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scrapEIA20201. What is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?

It is mandatory to receive permission under the Environment Protection Act 1986 for starting large companies, factories or development projects in India. In order to obtain environmental clearance for a factory or project, the company should submit to the government a report analyzing the impact of that project on the environment.

To put it more simply, let's assume that a chemical company is going to be built near your residential area. The exact place where the factory will come up, area measurements, the amount of waste that will be let out by the factory and the nature of that waste, the damage this will cause to the environment, along with this, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to tackle these ecological damages, mitigation measures to minimize the damage - after extensively analyzing all such aspects, the concerned company should submit this information in the form of the EIA.

An expert committee constituted on behalf of the government will analyze this EIA, and provide clearance if it is a project that doesn't harm the environment and refuse clearance if it is otherwise.

Following are the processes to obtain environmental clearance under the current 2006 EIA Notification:

Under the currently used 2006 EIA Notification, factories and development projects have been divided into two categories: Category A and Category B.

Category - A projects: Nuclear power plants, petrol refinery and petrochemical companies, companies that manufacture chemical fertilizers and pesticides, gas pipe embedding, large scale mining work, projects for extracting methane from underground oil- gas- coal beds: projects like these that are important but also highly destructive to the environment have been categorized as Category - A projects.

Category - B projects: Mining projects that involve less than 50 hectares, thermal power plants within a capacity of 500 MW, sugar plants, cement plants, factories that operate within an industrial estate of 500 hectares: projects like these have been categorized as Category - B projects.

Irrespective of whether they belong to Category A or B, the EIA and public consultation are mandatory for all projects under the 2006 EIA.

2. What are the changes that have been made to the project categories in the new draft EIA 2020?

In the new draft brought out by the government, projects have been categorized into three categories: A, B1 and B2. According to this:

1. The central expert committee will assess and provide clearance for Category A projects. The EIA draft and public consultation are mandatory for this.
2. The EIA and public consultation are mandatory for Category B1 projects as well, but the state expert committee will assess and provide clearance for these projects.
3. The state expert committee will assess and provide clearances for Category B2 projects. But the norms say that the EIA or public consultation aren't needed for these projects (paragraph 5.6)

Public consultation and the EIA report are not necessary:

The new draft, through shifting to the B2 Category, 25 Red and Orange category companies for which an environmental impact assessment and public consultation were hitherto necessary, makes it unnecessary for them to have an environmental impact assessment or public consultation to begin.

According to the new draft, environmental impact assessments and public consultations are unnecessary for projects under the B2 Category: mining for minerals (until 5 hectares), road extension work up to 100km, inland waterways, modernization of irrigation, township projects, acid manufacturing factories, cement plants, funnel electricity projects of 25 MW capacity, leather factories operating in industrial estates, and importantly, offshore and onshore oil & gas including coal bed methane and shale gas exploration (schedule page 123)

If we say this in a way that Tamil people can understand, it is unnecessary to conduct an environmental impact assessment or public consultation in order to get clearances for the thousands of underground and underwater hydrocarbon wells that they are going to establish on the Kaveri riverbed from Kadalur till Ramanathapuram. The amendment brought by them last January and the present EIA 2020 draft that they have brought say this same thing only.

Dangerous projects that have been exempted:

Compared to development, production and transportation of gas including Shale gas and Coal bed Methane, and Petrochemical factories that refine oil resources, the fracking method that takes it via underground exploration is the process that's more dangerous. By keeping the refineries that process the extracted gas and oil resources in category A thereby making the Environmental Impact Assessment and public consultation mandatory, while adding the highly dangerous extraction of gas - coal - oil resources - coal bed Methane to category B2 thereby making the EIA and public consultation unnecessary, is the height of contradictions.

Refusal of democratic rights:

Irrespective of how much ever people express their opposition, the government receives complete authority to implement projects legally(!) on the basis of the EIA 2020 law. It is to be noted that changes have been brought in the new draft that make it impossible for individuals, organizations or movements to approach the court urging that environmental clearances should not be provided for these projects.

