NET News Desk
Aaranyak, a non-profit non-government organization that has been working for biodiversity conservation in Northeast India for the last three decades, has expressed its concern and provided comments on the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020. A letter containing the details of Aaranyak’s observation and humble submission have been submitted to the concerned authorities.
As per a press release issued by the organisation it has stated, “We have realised that certain provisions included in the draft EIA 2020 might lead to the undoing of what the legislature have been trying to achieve over the years through various acts. Such provisions as flagged by Aaranyak, may make way for loss of biodiversity, pollution of air, water and soil, over-exploitation and depletion of natural resources among others and also stand to dilute the rights of local, indigenous and tribal people.”
Aaranyak has placed its concerns and suggestions pertaining to a total of 12 clauses of the draft EIA Notification 2020 and drawn its views from the perspectives of North East India. The following are the areas of concern as highlighted by Aaranyak:
1. On the definition of “Accredited Environment Impact Assessment Consultant Organization (‘ACO’)”: Clause 3(1).
2. Definition of ‘border area’ -100 kilometres aerial distance from Line of Actual Control: Clause 3(6).
3. Definition of Eco-Sensitive Areas/Zones: Clause 3(21) and 3(22).
4. General Conditions: Clause 3(30).
5. Requirement of Prior Environment Clearance or Prior Environment Permission: Clause 4
6. Reduction of Public Response Time and Public Hearing.
7. Exemption from Public Consultation for projects related to national defence & security or involving strategic considerations as determined by the Central Government: Clause 14(2)(e).
8. Projects exempted from requirement of EC: Clause 26.
9. Exemption given to certain Projects (B2) from Public Consultation: Clause 14(2).
10. Violation of the provisions contained in the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
11. Grant of Ex-Post-Facto Environmental Clearance: Clause 3(60) and Clause 22
a. Alembic Pharmaceuticals v. Rohit Prajapati & Ors. – Civil Appeal No. 1526 of 2016 (decided on 01.04.2020).
b. Common Cause v Union of India: (2017) 9 SCC 499.
c. Association for Environmental Protection v State of Kerala: (2013) 7 SCC 226.
12. Monitoring of Projects Post EC: Clause 20(4).
Sharing its observations from the perspectives of North East India, Aaranyak stated:
The Northeast India is an area which is rich in biodiversity and host to the largest forest cover in India. The NE India, being home to rich flora and fauna, including some rare and endangered species, every social or economic decision that has the potential to make an impact on its environment has to be scrutinised and carefully implemented.
Further, the draft notification states that new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres do not need detailed scrutiny nor public consultation. Under such circumstances, any such projects might lead to unaccounted felling of trees thereby damaging of ecosystem and precipitating loss of forest cover.
The Indian State of Forest Report 2019 presents a gloomy picture for the north-eastern states as six out of eight states witnessed total decrease of around 765 square kilometres of forest cover, with Manipur suffering the highest loss of 499 square kilometres of forest cover followed by Arunachal Pradesh which lost 276 square kilometres of forest cover.
A thorough perusal of the draft notification throws light into the underlying fact that the above mentioned provisions are not only contradictory to the principles of natural justice but they also violate legal rights, like that in the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, (PESA) 1996 etc. and also the fundamental right to life in Article 21 and Article 48A of the Constitution of India.
To be informed of projects that will impact the natural environment comes under people’s right to know under Article 21. Also, to give ex post facto clearance to projects which have been harming the environment, or to set up projects which have great potential to harm the environment without public consent, or to make way for projects to exploit and deplete natural resources defeating sustainable development are all in violation of people’s right to life under Article 21.
As etched down in the Preamble, the state shall secure the dignity of an individual. Hence, it is the state’s duty to preserve the health, wealth and resources of the nation. As such, the Central Government should immediately withdraw all such clauses in the draft notification that stand the chance of violating the fundamental rights and other legal rights of the people or which stand in sharp contrast to the principles of precaution, prevention, public trust and natural justice.