are at stake?  How is it possible to collect and present their opinions in such a short time of twenty days is an impossible task to be dealt with. In the absence of any practical procedure for doing the needful, most of the people who seriously get affected ultimately are totally deprived from giving their informed response. By not addressing this grave problem and by reducing the response time further to twenty days makes a mockery of the whole EIA.

2.         The Draft - 2020 makes a fatal weakening of a post clearance regime of monitoring the project (whereby the official inspection can be postponed by three years) without giving any opportunity for intervention by the primary stake-holders.

2.a       So far, the government was required to monitor the project once in every 6 months. This period has now been extended to ‘annual monitoring’ in the proposed Draft 2020 which will lead to further reduction in accountability. Finally, the monitoring in the said Draft can be delayed by three years just by paying fines.

2.b       In clause 22 (Dealing of Violation cases:) we find that:
(1) The cognizance of the violation shall be made on the: -(points given as: a), b),c), d)  Examining these four categories we find that in this context violations can only be reported suomotu by the project proponent, or by a government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority.

Hence if the project proponents break the safety norms and destroy the environment and threaten the livelihood and life of the local people, there is no provision in the new Draft EIA 2020 enabling the victims to reach the authorities! This is against the principle of justice per se.

The permission for the project can be obtained by submitting a sham EIA report. Consequently, large scale destruction of the environment and livelihood of the local communities can be indulged in without bothering about the chain of impacts and trail of destruction for three years.Simultaneously, during the said period many streams, rivers ,hills... will reach a tipping point- edge of the chaos, and hence can disappear, the last habitats of a rare species  might get  destroyed, an ancient community of a people or a village can vanish without any trace, and in this manner witnesses and testimonies related to these disasters can be lost or silenced forever. On p.27, clause 20, Monitoring of post project prior-EC or prior-EP: ... (5), it is stated that the submission of the compliance report by the project authority can be delayed up to nearly three years only by paying a nominal fine! And since the inspection is usually to be done after the submission of the compliance report, this will be done only after three years.

The uniqueness of the destroyed biosphere can never be re-created, the communities, people and also the wild life and wilderness per-se, uprooted, from their habitat can never be put back to their original life-fullness and the chain of destruction that is unleashed can never be reversed. Moreover, the damage liability laws and their execution indicated in the report is vague and weak and without any transparency or people’s accountability. Everyone knows that in India the principle of “Polluter pays” hardly ever gets implemented. The ground reality related to business in India (particularly in the areas of mining, dam building, and other environment sensitive areas) is known to be especially rapacious and irresponsible, influencing and bribing (in various ways) the political parties, and the environment protection authorities in government to negate environment protection. The Government officer in charge without any supervision and horizontal support is usually too easy to succumb to the pressure of the huge corporate powers. This is particularly so if there is no supervision mechanism and scope for transparency and opportunity of people’s intervention.

Hence to protect the bio-ecosphere from the manipulation by the nexus of the State, capitalists, the government officer in connection and the political party in power, the need is to take precautionary steps. Provisions like frequent and random visits by ministry inspectors, enabling people and environmentalists to visit whenever possible, video records of the production process that is kept in the public domain and so on should be part of the EIA process. This on-going people’s supervision is essential.

3.         More dangerously, in the same section 22, “Dealing of Violation cases”, the Draft is allowing post-facto approvals – i.e. constructing and operating without clearance in certain conditions, which constitutes violations as per existing EPA (1986) and other laws, and also without the knowledge and consent of the affected people, these  violations can be approved. This regularises violations of conditions of such clearance by simply levying fines. Therefore, as per the new draft 2020 grave damage to the eco-system can be indulged in, the provisions of EPA (1986) can be broken extensively just by paying a nominal fine! This will be disastrous and is unacceptable.

