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UN Special Rapporteurs on EIA 2020

  • 04 Sep 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, a group of Special Rapporteurs to the United Nations (UN) has written to the Indian government expressing concerns over the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020.

  • Special Rapporteurs are independent experts working on behalf of the UN. They work on a country or a thematic mandate specified by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Key Points

  • The group has highlighted that the proposed notification appeared to have clauses that obstructed people’s rights to a safe, clean and healthy environment.
  • There are clauses which exempt several large industries and projects from the public consultation, as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process.
    • The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
    • This time frame is inadequate for the preparation of views, comments and suggestions and without a meaningful public hearing, the whole EIA process would lack transparency and credibility.
  • The draft notification does not require publication of information or holding of public consultation for projects labelled by the Central government as ‘involving strategic considerations’.
  • The 2020 draft notification allows for post-facto approval for projects which means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.
    • Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and violation of the precautionary principle, which is a principle of environmental sustainability.
  • The group has sought the government's response on how the provisions of the notification are consonant with India’s obligations under international law.
    • India is a party to the Rio declaration (also known as the Earth Summit) adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, which articulated a catalogue of environmental principles including sustainable development, precautionary principle, and EIA.
      • Following the Rio Conference 1992, EIA became part of the formalised legal framework in India in 1994.
    • India is also party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which contain a requirement to have a prior EIA in situations having a significant threat to the environment.
  • Indian Government’s Response:
    • The Environment Ministry Secretary has held that nothing in the proposed EIA, 2020 violates the UN Declaration of Human Rights and that the rapporteurs’ concerns are “misplaced”.
    • The proposed EIA is still a draft and was issued for public consultation. The imperfections in the existing EIA would be amended in the new notification.
    • With regard to post facto clearances, the violation of not taking prior approval would be punished as per law and projects that are already running would be considered only on merit.

Way Forward

  • These clauses and exemptions are unjustified and the general public must be consulted. The argument becomes even stronger after the recent Vizag gas leak incident.
  • It becomes even more significant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which has demonstrated the value of the environment for human’s well-being. Reduced forest cover and consequent closeness of wildlife and related virus reservoirs (zoonotic diseases) to humans, and more polluted air impacting human health highlight the need to preserve the environment.
  • The ministry, instead of reducing the time for public consultation, should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process.
  • “Grow Now, Sustain Later” should not be the policy, as the notion is dangerously tilted against the concept of sustainable development and with the EIA, there should also be a Social Impact Assessment to achieve sustainable development in true sense.

Source: TH

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