By Nandan Kaushik(UG 22) with inputs from Anjali Dalmia(UG 22) of the Yugma Network
With the current state of the environment in India in shackles, one would imagine that our Environment Ministry would be doing all it can to rectify this. But recently, an online environmental activism group, ‘Fridays for Future’, was charged with terrorism, and their website was taken down. Though this charge was unsubstantiated, the website was eventually restored. It is still seen as an act of intimidation.
The rationale provided for the charge was that they spammed the Environment Minister’s email account with suggestions on improvements for the EIA 2020 Draft Notification. This amendment caused quite a stir among environmentalists, accelerating changes that give a free hand to huge mining, fossil fuel, chemical, development, and infrastructure companies to operate without proper environmental checks or public consultations. As part of the amendment policy, the Environment ministry had to provide a window to allow for suggestions to be sent in. Over 20 lakh of which have been sent in so far. ‘Fridays for Future’ was one among several organizations sending suggestions and improvements – though most experts would consider the best move to be withdrawing the current notification and making the EIA a law.
The last few months have seen a spike in the number of projects cleared by the MOEFCC that involve environmentally sensitive zones. In fact, according to an article in the Hindu (published May 23rd) “The Etalin dam (in the Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh) is just one of more than 30 proposals that have been cleared or discussed over virtual meetings during the lockdown by India’s highest advisory bodies on wildlife — the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and FAC. The proposals affect 15 tiger reserves, sanctuaries, eco-sensitive zones, wildlife corridors, and other forest areas.” On top of all this, the Central government has decided to reopen its coal mines so as to enable the Atmanirbhar ambition (Financial Express, June 18). This, of course, will only lead to further environmental degradation. It is quite unfortunate that this is all being carried out when we have to deal with a pandemic at hand.
The Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is a tool to measure the impact a proposed project or industry would have on an area, the environment, and the people. The EIA notification 2020, which is a proposed modification of EIA 2006, weakens many clauses of the pre-existing EIA, itself considered to be quite dismal. In its plea for review, the ministry said, “Issuance of notifications in multiple languages would, in any case, result in translation and interpretation issues resulting in the meaning of the words being obfuscated and often even lost.”
This has caused alarm to many. Some of whom have gone on to start movements, like the Yugma Initiative.
The Yugma Network was started in June, as a movement to gather the support of all college or university student clubs, committees, and councils across India. They sent a letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India as well as the Prime Minister with more than 80 student body signatories (representing at least 30-40 thousand students). But have to date received no reply from either.
The Yugma network believes that the reasons given by the Ministry provided are petty and inexcusable. The fact that the MoEFCC no longer wants to make the draft notification available in the previously agreed-upon 22 languages by itself speaks volumes. If the MoEFCC truly wanted to uphold the democratic values of our nation in regards to actually listening to what the people of our nation had to say about their draft EIA 2020, they would make it a priority to make the document accessible to the people, and in a country like ours, this would mean the translation of the said document into at least our constitutionally recognized 22 languages.
The Karnataka High Court just stalled the final publication of the draft indefinitely until further notice. The hearing was on 7th September