All artwork by The Matter Collective
All countries have environmental laws. In India, we have laws such as the Environment Protection Act and Forests Rights Act. The Environment Impact Assessment, backed by the Environment Protection Act, is an essential tool to ensure that any development project considers the voices of the people and undergoes proper environmental clearances. It is crucial for environmental protection, public health, and local livelihoods. The EIA was created by the World Bank for evaluating new industrial projects in a world of real time climate crisis.
EIA is a study which measures the effect that any proposed project will have on the surrounding environment, people, economy and infrastructure. It also suggests ways to reduce the negative impacts and analyses these in the long term. Every development project from mining and chemical factories, to highways and real-estate must undergo an EIA study in order to obtain an environmental clearance (sort of like a green light to develop) before starting.
The EIA is carried out by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) which is made up of experts and scientists (appointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, MOEFCC). The EIA must also include public consultations with people living in the area to get their opinions and concerns on the project. The MOEFCC (state or national depending on the project) must review all of these comments before arriving at the final verdict.
So, What's Up With the Draft EIA 2020?
The Draft EIA2020 Notification was issued on 23rd March, 2020 by the MOEFCC, just when the lockdown started. It was put out to receive public comments. Initially the deadline for public comments was 30th June, 2020, but this was extended to 11th August 2020 after a lot of protest and legal cases filed.
To provide short term economic stimulus at the expense of long term ecological resource depletion, the EIA2020 is being forced by MOEFCC, Environment Minister, Coal Lobby, PMOs Office, and Industrialists. The notification allows for post-facto approval, shortens public consultation, exempts many toxic industries from public hearings, classifies based only on size, increases validity of environmental clearances and has many more issues.
These changes will have severe consequences in terms of public health and rights, and climate change. Industrial mishaps like gas leaks and fires will become more common with fewer reviews being done. As more forests are cut down for railways and mines, pollution levels in cities, soil erosion, landslides, and floods will increase. Local communities will lose livelihoods, people will migrate to cities (the effects of which were clearly seen at the start of the lockdown period!), and animals will be forced out of jungles.
Furthermore, the excessive amount of coal and oil being extracted and used will result in more irregular rainfall and droughts, affecting agriculture and rural areas the most. The chemicals from these industries (as there are relaxed rules on how to dispose of waste) will pollute rivers and seas, making it extremely hard for fishermen and communities who live close to water bodies. This will also increase the risk of water-borne diseases tremendously. Even our current COVID-19 pandemic is closely linked with our encroachment in thick forests.
But why does all this really matter? Want to do something? Send your email today!
Why do EIAs have low visibility for people?
The Student Movement and Yugma's Work
Our campaign against the Draft EIA 2020 began with a letter sent on June 25th 2020 to the Environment Minister, Shri. Prakash Javadekar with the support of over 50 university student unions, clubs, and groups from across the country. The campaign was initiated by Tarang, the Environment Ministry of Ashoka University Student Government. On 28th June, we also sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the same with over 80 student groups endorsing it this time. You can read about the media coverage for our work HERE.
After the deadline for public opinion was extended from June 30th to August 11th, the Yugma Network worked on, mobilizing more student unions and youth against the Draft. We coordinated and sent a 22-page letter, drafted by the Legal Aid Clinic of Jindal Global Law School, to the MOEFCC on 4th August. This was signed by over 20 Law College student groups and Legal Aid Clinics, 150+ independent law students, over 80 other university student groups, and more than 1,600 individual students from across India.
Furthermore, we conducted extensive research on regional and intersectional issues (such as Vizag Gas Leaks, Baghjan Fires, agriculture, indigenous communities) and their connection to and impact from the Draft Notification. We used this research to creating graphic and video content in over 12 Indian languages in order to make it more accessible.
