By Snehal Sundarlal Patel ~ KES Jayantilal H. Patel Law College, University of Mumbai
The present article is formulated concerning the draft notification of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020 published by the Central Government of India to the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
EIA is a multi-disciplinary and multi-process legislative regulation set up to assess an anticipatory impact of the proposed man-kind projects on the environment. It was introduced in India in the year 1994 for the first time. EIA projects an international perspective and India is a signatory to almost all the international declarations regarding environment protection.
The notion of “Public consultation” was included and made compulsory through the EIA notification in 2006 to enhance the protection of the environment as well as inclusion and participation of the public in doing so. The idea behind this notion has been adopted from the international platform, which serves the basis for the promulgation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
The author’s main aim behind writing this article is to state that the EIA draft 2020 if finalized, will have severe environmental impacts, but alongside will lead to degradation of human rights.
The transparency of EIA by the promotion of public consultation is crucial to protect the environment and also the realization of human rights and duties.
The main drawback in EIA draft 2020
In the EIA draft 2020, there is a Category B2. The projects falling in this category schedule will not require an EIA report and public consultation to be placed before the appraisal committee.
The projects under this category include offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW, irrigation projects between 2000 and 10,000 hectares of command area, small and medium mineral beneficiation units, small foundries involving furnace units, some categories of re-rolling mills, small and medium cement plants, small clinker grinding units, acids other than phosphoric or ammonia, sulphuric acid, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, bulk drugs, synthetic rubbers, medium-sized paint units, all inland waterway projects, expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km with defined parameters, aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas, and specified building construction and area development projects.
Projects concerning national defense and security or “involving other strategic considerations” “as determined by the Central Government” will not be treated as category ‘A’ projects BUT “no information relating to such projects shall be placed in the public domain”. It is made clear that it is at the discretion of the Central Government to decide the “strategic considerations” so they can choose to hide information from people regarding certain projects.
Irrigation projects of 2,000-10,000 ha CCA will also be exempted from the EIA and public consultation.
The above points clearly show the increase in the interests of the project developers and government officials. It will lead to an increase in corrupt practices in the country. Projects with high degree impact on the environment risking the existence of humanity will have an easy getaway through the new process.
The concept of ‘Public Consultation’
The EIA notion came into the picture in the year 1994, but it did not include the concept of ‘public consultation’ at that point. The public hearing was given importance, but public consultation before the commencement of the project was not provided. There are several examples to show that it very much affected the environment as well as the public at large. The consequences were faced by the public. Various projects, especially the industrial projects that started at that point took a heavy toll on the public. Various examples include-
- Bhopal gas leak tragedy
- Bichhri village case, Udaipur, Rajasthan
- Tamil Nadu Tanneries case, Calcutta
Several events like the ones stated above made it clear that public hearing holds no value until the public consultation is provided to people. When people do not have an idea about the environment protection and pros and cons about it, public hearing does not help. As it is always said prevention is better than cure, it is necessary to provide people a chance to put up their views rather than asking for a remedy later on.
Keeping this idea in mind, the clause of public consultation was made compulsory in the draft of EIA 2006 and henceforth implemented. There are also examples of various movements led by people to protect the whole ecosystem by protecting the environment from the hazardous impacts of projects like industrialization, development, etc. Such movements have led to saving the environment or the modification in the project plan to have very minimal impact on the environment.
Such projects are necessary for the development of the country as a whole. But there should be certain checks and balances not to exploit the environment completely. Public consultation helps in the protection of health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the humankind.
Environment and Human Rights
The environment and human rights are inter-related.
The relation between the environment and human rights was first recognized in the United Nations General Assembly in the year 1960s. The direct relation between the two was established in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (also known as the Stockholm Conference) in 1972. After this conference, India introduced the 42nd amendment to the Constitution of India, introducing Articles 48-A and Article 51-A(g). These two articles are often read with Article 21- Right to life, which is an enforceable right by courts.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as ‘the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit’ held in the year 1992 provided for the right to access environmental information and to public participation in environmental decision-making.
The international declarations based on environment protection which India has signed to, clearly indicates that public participation in the matters of the environment is a human right. Whenever there is an impact on the environment in any form, it has a direct impact on the life of people. There are innumerable examples to show that the hazardous consequences of environmental pollution are faced by humans over time.
The draft not only invalidates the very essence of the international declarations on environment protection signed by India but also the basic fundamental right- “Right to life” of people vested under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Human rights of people include the right to health, right to life, right to development, and right to a healthy environment amongst other rights. The new draft of EIA 2020 takes away these rights from people by deleting the clause of ‘Public Consultation’ for the projects as the author has mentioned above in the article.
People play a crucial role in the protection of the environment by providing checks and balances in the development of various projects. They raise their voice when it is felt that a certain project will create an unavoidable hardship to lives and interference in the enjoyment of their property by impacting the environment.
Researches have shown that the stress of an unpleasant environment can cause us to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that. And regardless of age or culture, humans find nature pleasing as shown by the study cited in the book Healing Gardens. Thus, all these things prove that the involvement of people in incorporating such projects is very necessary as it will affect their life and their human right to life. Deprivation of beneficial use is equivalent of a physical appropriation.
The Constitution of India under Article 51A(g) provides that “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
The author believes that the rights and duties are the two sides of a single coin. Whereas rights provide for freedoms, duties provide for obligations of human behavior without which rights cannot be realized. Human rights are inalienable and we have all known this very well over time. Human rights are given importance over anything in history as well as in present times.
One of the recent examples is climate change. Climate change is one of the negative impacts of environmental pollution. We all can notice the rising issue of climate change and how it is affecting every part of the world. Even in India, people are facing the wrath of climate change and its impact on livelihood and ecosystem.
It can be observed that it is not just about environmental responsibility, but also the responsibility towards humans to protect their present and future generations.
Raise your voice, fight for your rights! We all have seen what happened in the Vishakhapatnam gas tragedy a few months back. It was discovered through reports that the project was operating without environmental clearance and a result of gross human negligence and violation of laws and regulations.
The public voice has been an effective measure to influence public decisions. It is the right of the people that their elected representatives should listen to them and be responsive. Indeed as Alexander Hamilton said, “A government ought to [be]… free from every other control but a regard to the public good and the sense of the people.”
Media has always played a very strong role in forming the opinion of the people and also influenced the decisions of the government. In the times of the current pandemic, it can be used to spread the word about the consequences of the implementation of EIA draft 2020. It should be used to raise awareness amongst people about their vested human rights. People should come up to make the government realize that the deletion of the clause of public consultation and involvement from the draft will affect the very existence of the Constitution of India, various international declarations as well as the loss of faith of people in the governmental actions.