Importantly, the new draft says that it is unnecessary to inform the public about projects concerning national defense and security or involving other strategic considerations and projects that operate at sea within a distance of 12 nautical miles or conduct public consultations for the same. Due to this, there's a possibility of projects like Sagarmala that destroy sea resources, the eight-lane highway project which falls under the Bharatmala Prayojna project that is considered to be a national ambition by the BJP government, the project that makes Tamil Nadu into a military camp, even the neutrino project that is aching to destroy the wealth of our mountains, being implemented without public consultation on the basis of this law.

Likewise, it is necessary to see the fact that public consultation is not required for national highway and pipe embedding projects that are set to come up in lands situated within an aerial distance of 100km from the Indian border regions, according to paragraph 14.2 of the new EIA draft, as something that severely threatens especially the people of the Northeast, their natural resources and livelihoods.

Similarly, the new draft has exempted large scale solar parks that harvest electricity using solar energy from the EIA and public consultation (paragraph 26.14). In a situation where environmentalists are demanding that even if it is renewable energy decentralized electricity projects are required, huge amounts of farmlands will only be appropriated for large scale solar electricity projects like these. It is notable here that farmers are protesting against the appropriation of farmlands for the 4500 crore rupees solar electricity generation project that Adani is going to begin in Ramanathapuram.

Invitation to dangerous factories:

The importance given to environmental protection has severely reduced through the shifting of pesticide manufacturing factories from category A to category B1. It becomes essential to note here that the Union Carbide company, where India's worst factory accident of the Bhopal poisonous gas disaster occurred, is a pesticide manufacturing company.

Paragraph 16.1 of the new draft says that it is unnecessary to conduct a public consultation in order to receive environmental clearance for expanding already operating factories or modernizing manufacturing processes if the change is less than 50% of the total production. If we have to put it simply, if the Sterlite plant that is already damaging people and the environment is to expand and increase production, clearance would be provided for this expansion without any public consultation at all.

Other important problems in the draft EIA 2020:

1. Dilution of the public consultation process:

  1. The time period for people to express their opinions on a particular project has been reduced from 30 to 20 days.
  2. The time period for conducting a public consultation meeting has been reduced from 45 to 40 days (Appendix-1 paragraph 7.1)

If the required time period is not provided for understanding people's opinions, if the public consultation meeting is conducted even without giving adequate time for the people who are going to be affected by the project to understand it, to clear their doubts, to put forward their suggestions and to discuss their problems, the very goal of the process won't be fulfilled. In a situation where people (especially indigenous communities) living in areas where the government is going to take forward mineral mines, irrigation projects and highway projects that destroy forests, are already backward in terms of information and communication, reducing the time period for public consultation is akin to completely refusing the democratic rights of India's vulnerable communities.

2. Diluted monitoring processes

In the EIA, monitoring regulations that follow environmental clearance are very important for environmental protection. The Pollution Control Board has to monitor whether the company is following whatever was mentioned in its Environmental Management Plan (EMP) at the time of receiving environmental clearance. The concerned company has to submit a report to the Pollution Control Board attesting that they didn't engage in any act that is damaging to the environment, and receive approval once in six months.

Through the new draft EIA 2010, they have extended the period for submission of this environmental compliance report from once in six months to once in a year (paragraph 20.4). Because of this, there's a possibility that even if a company engages in environmentally damaging activities year-round, it won't come to the notice of the authorities until the end of the year. It becomes necessary to note here that if an operation like mineral mining is functional through the year without following rules, it will pave the way for irreversible environmental destruction.

3. Increasing the validity period of the Environmental Clearance License:

The time period for implementing project work after receiving Environmental Clearance (EC) has been extended in the new draft (paragraph 19.1.1). For example, they have increased the time period for construction and phase one work on mining projects from 30 to 50 years. Similarly, the time period for implementing riverbed and nuclear reactor projects has been increased from the current 5 years to 15 years. How wrong it is to assume that the environmental clearance given now based on the current conditions will be relevant even after 15 years from now! This will surely cause irreversible ecological damage.