As already stated above, on examining section 22, sub-sections 1, 2, 3 we find that:
No space has been given to local people, the primary stake-holder and the representatives of the ecosphere to participate in the process of recording of the violation. Secondly, on the contrary the whole issue of the environmental impact assessment of the violation is initially to be assessed by the violators – the project authorities and only thereafter the same is presented to the APPRAISAL Committee. In this condition the officers of the APPRAISAL Committee along with the project managers will decide upon the whole issue behind closed doors, without any proper EIA and public scrutiny! This takes away the mandate of the EIA and public hearing from the backdoor.

Here, in (Section 22, Clause 3) principle and precedence are being established whereby even gross violations will not be penalised but regularised with minor fines in the name of “ecological compensation etc.”! Such “fines” will be negligible as compared to the gains due to the violations. They would not have any deterrent effect on the practice of violations. This establishes the principle of “polluter benefits” instead of “polluter pays” against all canons of justice and environmental protection.

Such post-facto approval means no EIA needs to be conducted for the actual project, whether before or even after the execution of the project. This gives a legal right to undertake any new project activity without executing   any EIA.  Such like policies mock the whole principle of the EIA. Subsequently an industrial project that violates environmental rules and undertakes construction for which no EIA was done gets the right to seek approval, as long as that project is permissible in the said area.

 Earlier the NGT had given a strong ruling prohibiting post-facto approvals being given to projects by condoning past violations. Regrettably in early 2017, the government indulged the law- breakers by issuing a notification to regularise construction, expansion or modernisation of the project before environment clearance was undertaken. The above was supposed to be a one-time exercise.  However, it soon became a routine with approval committees meeting numerous times and giving post-facto clearances time and again.

In the Samarth Trust Case, the Delhi High court had upheld the principle of EIAs–as a part of participatory justice crediting the ‘voice of the voiceless’. The entire exercise became akin to a ‘hasbemanshaa e awaam’ (‘Jan Sunwai’), where the affected community could function as the jury.

In 2017, post-facto clearance given to projects in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras High Court.                                                                                                                                                                                
Even the Supreme Court on 1st April 2020, ruled that the central government had no power to grant post facto approval, on the grounds that this would be in “derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence.”

Post facto approval is a gross violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is one of the basis of environmental sustainability.

Also, the EIA process is an outcome of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which emphasizes that environmental issues are best handled through the participation of all concerned citizens and that states must provide an opportunity to citizens to participate in the decision-making processes.

4.         The Draft 2020 arbitrarily and against all scientific reasons expands the list of projects exempted from public consultation, including modernization of irrigation projects, all buildings, constructions and area development projects, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, all projects concerning national defence and security or involving “other strategic considerations” that will be determined arbitrarily by the central government without any public knowledge, all linear projects like pipelines in border areas and all the off-shore projects located beyond the 12 nautical miles.

All defence and national security projects, as well as any other project involving “strategic considerations as determined by the government” are exempted in the Draft 2020 from the need to obtain environmental clearances. This gives complete indulgence to the government who can, for instance, define nuclear power projects, oil installations or any project whatsoever as “strategic projects” without giving any justification about its implementation to people or even to any judicial authority (like the NGT) in order to do so. Once a project is decided behind closed doors of technocracy as strategic, the Draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.

Today after the Covid 19 pandemic, there has emerged an awareness about the inherent dangers of accidental fall-outs from virology research labs of BSL 4 level that can create viruses as biological weapons. There is no scientific proof as yet that the Corona virus did not originate in such a lab and thus was spread by accident. Such labs in fort Derrick, USA and in Wuhan in China have been closed thanks to the people’s outrage. In this situation the question in point is, is it acceptable to give such immense powers to technocrats and politicians to decide whether some projects, however dangerous will not be open to public scrutiny.

5.         The Draft extends the validity period of clearance granted to mining projects from 30 to 50 years. This full duration is now being considered as part of the “construction phase.”

6.         On page 19 of the Draft, it is stated that “the public consultation shall be limited to the district (s), where the National Park or Sanctuary or Coral Reef or Ecological Sensitive Area is located.”

