EIA’20 and Dissent
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s redraft of the Environment Impact Assessment norms, in order to make them “more transparent and expedient”, on 12th March 2020 was met with great criticism from the public, experts and environmental activists alike.
They argued that some of the most significant changes to the draft, including the new provisions for project post-facto clearance, abandonment of the doctrine of public trust and allowing projects already working in
violation of the EPA to seek clearance, resulted in the draft being anti-environment and in turn anti-people and rather than aligning itself to the cause of environmental protection it allowed industries to easily exploit natural resources without allowing necessary precaution and scope of scrutiny. The EIA is supposed to prevent or mitigate the damage from industrial disaster but repeated dilutions to the act and poor implementation of regulations make the job tough. The apprehensions to the draft were fortified in May 2020 by the gas leak at the LG Polymers chemical plant in Visakhapatnam.
While the changes to the draft are a cause for concern, what is equally disturbing is the government’s reaction to the rising voices of environmental groups against the draft and the steps taken to deal with them. One would expect the centre to take into account the problems raised by experts and environmentalists but the government decided to take a different path.
On July 13, the websites of three environmental advocacy groups, Let India Breathe, Fridays For Future and There Is No Earth B, which were opposing the draft notification and running an online campaign against it, were blocked. The move came after the aforementioned online campaign led to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s inbox being flooded with mass emails seeking wider consultations and scrapping of the proposed dilution to EIA and the Minister filed a complaint with the Delhi Police, post which the Cyber Crime Unit issued a notice on July 8 to Fridays For Future India, under the anti-terror law UAPA, reiterating it’s draconian nature and attracting even more public attention and backlash. Although, the police eventually claimed inadvertent error and withdrew the notice, with fresh ones being sent under the Information Technology Act, 2000, the case is just another addition to the long list of instances where environmental protection groups have been harassed by the BJP-government.
In June 2014, the Intelligence Bureau submitted a report to the PMO claiming that foreign-funded NGOs protesting coal and mining projects in the country were negatively impacting the GDP. The report called
Greenpeace a “threat to national economic security.” Greenpeace in Australia has also campaigned against a multi-billion dollar coal mining project in Queensland, proposed by the Adani Group, a conglomerate headed by Gautam Adani, an Indian businessman who has continued to prosper since Modi’s time as the chief minister of Gujarat.
In September 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled Greenpeace’s FCRA license claiming that the organisation had violated Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) norms by not disclosing “the movement of money properly”, eventually forcing the organisation to close two of its regional offices and “considerably” reduce its staff in India. As of January 2019, the government has presided over a crackdown on civil society groups, cancelling the licenses, under the FCRA, of at least 20,000 NGOs.
The continued disregard to issues raised by and the harassment of environmental groups as well as stakeholders like tribal groups and labour unions in India poses serious questions on the government’s priorities and whether it is willing to ignore the destruction of the country’s environment in lieu of what seems to be dangerous and largely unsustainable industrial development.