Yugma Network also participated in and helped coordinate the National Day of Action for the withdrawal of Draft EIA 2020 which took place on August 9th 2020. Additionally, a few members of the Yugma Network also composed an original song against the Draft Notification, titled “Wake Up”. Art is a powerful way to reach people and to express one’s thoughts and we wanted to express our urgency and distress through music. Released on August 9th 2020, the music video traces the history of several environmental protests in India and has slogans in many different languages. “Wake Up” was streamed on radio channels like 93.5 Red FM, Shillong and Radio One 94.3. You can also read about it HERE.
Our Experience and Thoughts
The EIA2020 campaign brought young people from across the country together who had never even heard of each other prior to June. The campaign is when we at Yugma realized our passion for working towards environmental justice and realized how many people found value in the work we were doing. We got the opportunity to interact with prominent environmentalists such as Leo Saldanha, Ashish Kothari, Kanchi Kohli and Nityanand Jayaraman, from whom we learnt tremendously. We dived into Indian environmental history and politics and read reports such as the Tiwari Committee Report, which we didn't even know existed. We also met many inspiring young people from across the country who have helped mentor us, collaborated with us, and guided us through the campaign and beyond.
The entire campaign was truly a humbling and insightful learning experience. It has fueled a fire within us and shown us that OUR VOICES DO MATTER. We realised that in order to strive for environmental justice, we cannot blindly say 'protect the environment'. We now understand, is important to look at how environmental conservation has political, sociological and economic repercussions. The thought of continuing to making an impact by looking at the environmental sphere holistically inspired the formation of the Yugma Network. We will continue fighting for environmental justice.
Resources, Videos, and Articles
Main concerns with the Draft EIA 2020 (non-exhaustive list):
40 industries under the EIA 2020 (which have been classified as harmless, yet have severe environmental impacts) have begin working without an EIA. This means they can level and clear land without and environmental clearance, and this can later be waived off through a fine.
Shortened public consultation period from 30 days to 20 days:
This will pose a serious problem in those areas where information is not easily accessible or areas in which people are not that well aware of the process.
Exemption of several large industries from public hearings (B2 category):
A lot of information will be hidden from the public. These industries include, but are not limited to: chemical manufacturing and petroleum products, modernization of irrigation, buildings, construction and area development, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, all projects concerning national defense and security or involving ‘other strategic considerations’ as determined by the central government, offshore projects located beyond 12 nautical miles (onshore or offshore oil and gas drilling etc.), and large-scale renewable energy projects like dams.
Normative basis of classification:
Only depends on their size and capacity, and not the impact on the environment and health of the population. However, the size of a project and the environmental risks it could cause are not always positively correlated.
Increased validity of Environment Clearances:
For mining projects (50 years vs 30 years currently) and river valley projects (15 years vs 10 years currently).
History and Amendments
The need for assessing the environmental and health impacts of developmental and industrial projects was recognized globally in the late 1960s. The United States of America were the first in implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), that is in 1969, that called for environmental impact assessment (EIA) of national projects in the U.S. Many developed and developing countries like Philippines (1977), Columbia (1972), New Zealand (1974) among others followed suit, including India. All of these developments were enacted against the background of increased global institutional concern about the environmental impact of developmental system recognized by the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in 1972.
Although India implemented its version of EIA in the 1990s, the first EIA-like study of river valley projects was carried out by the Department of Science and Technology in 1977. The formal implementation of EIA followed and was inspired by the RIO Declaration of 1992 on environment and development that emerged from the United Nations Conference on environment and development. By then, the UPA-led Government of India had also passed the Environmental Protection Act in on May 23, 1986. During this time, assessing environmental impact of developmental projects was authorized and managed by administrative agencies of Government of India like the Planning Commission, Central Water Commission and Public Investment Board.
