Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel raises objection over draft EIA Notification 2020, writes to Union Environment Minister with suggestions

Raipur: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has objected to draft EIA Notification, 2020, saying the draft in its current form has completely ignored the sensitivity required for conservation of environment and achieving objective of sustainable development.

In his letter written a letter to Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate change Prakash Javadekar, the chief minister said highlighted various objections in the draft.

The chief minister said that Chhattisgarh is predominantly a tribal state and has 44% forest cover. Areas of the state of Chhattisgarh like Bastar, Surguja, Koria, Kavardha etc have been included in the “Scheduled Area’ under Article 244(1) of the constitution of India (Fifth Schedule), which provides protection to these Scheduled Area against such laws derogatory to the land rights of indigenous population of Chhattisgarh. At the outset, an executive action by way of a ‘Notification’ cannot over-ride the statutory protection granted under FRA and PESA. Therefore, the EIA Notification, 2020 should be in consonance with the rights of the Tribals and Panchayats as mentioned above.

Mr Baghel said the PESA Act (Section 4) empowers a Gram Sabha/Panchayat to prevent alienation of land and to approve plans and projects. It is also mandatory to consult with a Gram Sabha/Panchayat before acquiring land for developmental projects and resettling project-affected people. But, the draft EIA 2020 completely overlooks this mandate and does not make it mandatory for the project proponent to get any such approval from the Gram Panchayat which grossly violates undermines the rights and interest of Village Panchayats in scheduled and tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.

He furthered emphasized that exempting a large number of projects from public hearing, EIA and granting of post-facto clearances will adversely affect the rights of the forest dwellers to conserve, manage and protect forests (Section 3 of FRA: right to minor forest produce) and Gram Sabha’s power to fully exercise its power under Section 5 of FRA to protect wildlife, forest, bio-diversity, adjoining catchment areas, water resources and ecological sensitive area. Therefore, the EIA Notification, 2020 should reflect the aforesaid rights of the Tribals and Panchayats.

The chief minister maintained that under the draft EIA Notification, 2020, notified industrial estates (clause 3, sub-clause 38) means industrial estates including parks / complexes / areas etc. that are notified by the Central Govt. / State Govt. prior to EIA Notification, 2006 or this draft notification. It is pertinent that in Chhattisgarh, a number of industrial areas / industrial growth centers have been established by State Govt. Agency / Chhattisgarh State Industrial Development Corporation / Private Sector before its formation as a new State. These are identified and considered as industrial estates by the State Govt. and included in State’s Industrial Policy. Therefore, requirement of notification for consideration of industrial estates for the purpose of this EIA Notification should not be mandatory. Accordingly, definition of industrial estates should be amended suitably.

Under the draft EIA Notification, 2020 for category ‘B1’ project the study area (clause 3, sub-clause 55) for preparation of EIA report is restricted to 5 km of aerial distance. Under category ‘B1’ the projects may have larger impact on surroundings. Therefore, the study area should be provided as 10 km. Proposals involving mining of minerals within the Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) (or) one kilometer from the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries whichever is higher is prohibited in accordance with the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 04.08.2006 in the matter of T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. UOI in W.P.(C) No. 202 of 1995 and dated 21.04.2014 in the matter of Goa Foundation Vs. UOI in W.P.(C) No. 435 of 2012. These issues should be properly incorporated in the proposed EIA Notification, 2020.

The draft EIA Notification, 2020, states that leveling of the land without any tree felling and geo-technical investigations does not require prior Environment Clearance. The chief minister said that leveling of project sites may have impact on landscapes, mountains slopes causing soil erosion and can trigger landslides. Further, geotechnical investigation for roads, hydropower projects and other projects which involves heavy construction activities may have serious impact on the environment. Therefore, these activities should be brought into ambit of the EIA Notification.

The draft EIA Notification, 2020 grants wide discretion to the executive to define certain terms like “projects involving other strategic considerations” (clause 5, sub-clause 7) without providing any guideline or broad contour to determine its scope. The Notification leaves it to the executive wisdom to decide its scope and ambit and thus provides room for subjectivity and arbitrariness.

Highlighting that as per the draft EIA Notification, 2020, public hearing process (clause 14) has to be completed in 40 days as compared to 45 days under the EIA Notification, 2006, Mr Baghel said that inadequate time to understand and respond to EIA Report will render the step of public consultation meaningless. The process of grant of environmental clearance should not be expedited at the cost of the process becoming non-transparent and undemocratic. Completion of public hearing process should be 60 days.

In case of modernization of projects (clause 16, sub-clause 1) that results in increase in existing production capacity, EIA study is required in case the production increase is more than 25% and public consultation / hearing (clause 14, sub-clause 2) is required in case the increase is more than 50%. In case of a large scale project, any increase in production may have an enormous impact on the environment and health and safety of people living in the vicinity. The threshold limit set by the notification is unreasonable. Therefore, EIA study and public consultation / hearing shall be required for more than 10% increase in сарacity, he said.

The draft EIA notification proposes to increase the validity period of environmental clearance (clause 19, sub-clause 1) at the construction phase substantially. This substantial increase of validity period would allow project proponents to secure land for a long duration without initiating any productive activity and may promote land grab.

The chief minister said that the draft EIA Notification, 2020 proposes grant of post facto clearance of violation cases (clause 22), which is not only an escape route to violators, but also a freedom to damage the environment. Post facto clearance is contrary to the well-settled concept of precautionary principle in environmental jurisprudence and is opposed to the idea of sustainable development. The rationale of having prior Environmental Clearance with mandatory for construction/installation or commencement of any project with due procedure of public consultation becomes infructuous by the introduction of this clause, thereby defeating the very purpose of enacting a legislation for regulating industrial pollution and conserving the environment. Post facto clearance should be considered for those projects only, which have incurred violation prior to issue of this notification. No post facto clearance should be granted after issuance of this notification. Accordingly, this provision should be made more stringent in such a fashion that no project proponent opts for this route of post facto clearance.

Under the draft notification, reporting of violation of Environmental Clearance terms can be done either by the project proponent i.e. the violator him/herself or by a government authority/appraisal committee/regulatory authority. The right to report the violation of Environmental Clearance has not been extended to citizens/stakeholders, Mr Baghel said.

As per item no. 10(f) of schedule of the draft EIA Notification, 2020, stand-alone rolling mills involving pickling with capacity up to 1,00,000 TPA and stand-alone rolling mills not involving pickling with capacity up to 2,00,000 TPA are exempted from requirement of prior Environmental Clearance. Presently rolling mills are operated on hot charging technology along with steel melting shop. In hot charging process no re-heating of billets / blooms is involved, only hot metal received from steel melting shop is charged through continuous casting machine and rolled subsequently. Therefore, rolling mill based on hot charging process (without installation of new induction furnace / electric arc furnace / submerged arc furnace) irrespective of its capacity should be exempted from obtaining prior Environmental Clearance.

As per present and draft EIA Notification, 2020, State Pollution Control Board has been entrusted with the responsibility of merely conduction of public hearing and forwarding to the concerned authority without their opinion / views / comments. State should be empowered to submit its opinion / views / comments along with NOC for grant of Environmental Clearance of ‘A’ category projects having huge impacts on Environment.