draft Environment Impact Assessment notification
THE MINISTRY of Environment
and Forests (MoEF) has for some time now been
under attack, accused of a lack of commitment
to what it is supposed to safeguard. On Monday,
November 14, about 150 environmental activists
managed to enter the Ministry premises in New
Delhi and stage a sit-in protesting against
its draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
notification. That day was also the deadline
for objections to the draft notification.
The draft, released on September
15, was a dilution of the original 1994 EIA
notification, activist said. The protest action
followed a public hearing a day earlier in the
capital where about 25 affected groups from
across the country made representations. A "death
certificate" to the EIA was issued during
the protest action.
The yet-to-be-released National
Environment Policy has been criticized for its
lack of consultation with communities and as
being economic growth driven, with the idea
of promoting private-public partnerships. The
draft EIA notification seeks further dilutions.
In the past 11 years, there
had been 13 amendments to the EIA notification
of 1994. The 13th amendment of July 4, 2005,
relaxes the requirements for major projects
to get prior environmental clearance. Instead,
it says that the MoEF may, after satisfying
itself, grant temporary working permission to
major projects. This effectively does away with
the main reason for environmental clearance,
which is to ensure that projects do not result
in ecological disasters.
The Govindrajan committee on
reforming investment approval and implementation
procedures (October 2004) observed that environmental
clearance perhaps takes the longest time and
causes maximum delays to projects. It seems
that its observations have found their way into
the draft. EIA notification as it proposes that
environmental clearance can be given without
public hearings, if it is justified, "depending
on local conditions." Also, the validity
of environment clearance has been extended to
15 and 10 years in case of river valley and
other projects respectively, (earlier it was
five years from commencement of the project).
Kalpavriksh, the Environmental
Action Group that coordinated the three-year
biodiversity action plan supported by the MoEF,
was reduced to releasing "Securing India's
Future," the final technical report of
the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action
Plan (NBSAP) on its own last month. The MoEF
is critical of the report for various reasons.
In a press release on October 5, the Ministry
said the NBSAP submitted by Kalpavriksh was
rejected. The MBSAP was reviewed by a group
of scientists appointed by the Ministry also
said that it had started the process of developing
the National Bio-diversity Action Plan afresh.
Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh claims what may
be irking the MoEF is not the 15 or 20 so-called
factual errors or the scientific flaws that
were detected by a three-member committee appointed
last year, but the recommendations of the plan,
which are quite radical.
It has to be emphasized that
it was the MoEF that initiated the three-year
process of preparing the MBSAP from 2000 onwards
and 50, 000 people all over the country were
involved in it in a massive consultative process.
Over 100 documents were produced in the process
and the final report was submitted to the Ministry
in 2003. Many scientific institutions were also
involved in the process, funded by the Global
Environment Facility (GEF) through the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report
has a wealth of information and action plans,
which many States such as Maharashtra, Sikkim,
and Karnataka have already started to implement.
The NBSAP report comes at a
time when the country is losing nearly half
its forests, 40 per cent of mangroves and substantial
portions of its wetlands. Agricultural biodiversity
was also under threat and this directly impinged
on the nutrition levels of people. Mr.Kothari
said the biggest threat to areas rich in biodiversity
was the threat of development projects. One
of the major recommendations the NBSAP makes
is to re-orient the development process. Projects
will have to conduct what impact they will have
on biodiversity in future, before they are approved.
It also recommended a National Land Use plan
that would ensure that development process respect
the sanctity of regions rich in biodiversity.
Apart from this, the report also demands localized
planning and governance.
Indian's richness in biodiversity
needs to be protected at all costs, not merely
to satisfy the requirements of the Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD), under which the
country has to have a national biodiversity
action plan ready by 2006.