It is a basic scientific fact that the ecological impacts of a  project, such as roads to and from mining areas, or other infrastructure, dams and sand mining on rivers, that damage  people and entire  rivers, usually extends far beyond those districts where the project is located physically, as the impact of such projects  spill over to contiguous and neighbouring areas, to the habitations of the Adivasis and other forest dwellers [humans and above all the wild life, the most ancient  inhabitants that are  the hindmost in this context]. Thus, limiting people’s consultation to the specific districts where the project is physically located is against all scientific logic.

In fact, for all kinds of projects, the primary stake holders, the people of the whole area under the zone of influence of the project need to be given a prime place in the EIA process. By “whole” it is meant that often the project can have a much larger area of influence compared to the immediate construction zone of the project. For instance dams or mining at the source of rivers will influence the whole of the river; large mining on a forest hill system will affect the whole of the bio-ecosystem that is organically connected with the living process.

7.         In clause 14. “Public Consultation”, P. 20 we find; “(8) If the public agency or authority nominated under the sub-clause (7) above reports tithe Regulatory Authority concerned that owing to the local situation, it is not possible to conduct the public hearing in a manner which will enable the views of the concerned local persons to be freely expressed, it shall report the facts in detail to the concerned Regulatory Authority, which may, after due consideration of the report and other reliable information that it may have, decide that the public consultation in the case need not include the public hearing.”

The above stated clause gives sweeping, arbitrary and absolute power to the “concerned Regulatory Authority”, and deprives the people of the opportunity of a public hearing. Therefore if the people realise that the project will gravely disturb their nature and economy and are mobilising against the project, the project bosses can influence the concerned Regulatory Authority to let go of the public hearing altogether using the above loophole without giving any reason at all in a transparent manner No space to question and challenge this arbitrary suspension is indicated in the clause.

8.         In Para 26, (P, 34) the Draft Notification exempts Solar Photo Voltaic (SPV) power projects, Solar Thermal Power plants and Solar parks from undertaking any EIA. They have been exempted despite well-known environmental impacts, including diversion of agricultural land and heavy demand on subsoil water etc.

 The categories of “coal and non-coal mineral prospecting,” have also been given exemption. We are only too well aware how these can cause considerable ecological damage, for instance in fragile bio-ecosensitive zones and in especially sacred spaces for the Adivasis and others, this is quite apart from the larger extraction projects that may subsequently follow.

9.         The current BJP government, in its first term in office, exempted all housing and other construction projects between 20,000 and 150,000 sq. metres from obtaining any environmental clearance. It was said that these projects would fall under the purview of local authorities which would integrate environmental requirements into building bye-laws and approvals. This was, however, overruled by the NGT as a violation of the 2006 Notification.
The Draft 2020 now manipulates around this ruling by the NGT and makes environmental clearances easier by placing such projects under Category B2. This stratagem removes such projects from environmental appraisal at the Centre by stating that they do not need any “detailed scrutiny” by the Expert Committee. It also specifically exempts building construction and area development projects, along with similar types of projects, from the need to do proper EIA and consultations with people before seeking ecological permission.

