Maharashtra Tourism and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who recently took the initiative to save a 400-year-old banyan tree in Sangli and raised his voice against coal mining near the Tadoba tiger reserve, has, in a three-page letter to Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, objected to the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. He has observed that the draft notification is not in line with the Paris agreement and against sustainable development.
He has further said, the EIA narrows down the definitions of environmental site assessments (ESAs), effectively excluding villages.
The notification empowers the Centre to appoint state EIA authorities. ‘‘Instead of decentralisation, such centralisation in environment clearances would only lead to hurdles, or clearances that do not take into account local issues. Therefore, reducing the state government’s control will have direct consequences on environmental protection efforts. Further, it absolutely undermines the nature of cooperative federalism that is enshrined in our Constitution,’’ he has noted, urging Javadekar to re-evaluate the notification.
Further, Aaditya has claimed that the notification goes against the mandate given to the government under section 3 of the Environment Protect Act, to protect the environment by diluting the nature and scope of scrutiny of environmental impacts of proposed projects and does not consider climate change in the decision-making processes. ‘‘Climate change is here for real, and while the world prides in steps towards environmental protection, we cannot dilute our environment laws,’’ is his view.
He has observed that the notification has exempted several environmentally destructive activities, such as coal prospecting, crushing and screening of ore, seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration. He has objected to the provision of up to 50% expansion of any existing project without requiring public consultation and up to 25% not requiring EIA process at all.
He has opposed the provision about appraisal no longer needed for some B2 category projects, to which various hazardous industries (red and orange industries) have been added. Further, he has objected to the provision of allowing industries to fence off and secure land before getting environment clearance.
The notification allows for granting ex post facto environment clearance to project proponents who are in clear violation of law.
‘‘This has no basis in law and is in direct conflict with protecting our environment. This is not recognised under environmental jurisprudence and is also against precautionary principles. Further, violations are legally recognised only when reported by project proponents or government officials, and not project affected persons,’’ he said.
The Draft EIA report will not be openly accessible to the public but will be made available only on written request and that too, for electronic inspection at a notified place, during office hours.
Aaditya has pointed out that the ecologically sensitive region of the Konkan, home to more than 28 million people, will be adversely affected if projects are passed without extensive public deliberations. He has also turned the spotlight on the Western Ghats, listed in the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity and has noted that a large part of the Ghats are eco-sensitive areas (ESAs).