Construction in areas between 20,000 and 50,000 sq metres will not require environment clearance from the government anymore, the centre has said, in its modified notification on the environment impact assessment (EIA). The notification, recently issued by the Ministry of Environment, states that it has decided to ‘re-engineer’ the EIA rules, based on amendments and the experience over the years in its implementation. “As the principal notification has undergone substantial changes over the years, the ministry has decided to re-engineer the entire notification, in line with the amendments issued and circulars issued from time to time and experience gained over the years in implementation of the EIA notification,” it said.
Under the new notification, the process of clearances granted for sand mining and construction activities have been eased out, a decision that has not gone down well with environmental activists, who claim that the EIA notification compromises on public hearings. The draft allows district-level authorities, headed by the district magistrate, to seek exemption from public hearing, while granting green clearance for sand mining in areas up to five hectares of land.
Lawyer and environmentalist Vikrant Tongad said that through the notification, the government was trying to give benefit to builders and mining companies, which in turn, was weakening the EIA. “Under the modified EIA, building and construction in areas between 20,000 sq metres and 50,000 sq metres do not require environmental clearance, which has been taking place all this while. In the sand mining sector, no public hearing will now take place for mining in an area of 0-5 hectares. It is a wrong move and public hearing must take place,” Tongad said. He said, the government was ‘trying to give benefit to builders, mining companies and industries, by weakening the EIA notification of 2006, which would increase pollution and corruption in India’.
EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impact of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
Sharing his view, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) deputy director general Chandra Bhushan, said this draft has weakened the existing EIA. “My first impression is that this draft, if it is converted into the final law, will weaken the environment assessment. EIA needs substantial strengthening. Public participation part has been weakened,” he said.
Bhushan said that the entire process has become meaningless and will not help in bringing down corruption. “This notification does not set up right institution for compliance of the conditions under which clearance is given. The entire process becomes meaningless. Corruption remains a major issue. The draft is a status quo draft,” he said. The activists were also of the view that this new notification would violate court and National Green Tribunal orders, by which several amendments included in the EIA draft have been quashed already. “The kind of changes which are being brought in, is a violation of court/NGT orders,” Tongad said. No comment was available from the Environment Ministry.