Formalizing Environmental Clearance: EIA notification, 1994
In 1994, an EIA notification was issued by the then Ministry of Environment and Forest of the UPA government under Rule 5 of the Environmental (Protection) rules, 1989, legally mandating environmental clearance for 29 developmental projects and making EIA a legislative issue. The EIA study, according to the 1994 notification, was required to brief on the proposed activities, a base-line assessment of environmental and climatic conditions of the proposed site, an impact analysis on health, social, land, electricity and other resources, a risk assessment report, an environmental management plan, a disaster management plan and an environmental feasibility report. All such studies in the form of a project report were to be submitted to the Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) for approval. It’s very significant that the notification also mandated public hearings and the public also had access to the project report submitted by the proposer to IAA
Date and Government
April 10, 1997
(Janata Dal government)
Environmental Public Hearing mandated for environmental clearances with an emphasis for fair representation of local community in the hearing.
(NDA led government)
Environmental Clearance requirement for defense related road construction in boarder areas was waived off
(NDA led government)
Public hearing for mining projects (250 hectares) was waived off.
June 13, 2002
(NDA led government)
Many industries including hydel power projects and project less than Rs 100 crores were exempted from the requirement to carry out an EIA process.
February 28, 2003
(NDA led government)
Adopted the concept of location-sensitivity in the process of approving environmental clearances. Aimed towards protecting the Aravalli Range
May 7, 2003
(NDA led government)
Activities involving risks and hazards were included into the notification
August 4, 2003
(NDA led government)
Adopted the concept of location-sensitivity in the process of approving environmental clearances. Project located 15 kms from ecologically sensitive areas had to obtain clearance.
(NDA led government)
Mandated site clearance for petrochemical refineries, complexes and green field airports. Public hearing waived off for offshore exploration projects that is for locations that are 10 kms away from habitation, villages and ecologically sensitive areas
July 7, 2004
(UPA led government)
EIA mandated for industrial and construction activities.
July 4, 2005
(UPA led government)
Projects on modernization of nuclear power, thermal power plants, mining projects, river valley projects among others were waived off the requirement for environmental clearance. Projects can avail temporary working permission while the environmental clearance is still yet to be obtained.
EIA notification, 2006
After undergoing almost 13 amendments and with the intent of MoEF to make significant changes to the EIA process, a draft notification on behalf of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Office was put out for public consultation on September 15, 2005. People of India were given one year to provide comments and suggests modifications. It was notified on September 14, 2006.
The changes that were made was recommended by a government instituted committee namely the Govindarajan Committee on Reforming Investment Approval and Implementation Procedures and World Bank assisted Environmental Management Capacity Building Programme (EMCB). Needless to say, the concerns were driven towards enabling “ease of business” than “environmental protection.” As the EIA notification, 2006 was drafted, published and notified, the government was also working on implementing the New Environment Policy (NEP). The NEP was staunchly resisted for lack of public participating in the drafting process and NGOs and civil society staunchly disagreed with the direction the NEP carved out for environmental protection in India.
The EIA notification, 2006 decentralized the process of providing environmental clearances authorizing the State Government to provide clearances for development projects. This made the EIA process and clearance dependent on the developmental versus/and environmental politics and policy making priorities of the states that is, if a state prioritized development, clearance process was expected to be lenient than stringent. The approval of site was to be obtained from the State Pollution Control Board (SPBC) and a no objection certificate by SPCB is to be issued after a public hearing is carried out.
The 2006 notification also exempted construction projects. The following modifications were significantly environmentally unjust and insensitive:
If the governmental agency were to delay the process of assessment beyond a specified time limit, the project was deemed accepted. This means the developers were given a nod to carry out the project without the assessment process actually taking place.
Monitoring by the government to ensure that developmental projects comply with environmental regulation was lifted off. The responsibility of monitoring was further shifted to the developers themselves.
When the government felt that conditions for carrying out a public hearing was “not conducive,” any given project could be approved without a public hearing.
EIA was now being made available on request rather than following a complete public access model.
The EIA notification, 2020 further weakens the process of EIA and environmental clearances which was already weakening owing to the increased stake of corporates in India’s electoral politics and economic development. For more information on how the EIA notification 2020 endangers India’s environment and ushers questionable and unethical practices of environmental injustice, see: (attach the link to the page on our website on EIA notification, 2020)