The consequence of the above wilful opportunism is frightening. For instance, consider the Himalayan zone that is extremely fragile geologically and falls within the highly earthquake prone and landslide prone zones. Opportunistic collaboration of the governmental regulatory authorities with the builders’ lobby, unsustainable norms, haphazard construction and overcrowding in most cities in zones like Shimla, Darjeeling and too many others have exceeded the carrying capacity of the eco-system by far. In the case of Shimla a thorough study was ordered by the NGT in OA 121/2014 to evaluate the feasibility of further construction. The study was done by the specialists of the HP government, NIDM (National Institute of Disaster Management), and others. The conclusion unambiguously stated that the carrying capacity of the city-hill-forest ecosystem of Shimla had been overstressed by far, that it had become a happening disaster and an immense catastrophe can occur any time. The recommendations stated the imperative need to cap all growth and organise de-congestion of the city on an emergency basis. The situation was so bad, the study noted, that even a medium level earthquake, that is highly likely, can lead to 20,000 deaths in the first shock and unimaginable horrors in the long term! The said NGT judgment gives a glimpse of what is happening in too many urban agglomerates in the Himalayan zone. Where such is the ground reality, to exempt construction projects between 20,000 and 150,000 sq. metres from the need to obtain environmental clearances is a sure recipe for terrible disasters for most areas of the Himalayan zone. Finally, to keep such construction beyond the reach of proper EIA peoples’ scrutiny is an utterly opportunistic, cynical and reckless move. The same is true for so many areas in India. We just have to look at the Aravalli forest/hill bio-ecosystem to see how existing protection laws are flouted rampantly by the super-powerful. These extensive, 800 km long, fragile yet resilient ecosystems are ancient and unique, habitat to so many plant and wildlife species and have a right to survive and thrive as they exist. They are also crucial for the ecological health of the NCR and major parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and even Gujarat. Yet, these forests have already got destroyed to a large extent despite many people’s initiatives and the Supreme Court’s interventions over the years, seeking to protect this living super- organism as a process-complex. Now, with the proposed dilution and exemption, the Aravalli hill eco-system will disappear in no time!

10.       The term “capital dredging,” in the 2006 Notification covered non-maintenance dredging of both rivers and sea beds. The same has been amended in the Draft 2020.It now refers only to sea-bed dredging for ports and such like projects. However, dredging of river beds for building of navigable waterways, clearly a capital rather than maintenance activity, with untold bio-ecological consequences and impact on livelihoods, has strategically been omitted from the definition!

Moreover, in the Draft 2020 all dredging for “All projects in respect of Inland water ways” (p 44, item 37, in LIST OF PROJECTS REQUIRING PRIOR ENVIRONMENT CLEARANCE OR PRIORENVIRONMENT PERMISSION, AS THE CASE MAY BE) has been put under category B2, that does not need any environmental appraisal or public consultation.

11.       One grave flaw of the old EIA (2006) regime was its failure to give adequate recognition and protection to the uniqueness of the essential living process constituting the bio-ecosystem under consideration whose core is the ‘feminine principle’, interdependent living rhythms and whose foundation is the bio-diversity of the bio-ecozone. All these are potentially threatened by the impending project. For well planned projects with low impact profile, when the stress is less than the limits of tolerance, the bio-ecosystem can recover from the damage caused to the health of the system. If such safeguards are not followed, the damage caused by the project can erode her core processes to such an extent that the bio-eco system will no longer be able to recover her vitality and ability to survive. Further the unique identity characterising the living system can be said to be irreversibly dying. It is essential to define when the exploitation, stress and damage to the living bio-ecoprocess remains within the limits of tolerance, revival of health and when the system crosses the tipping point and can no more recover. In all Environment protection laws and in the EIA  regime so far protection of environment (in EPA 1986) and specifically the bio-diversity that constitute the liveliness, and resilience of the bio-ecosystem (in Biological Diversity Act 2002) was promised but not given adequate definition, conceptual clarity, recognition and appropriate practical protection. It never was realised that we are all a process-complex and the whole of bio-ecosphere and bio-diversity has as much right to thrive as we the human species who are but one amongst the immense variety of life forms. In fact, the Biological Diversity Act (2002) was based mostly upon the conceptual foundations of conservation of bio-diversity and its sustainable use. In that era, an awareness of the terrible ecocidal plague of species extinction that we humans have unleashed upon the planet was not so strong at the level of the inter-governance activism. Besides this, even within the anthropocentric paradigm the vast interspecies matrix that constitutes the planetary biosphere as being our foundation and whose survival and thriving is absolutely crucial for human existence was not acknowledged with appropriate urgency. In fact, the inter-being of the whole biosphere constitutes the heart and soul of our species.  This aspect related to the inter-being too was also not understood at the inter-governmental levels. As a result we see unique bio-ecozones with some of the richest bio-diversity in the world like Gandhamardan and Nyamgiri being under grave threat. These bio-ecosystems have survived so far, not because of the protection offered by the EPA (1986) and the EIA and so on, but because of the determined resistance of local communities who are organically connected with the ecosystems and the ecologists and also because of the national and international support that was generated. Such instances have been the lucky few that have survived so far. Most eco-systems, from the stupendous biosphere of Ganges river system to rich ancient forests of Hasdeo Arandt in Gondwana (in Chhattisgarh) to Western Ghats are getting ripped apart despite desperate resistance of the local people and the environmentalists. All these instances highlight the gross flaw of the old EPA (1986), Biological Diversity Act 2002 and the EIA (2006) and similar regimes in force. Regrettably the current Draft 2020 is taking a great leap backward, is further diluting the EPA 1986, Biological Diversity Act 2002 and the EIA 2006.This is horrendous and totally unacceptable. The Draft does not take into consideration the need of the hour that is to deepen and strengthen the EPA (1986), BDA 2002 and such others laws; to reflect upon the realisations of this era; to strengthen the EIA regime to represent the new urgencies and to plug the old loopholes that made it so inadequate so far. Further the need is to give rights to the people who believe in the ethics of Deep Ecology, that the enormous bio-eco processes have as much value and right to thrive as the humans, one amongst all, to voice their concerns. On the contrary the said Draft 2020 does not even pose the question of protecting the biodiversity. By purposely remaining silent on this issue it denies the very existence of biodiversity.

