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EIA Notification 2006 Amendment



Red lights for greens - Business Standard, 26 March 2009

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If the ministry of environment and forests relaxes environmental standards, it would be a setback
Business Standard / New Delhi March 26, 2009, 0:16 IST

If the ministry of environment and forests goes ahead with its proposal to relax environmental standards, as a report in this paper suggests it just might, it would be a setback to all hopes of imposing some restrictions on the damage that industry causes to the environment. It is certainly not this newspaper�s case that the development of industry should be stopped just because it takes away agricultural land; indeed, industrial development is one of the tested ways to lift people out of poverty on a large and sustainable scale. But the costs of this development (including for those who make a living out of occupations involving the use of traditional grazing grounds, to use one example) have to be recognised, and paid for.

In a nutshell, the proposal that the environment ministry notified on January 19 sought to relax the provisions of the environment impact assessment notification of 2006. There was a 60-day period for all objections to be filed, which ended last Saturday. Once the ministry considers these objections, it is free to change the law � though, before it does this, it will presumably have to show that it has given careful consideration to the objections and not just dismissed them out of hand. The crux of the proposed change is that, instead of the process of getting clearances from the environment ministry, industries can simply certify that they are not polluting, and this self-certification is enough for them to expand. This is obviously a convenient rule for all industries that feel environmental clearances take far too long in the country. In theory, if companies give false self-certification statements, the penalties can be serious. But there is little in the way the law has been implemented, and in which the ministry has functioned so far, to suggest that polluters have anything to fear. Since the industries that are to benefit from the proposed rule are inherently polluting, and known to damage the environment, it is clear that the proposed new rule is meant to tilt the balance in favour of industry and against the government.

Instead of relaxing the law, it should have been made more stringent. For the current procedure for environment impact assessment reports is defective, in that these reports are heavily influenced by the work done by consultants who have been hired by the corporate houses themselves. As if this weren�t bad enough, there has been no credible action taken against well-known consulting firms who have been caught doing a cut-and-paste job on environment assessments, with the operative parts of reports on two different projects in two different parts of the country being exactly the same.

When important policy changes are proposed, it is not enough to give 60 days for people to file objections. Why not adopt the approach of the regulators in telecom and power � put out a basic approach paper, have open houses in various parts of the country where your stance is explained and all opinions listened to patiently, and only then put out a draft note to which people give their objections? Involving all stakeholders more fully in a participative decision-making process can only improve decision-making.

ESG is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes the cause of environmental and social justice through research, documentation, advocacy, training and campaign support. We aim to support the rights of local communities and voiceless ecosystems in a responsible, progressive manner that keeps contextual complexities in mind.

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