Environment Impact Assessment 2020: Why it's a major concern and what's behind it?

Our mind has been occupied and revolving around the deadliest Coronavirus outbreak since we welcomed 2020  and our lives are reeling through the uncertainty and the aberrant state of survival and while the Central government has vowed that it has been combating the virus to save Indians before the cameras, it has been drafting policies behind the screens to make Indians, particularly the backward families, more vulnerable.

As the COVID-19 outbreak has become the larger part of the discussions from the people of all walks of life, what we went unnoticed is a draft bill that poses a huge threat to our lives and while our attention was fully on the pandemic and nationwide lockdown in March, we either have missed or made to miss the draft amendment of 'Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020', as amid vowing to contain the spread, the Central government has found time to frame the amendment that criticized by many as a dreadful amendment that would burden more uncertainty on people about their future. 

Why the Modi led Central government has rushed for the amendment, and what does EIA have, and why it has earned major criticism from various stakeholders? The criticizers say the proposed amendment won't consider the impact of the environment and it won't assess the lives of people. It carries the name but it feared to go contrary and in favor of industries, levying people to meet more challenges for their livelihoods. 

As per the current law of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986, any industry, that wishes to start a factory anywhere across India, would be subjected to obtain consent from the Central government by disclosing the Environment Impact Assessement. The industry must be mandated to describe the factory's total area, the impact it would make on the environment, the scale of sewage, and sewage management. The assessment would be reviewed by the Central government committee and based on the industry's submission, the government would either approve or veto its plan of setting up the factory. 

This measure of transparency would provide the pros and cons of the industry to the government and people living nearby. However, the recent amendment EIA 2020 would be feared to make transparency into history. The notification for the amendment was released by the Central government on March 12, when the country was covered with the fear of COVID-19. The new amendment has three crucial impairments that, if implemented, are capable of ailing the people and their livelihoods. 

Firstly, the amendment repeals the grounds of public opinion on implementing some of the mega projects. Seeking public opinion is imperative when it comes to the construction of industries in their areas. Through the current amendment, the Central government has seemingly signaled that it hates such public opinion and if the Center rolls out water irrigation projects, national highway projects or if the industry constructs new factory, it can go ahead without obtaining an opinion from Public in implementation or expansion through the current amendment.  

The activists fear that this amendment will be a haven for the coal industries or oil refining industries that they can leniently expand their projects as this amendment has revoked people from placing their opinions and the amendment has also reduced the period of public opinion for starting other industries from 30 days to 20 days. Secondly, the amendment has barred the mandatory requirement of the Environment Impact Assessment to start new projects or expand the existing projects.

The Center has claimed that such projects, that were implemented and expanded without the Impact Assessment, would be monitored by the Central Committee. This has been noted as the major revocation as the amendment permits the implementations by repealing the mandated assessments and what has been in process since 2006, which is the mandatory requirement of seeking consent from the respective state and Central committees before the implementation and expansion of the projects. 

One of the crucial factors of asserting why the amendment goes in favor of industries is that the amendment says the industries can disclose the compliance statements for once in a year, which was before twice a year and the new modifications would likely nullify the process of learning the impact of the industries made on the people and environment. 

Thirdly, the amendment would bring some of the industries under its ambit that won't fall under the criteria of the Environment Impact Assessment. As per the amendment, the projects, that have been marked as the 'strategic plan' by the Center, would stay off from the public scrutiny as the details of these projects won't be kept before the public as the amendment likely has engulfed the rights of people in having safe and secured livelihoods. 

The 'strategic plan' projects include water irrigation and national highway projects and along with that, the amendment has guaranteed the exemption from the Impact Assessment for the infrastructure projects covering 1,50,000 square meters. Earlier, the infrastructure projects with 20,000 square meters had exemptions from the impact assessment. 

While the Central government has claimed that the new amendment would develop India's industrial corridors, the activists, however, warned that the Center's amendment of enhancing the industrial resources of a handful of industries shouldn't destroy the livelihoods of crores of people and natural resources. The activists are urging people to strongly place their opinions and voices against the amendment as the Central government has invited people's opinion till August 11, 2020. 

Earlier, a group of 110 individuals including researchers, ecologists, conservationists, and professionals have written to Union Minister of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar against the amendment and they strongly pressed that the draft legitimizes environmental damage and undermines democracy as they have alarmed that the amendment is a major concern amid the prevailing concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak.