The GSU seng letter to Ministry of Environment to opposed the EIA 2020 notification

Shillong, August 11:  The Garo Student’s Union today sent letter to the Mr C.K Mishara the Secretary Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to opposed the Environment Impact Assessment, 2020.

In the letter sent Garo Students’ Union, a civil society for the  interests of Garo people wishes to put forth objections and suggestions on matters relating to the draft notification EIA 2020 issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The GSU said that they experienced many man-made catastrophes around the world and India is no exception to such disasters. The oil and gas accident at Bagjhan, Assam and the LG Polymers styrene gas leak at Vishakapatanam are two instances of environmental disaster which has received huge coverage.

The report stressed on the fact that these two projects did not get environmental clearances from the concerned agencies which caused severe damage to livelihoods in the region rich with biodiversity.

But still unfortunately, instead of learning from past experiences and assert or strengthen the EIA 2006 , the draft EIA 2020 seeks to further dilute the provisions for easier conduct of business.

True, India needs reforms to restructure its resources for the economic challenges of the times for efficient conduct of business but this does not mean that projects which have the potential to impact drastic environmental changes or affect an accident.

The GSU mention that the two biggest problems of EIA 2020,Blatant effort to minimise public participation by reducing the period available for submission of grievance by the public who are affected communities. It also limits the assessment and analysis by environmental experts.

Attempt to curtail rights of the communities by allowing operation of projects ignoring the violation of norms by lieu of heavy fines, under EIA, which is removal of need for environmental clearance by projects or in other words sanctioning of illegal projects.

The departure of draft EIA 2020 from procedures which are meant to create appraisals taking into account the safeguarding of the environment and loss or gain of socio-economic growth opportunities for the local population or region is a cause for concern.

It is evident, from departure of the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change from strict conduct and adherence to rules for project appraisal is the underlying succinct need to bypass the quagmire of red-tape and a need for China-like quick decisive and cumulative actions for project clearance to bolster the government’s discretionary power while discarding public participation.

But any project must be made with utmost thought and planning with great care so that no environment risks and health hazards be an unnecessary consequence for its people.

The Draft EIA 2020 aims at approving projects rather than assessing them and this is not better environmental governance but rather the attempt to be oblivious of the consequences for short gains. The ammendment to the EIA 2020 are not based on any research but to remove any environmental regulation as a burden throwing away health, welfare of the people and sustainable development to the wind.

It excludes minor projects from scrutiny but even a project dimmed as minor may have far reaching environmental and economic consequences some of which may be irreparable.

It is unacceptable that projects which will affect our lives, our land, our river and streams, and forests do not allow any input from the people themselves who could be affected.

The draft EIA 2020 seems hell-bent on eschewing public participation. We are fearful of uranium extraction in our state because we believe that the environmental damages will be costly not only alienating our land but also the distinct possibility of facing public health hazards.

The time period given to the people to submit any grievances within 45 days especially in rural areas is still a problem because of the rate of illiteracy of many tribals of India, add to that, the fact that many will not understand or have the confidence further complicated by unawareness of the process is a major challenge of undertaking the true assessment under EIA.

The draft EIA 2020 instead of trying to make the process easier for greater participation of the people reduces the period of submission of grievances to 40 days.The draft EIA 2020 is very regressive because it seems to suggest that the continuation and operation of the project is paramount without assessment of the negative impacts of a project. Many of our people are dependent on the environmental resources to augment subsistence jhum cultivation, farming or paddy cultivation.

The alienation of our land will cost us dearly. To make the explanation more lucid, in 2009 a cement company wanted to acquire around 300-400 bighas of virgin forest land, rich in limestone, quartz, coal etc, supposedly for a cement factory.

The project proposed unofficially was rejected by the GSU most notably on the grounds of violation of the provision of the 6th Schedule and the Land Transfer Act, 1971. The set up of the cement factory would have had irreversible damage on the ecology of the area.

According to the present draft the cement factory could bypass any impact assessment or scrutiny by simply paying a fine and the whole thing would have been legitimised. The regressive draft notification will make land grabbing a possibility in the name of development and economic activity further diluting our rights.

This is not in compliance to practices and rules adopted by different states of the world to soften the negative environmental impacts due to developmental projects or the preservation of tribal culture and rights. The whole concept of entrusting our land and natural resources to private industries is insane. The whole point must be the evolution of laws that must enable marginalised communities to prosper and be sustainable.

The post–facto clearance of existing projects makes one confusedly wonder and flounder about a project which flouts guidelines to start with, under EIA as they will get clearance, whether a project violates any guidelines just by paying heavy fines.

The problem is further compounded as any project which falls under “other strategic” category needs not entertain almost any scrutiny and assessment and anyway the public complaints are not entertained even if any environmental norms or otherwise is violated.

This is dangerous for the local people as unscrupulous people can take full advantage of the situation for money or for a slight. The space given for project proponents to file the compliance report creates a lot of elbow room for discrepancies by way of manipulation.

There is a very needling point regarding the use of the term “other strategic” which as mentioned before simply gives overriding power to the government by simply declaring a project “strategic” which could be  an excuse to evade any type of assessment because a project which falls under the “strategic” category will get summary clearance and with impunity.

This means any project which falls under “other strategic” category or any government project will not be placed for public discussion without further need for scrutiny, analysis and assessment.

The North East faces a big problem because much of the northeast has international border because the EIA 2020 draft notification has a definition for border area as” area falling within 100 kms aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control”. The point, these areas, for any project will not require public hearing. This will stifle the rights of the people in the border areas in particular.

The concept of sustainable development or development with protection is a much accepted concept by the world’s nations because it is a lesson learnt through experience and mistakes. The Covid pandemic, as has been stated by many, is a powerful reminder about the anthropogenic activities which has gripped the world in its clutches stupefying it for solutions managing to bring the world to almost a halt.

Any developmental activities or a project needs in depth assessment, scrutiny and studies as the pandemic has proven that there are problems, with rampant exploitation of the flora and fauna.The idea should be public participation and access to information rather than abandoning the need for caution by adopting strategies of growth without sustainability.

“The draft EIA 2020 encourages further pollution, with diluted regulations over industrial and development practices. The demand for stronger EIA is the need of the hour when many of the provisions of the sixth schedule are being diluted further weakening the tribal rights over land and culture from silent invasions thereby alienating our land.

Our land rights will be further alienated in the future from lapses and contradictions within the EIA. SO the demand for strengthening the EIA 2006 instead of allowing more than 30 conditions that will dilute the notification for over 25 toxic industries.”

Keeping in line with the lapses and controversies of the draft, the suggestions below seems only right:The draft EIA 2020 scrapped altogether.The draft EIA 2020 must be strengthened instead of being diluted.The draft EIA 2020 must pursue a balance between sustainable development and protection of the environment.The attempt to regularise large scale violation of environmental norms is a serious concern which needs to be addressed.

Instead of attempting to identify potential risks of a project and attempting to eliminate such risk by analysis and assessment with recourse to modifying and replacing planned activities the EIA bluntly seeks to favour the corporate establishment. Sustainable development and minimising environmental degradation by anthropogenic activities must be the mantra.

 

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