Unchecked and growing pollutions of all kinds, erosion, encroachments and destruction of wilderness and natural forests gravely disturbs the harmony of  the plant eco-system and all  life forms from the communities and matrix of the microbes up to the large animal world. The whole bio-ecochain of life goes into unpredictable and irreversible decline. Large scale destruction of habitats of the wild animals has already led to alarming rise in human-animal conflict and problem for agriculturalists and animals both. In such a situation, the need also arises to protect the forests from being converted into agricultural lands, orchards and so on. The EPA (1986) needs to have a clause-a committee of horizontally oriented local people and the concerned ecologists that will keep a check on the state government’s policy, that for the purpose of their vote bank, mostly stand with the  up-climbing, rich farmers and allow all kinds of illegal or legal [by introducing irresponsible bills] activities in the forest. In such a scenario it is possible that many a times, not only outside business but even up-climbing sections of the local people, stakeholders get swayed by big business that stand against the principle of protection of environment. Such situations are too all pervasive in India.  Here all voices that stand up for protection of the bio-ecosphere, inside and outside the govt machinery, need to be given space in the EPA (1986), and bodies associated with the NGT.  The protection of the basic rhythms of life and bio-diversity of the eco-system under consideration must be an imperative mandate for the EIA regime. Here the limits of tolerance of the resiliency of life of the bio-ecosystem to stress/ damage caused by the proposed project must be defined in terms of tangible and measurable parameters.

12.       “Ease of business of corporate” that has been stated to be a basic  principle for this new draft EIA needs to be problematised in regard to economy, sustenance, interest and eco-friendly business of the local people. “Effectiveness and ease of protecting the bio-ecosystem, biodiversity and the local people from the system of organised greed and capitalist development” has to be a core balancing principle as well. If priority is only given to the former at the cost of the later, then what remains of the EPA (1986)? After all, the supreme mandate of the EPA (1986) is to protect the environment and not the big business that seeks to ravage the ecology.  In India, mining, sand mining and Hydel power companies often deal in a rough and illegal manner with the local people and their environment. They often act as organised mafias enforcing their own laws and needs. While writing this objection note we came across the news (first appearing in NewsClick) that on 19 June, a journalist Subham Mani Tripathi was murdered in Unnao, UP for persisting to report against the sand mafia. The mafia had threatened him repeatedly which was also reported to the authorities. The International journalist associations like “Reporters against borders (RSF)” reported that only recently five journalists had been murdered in UP for reporting to expose the sand mafia. For years, social justice and save Ganga organisations have been reporting that the Collector of Haridwar works for the sand mafia who destroyed the Ganges for years even in the sacred and critical Kumbh area terrorises activists and organises murders even with regard to  the sadhus struggling to save the Ganges. A large number of detailed complaints have been made against him to all authorities for years, without any result. Given such ground reality, the law to protect ecology and local people must have enabling provisions accordingly.