4. Reducing the value of the environmental impact assessment:

1) The new draft recommends that when conducting the environmental impact assessment, impacts are analyzed for a surrounding area of 10 kms in case of category A projects and 5 kms in case of category B projects. Because the environmental impact will vary according to the level of each project, the nature of waste and ecology of the area in which the project is operational, keeping in place the same definitions for all projects won't work.

For example, assuming that they are conducting an environmental impact assessment for expanding the Ennore Thermal Power Plant. Because in reality the damages wrought by particulate matter from the thermal power plants can be felt even beyond 25 kms, it will become completely wrong to conduct an environmental impact assessment only for the surrounding 10 kms and implement the project based on that.

2) The new draft says that information on just one season is enough when gathering baseline data for the Environmental Impact Assessment. But in reality, the potential environmental impact of the project can only be fully measured if the analysis is conducted during all seasons like summer, winter, monsoon.

3) According to the earlier law, the expert committee would carefully inspect, review and confirm which category the project falls under. Sometimes, even projects categorized under category B would be shifted to category A, considering the selected place and environmental impact. But at present, the process of reviewing and confirming the project category has been removed, and all projects are categorized beforehand itself. This superficial environmental assessment will surely only pave the way for environmental degradation.

4) Through categorizing factories situated in industrial estates that come within the measurements of MSME (medium, small and micro enterprises) under category B2, the new draft EIA 2020 says that it is unnecessary to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments for those factories. But in reality, the industry is categorized as MSME primarily based on the investment made. It is not as if the company will let out less waste because of the reduced investment. For example, if the dyeing units that come under MSME category are located near water bodies, it will cause severe environmental degradation.

5. Complaint rules and regulations:

The EIA 2020 draft contains rules regarding who can file a complaint about a factory's violation of environmental rules. This has not been the case with any EIA legal process that came before this.

1) Those who are implementing the project
2) Member of any government department
3) Inspection committee or assessment committee during the period of inspection.
4) If it comes to notice during an inspection conducted to process any regulatory application…

It has been noted that all these people can register complaints about this in paragraph 22.1 of the Draft EIA 2020 under the title "DEALING OF VIOLATION CASES". This only means that other common people cannot file complaints.

6. Bringing to light the rule violations of factories:

Akin to giving the key in the hands of the thief, the new draft EIA says that the fine will be reduced if the concerned company itself informs the Pollution Control Board about the damaging violations in its factories (paragraph 22.7). This will only pave the way for factories to reduce the number of violations when they inform the Board and thus escape. The only solution for this is intensive monitoring by the government.

7. Scoping:

According to the current EIA 2006 regulations when applying for environmental clearance, they will provide unique analysis definitions called Terms of Reference (TOR) for the specific project. This will vary for each factory and project. But in the new draft EIA 2020, instead of providing such unique TOR regulations, an already defined single TOR report will be released for all the factories that fall under the same category as a whole. For example, if the application is for a chemical plant, it will be necessary to conduct the environmental impact assessment using the TOR defined for all chemical plants as a whole. This will further dilute the environmental impact assessment process.

8. Post- facto clearance for projects:

Before, one could only start a project or a factory after receiving environmental clearance to do so. But this draft has introduced a process whereby the construction on a factory could start without waiting for environmental clearance, with the fine paid for the same and then receive environmental clearance for it. Similarly, to ensure that investors don't have to wait for long, the time period for providing environmental clearance has been reduced considerably. These are measures that would completely foil the basic goal of the EIA.

In this way, the Draft EIA 2020 that compromises environmental protection and the nation's principle of sustainable growth in order for industrial companies to make profits and to make their work easier and to reduce the waiting period of businessmen, is surely a great danger to this country environmental wealth and to the wellbeing of its people.

There is no data on our government's actions before problems arise. Only after the Bhopal accident in 1984 was the Environment Protection Act of 1986 enacted. The 'Disaster Management Act' was enacted after the destruction wrought by the tsunami in 2004. Countries are strengthening their environmental rules and laws after experts all over the world have said that climate change and deforestation is the reason why diseases like the coronavirus are on the rise. But India is releasing new drafts like the #EIA2020 to further dilute already diluted laws in the name of "ease of business".


Written by Poovulagin Nanbargal

Translated by Alagammai

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