Ambiguity in notification extending time to give suggestions to draft EIA 2020: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi High Court on Monday said there was “ambiguity” in the Centre’s decision extending time till June 30 for giving objections and suggestions to its draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020, terming it as “unfair” to the public.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said there was ambiguity in the Environment Ministry’s May 8 notification, extending the time for giving objections and suggestions to the draft EIA 2020, as it mentions a further period of 60 days and also that the window closes on June 30.

The ministry, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Acharya and central government standing counsel Anurag Ahluwalia, told the bench that intent was to extend the period only till June 30.

The ASG said the draft EIA 2020 was published on April 11 and 60 days from then was to expire on June 11, but in view of the Covid-19 pandemic it was decided to extend the period till June 30.

She also said that till date over 1,000 suggestions have come in.

The bench, thereafter, suggested that the ministry can continue processing the suggestions while keeping the window open for some further time to receive more.

The ASG said she will take instructions from the ministry with regard to the court’s suggestion.

The court, thereafter, listed the matter for hearing on Tuesday, June 30.

The court was hearing a plea seeking an extension of the period for receiving objections with regard to the draft EIA 2020, which proposes post-facto approval for projects and doing away with public consultation in some instances, till the Covid-19 lockdown subsists.

The petition by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad claimed the May 8 notification states that the period for inviting objections has been extended by another 60 days, but it is not clear as to when the initial period of 60 days commenced.

“If the sixty-day period commences on the date of the draft notification, i.e., March 23, 2020, the extended date of expiry will be July 18, 2020. If the date of notification in the Gazette (i.e. April 11, 2020) is taken as the start of the sixty-day period, the extended date of expiry will be August 9, 2020,” the petition has said.

It also stated that at the same time a contradiction arises in the extension notification as an end date of June 30, 2020, is specified, which is less than sixty days from the date of issuance of the extension notification May 8.

“Thus, the extension notification is unclear and contradictory,” it claimed.

The bench on June 26 had asked the Centre to clarify on the next date as to what would be the last date for giving objections/suggestions.

The petition has sought that the period for receiving public opinion regarding the draft notification be extended till September 30 or till such time the lockdown remains.

The draft EIA 2020, according to the petition, 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 has said.

Tongad, in his plea, filed through advocates Srishti Agnihotri and Abishek Jebaraj, has said that the draft EIA was issued on March 23 and first published by the Environment Ministry on its website on April 11 and a 60 day period was given for receiving objections and suggestions from all stakeholders, including the general public.

However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak and resultant lockdown, the ministry on May 8 issued a notification extending the period for inviting objections/suggestions till June 30, the plea has said.

It has also sought that the translated copies of the draft EIA “be available across the country in the official vernacular languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and be uploaded on all websites including those of the Environment Ministries of all States as well as those of the State Pollution Control Boards.”

The ASG said the draft EIA 2020 has been published in Hindi.

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