13.       Precautionary principle was accepted as a crucial complement to the principle of sustainable development to protect the environment, as enabling its empowerment, a guideline for an operational methodology for risk assessment and practical implementation. This was proposed firstly in the1982 World Charter for Nature, then by the UN Gen Assembly; in many international conferences and treaties, in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992 UN “Conference of Environment and Development”, finally in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. India has been a participant in all these conferences and has been a signatory to all these treaties. This principle is now a statutory requirement in the European Union law.  It helps to define where and under what conditions development or the stress on the ecosystem is acceptable and can take place and where it cannot be allowed. Here, in such cases, the Precautionary principle helps demarcate the no-go zones and provides safe parameters for operation. It mandates that the authorities take the safe side and not allow the development in cases of doubt of serious or irreversible damage to the eco-system. Further, as per this principle, the onus of showing with full scientific certainty that such doubts of the primary stake holders are groundless lie with the project promoters. If the same cannot be clarified then the doubts raised will constitute a sufficient basis for rejecting the project. In the EIA regime so far, in the absence of protocols for measurement of such parameters/ limits of stability and health and thereby fixing the limits of tolerance of the eco-system, it is difficult to define the safe allowable zones for the operation of projects. Within this existing regime, it is not possible to categorically demarcate the no-go areas and safe parameters. Hence the political clout of the promoters define , what level of stress is acceptable to the eco-system. In this regard, without the shield and counter-weight of the above principle, the enormous power of corporate greed will always win over the suppressed voice of the primary stake-holders and destruction of the bio-ecosphere will proceed as it is. Without the Precautionary principle, the mandate to protect the environment cannot have any decisive weight and remains merely a good intention. It is atrocious that the Draft EIA 2020 grossly blocks the utilisation of this basic tool. The Draft 2020 does not even mention this principle by name!

Voicing the concerns of many ecologically sensitive and peoples’ rights groups, I too voice the (most commonly held) demands...
1.         That the government withdraw this Draft notification 2020 immediately.
2.         That only after giving due consideration to the ecological concerns that have been raised by various environmental groups/individuals and communities, should the government issue a revised draft notification.
3.         That the revised draft notification, in accordance with the above points and the demands asked for, if issued, be issued only after India has fully recovered from the lockdown and the pandemic and, its aftermath, i.e., when normal communication between the primary stake holders is possible. Even at that time, an adequate period should be provided, so that the primary stake holders can reflect and express their opinions on the issue.
4.         That the procedure in the Pre-Legislative Consultative Policy of 2014 needs to be fully complied with.
5.         That the government should create a robust environmental regulatory and governance regime that makes project proponents accountable.
6.         That the design and the organising of the EIA should keep the environmental concerns of the primary stake holders (the whole of bio-ecosphere), the people and the concerned individuals, ecologists who can represent the whole of the affected process-complex as its priority.
7.         That the EIA should have the Precautionary principle and the consequent system of disaster risk analysis, and thereby to have a protocol to categorically delimit the limits of tolerance of the bio-ecosystem, the basic rhythms of life and biodiversity threatened by the project, so that no-go-zones for the project operations are unambiguously demarcated.
8.         That any change in the originally permitted Environment Impact profile of the production process mandatorily should be preceded by an EIA needs to have built in provisions to empower environmental protection activism of the concerned people.

