Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday defended the concerns he had raised related to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment, 2020 notification.

The Congress leader’s remarks came after Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on Sunday called his suggestions “unfounded” and based on “misrepresentation”. Ramesh had said the draft notification reduces public participation in all steps of the environmental clearance process by “lessening the notice period for public hearings and doing away with them for a large category of projects”.

Ramesh is the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

The senior Congress leader also pointed out that the changes were not based on research, and added that the draft was the result of an attitude that sees environmental regulation as an “unnecessary regulatory burden”, and not as a means to ensure welfare of people and sustainable development.

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In his counter-response on Monday, Ramesh highlighted five problem areas in the draft notification. “Dear Prakash Javadekar, in your response, you accuse me of misrepresenting the provisions of #DraftEIA2020 Notification,” he tweeted. “As you can see from my detailed response, these concerns are founded on what’s there in BLACK AND WHITE in the Draft Notification.”

The first objection pertains to the provision for “post-facto approvals” that Ramesh said “go against the very principle of assessment and public participation prior to environment clearance”. He added that its provisions “will routinely legitimize illegality”.

The Congress leader reiterated the reduction in public participation as his second objection, and said that that the draft notification “does away with environment assessment altogether in very many cases of expansion/modernisation”.

Ramesh’s fourth objection was that the draft law increases the validity of environment clearances and allows projects to “secure” land for a longer period even when they are not constructed. “This promotes land grab not development,” he added. “It gives the Union government full powers to appoint State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities,” the fifth objection read. “This is yet another nail in coffin of cooperative federalism.”

The EIA, 2020

The new updates to the draft 2020 Environment Impact Assessment notification, which seeks to overhaul the existing EIA, 2006, prescribe the procedure for industries to assess the ecological and environmental impact of their proposed activity and the mechanism, whereby these would be assessed by expert committees appointed by the environment ministry.

Documents accessed by Right to Information Act applicants had shown that Javadekar overruled senior ministry official’s recommendations to extend the time frame for public feedback on the draft.

The environment ministry had put the draft law in the public domain in March for a period of 60 days for discussion and feedback. The time frame for comments was extended to June 30 due to the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to a press release from the ministry.

On June 30, the Delhi High Court extended the deadline to provide public response to the draft to August 11. The petition filed in the High Court, based on which it extended the time for public feedback, had said that the proposed new law does away with the requirement for public consultation for a number of projects.