9.         That the Ministry inspector must pay random visits, make video recording of the production process (that can be checked by the people). Also observation facility should be available so that the local people and environmentalists can monitor the violations.
10.       That processes like the NGT need to be strengthened to take care of instances where there are differences of opinions within the primary stake-holders.
11.       That the central government must rethink its economic policies in the light of global climate crisis, rights of the concerned communities and the vulnerability of natural ecosystems, focusing on non-polluting and local livelihood generating small and medium businesses.

Under the guise of increasing the ‘ease of doing business’, in this Draft 2020,mockery is being made of the existing environmental regulations, thereby they are threatening the ecology of the nation and are making  people more vulnerable to unforeseen environmental disasters. Past experiences have shown that the economic claims which generally accompany such devastating changes in the environmental policy almost never benefit the vast levels of local economy, the affected communities or the people of the nation. The economic penalty the nation pays for the immense erosion and environmental disasters, draughts, floods, soil erosion, water depletion, de-forestation, earthquake damage are far larger than the economic benefits of rampant commercial exploitation of the bio-ecosystem.

It is obvious that our planet is tottering on the brink of a catastrophic ecological crisis. Right at this immediate moment in India multiple ecological disturbances, cyclone Amphan in the East, cyclone Niswarg in the West, the Locust attack from West, the flooding in Assam beset us. In the last twenty/ thirty years, drought, floods, de-forestation, and devastation of economies and means of livelihood at the level of villages due to the ecological crisis has led to a huge exodus of “ecological refugees”, the hapless migrant labourers. At a global level, the Covid-19 pandemic has also been classed as zoonotic disease (caused by new types of pathogens that the human body has no defences against, which jump from wild life forms to humans). Such class of pandemics have been ravaging human society repeatedly in the last twenty years. Such devastations have been linked by most environment and biological scientists to the unrelenting destruction of natural ecosystems, bio-diversity, marketing of the wild life and wilderness, extreme intermixing and stress upon the wild life caused by globalisation, capitalism, and the war industry. All these are underlining the overwhelming dangers of the ecological catastrophe we have unleashed. There is massive people’s protest against such havoc all over the world. Acknowledging such enormous pressure, governments in country after country are declaring “Climate Emergency”.  Unfortunately on the contrary autocrats like Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil who like President Trump of the USA, President Xi Jinping of China, President Putin of Russia and few others believe that Global warming is mostly a myth, that the interests of big business/ accumulation centric development is more important than that of protecting the environment and people living in forests, hills, riversides and so on. Bolsonaro is allowing the large scale destruction of the crucial Amazon rain forests called the lungs of our planet and has unleashed a campaign of oppression and murders against the Adivasi/local people there for resisting such devastation. It is tragic that the Indian state, that was once democratic in many ways, now since 2014   is following the path of autocracy and has become a part of the same game, of the Brazilian regime of corporate greed driven policy, obviously in a more hypocritical manner. Even at this very juncture of ecological catastrophe, the central Govt, MoEF & CC is pushing such a regressive environmental policy. Instead of taking emergency measures to save the bio-ecosphere, this government is unleashing a regime to by-pass, suppress and silence the voice of the defenders of the environment.  Since 2014, the central government is weakening various environment protection laws, regimes and safeguards like the NGT. Most environmentally sensitive areas declared earlier as no-go zones are being opened up for commercial exploitation for few super rich and a toxic and environmentally destructive capitalist development. The Indian state needs to wake up and strengthen the environmental protection laws and governance in the country in the interest of the bio-ecosphere, the economy and the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are deeply linked to natural resources.

I would like to end with a quote from Chief Seattle’s famous Letter to The President in Washington
“But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? ...Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! …The end of living and the beginning of survival”.

(Independent feminist activist working for bio-ecological concerns and egalitarian social justice)

Jul 3, 2020

Dimple Oberoi Vahali

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