Over 50 environmental organisations, ideologues and activists from across the Himalayan region issued a joint statement opposing the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2020, The New Indian Express reported on Wednesday. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change put the notification, which intends to modify the EIA, 2006, in the public domain in March.

It has been alleged that the draft notification does away with the requirement for public consultation for a number of projects. Agencies affiliated to the Centre had earlier this month blocked the websites of some environmental organisations opposed to the draft.

The signatories to the statement include organisations and persons from Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Himachal and Ladakh. They issued a joint statement on Monday titled “Stop Accelerating Ecosystems Distress in the Himalayas” and “Withdraw Draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification”, pointing out that the draft law will accelerate an ecological crisis in the Himalayas.

The signatories said that the Himalayan region is known to be fragile, where even small ecological changes in the landscapes lead to rapid impact on the lives of millions. They said the ecological crisis in the region has already worsened due to poor implementation of regulatory norms.

The signatories said that decision-making under the EIA process has a series of mechanisms, including the use of public participation and review by technical and scientific experts, to determine that the costs of the projects do not outweigh the benefits. They alleged that the EIA has already been read down several times over the last 20 years to increase the ease of business. The latest proposed amendments to the EIA Notification take it further towards becoming a mere formality, they alleged.

“Over the last three decades, governments, both state and national, have pushed policies and projects which have contributed to severe ecological distress,” the signatories said. They added that local populations in the affected areas have been vehemently opposed to three broad projects – hydropower development, construction of highways and infrastructure for commercial tourism.

The group said that if all 292 dams proposed to be constructed in the Himalayan region are so built, nearly 90% of Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected, and 27% of the structures would lie in dense forest areas.

“The climatic crisis is already a threat for the region with erratic rainfalls, changing weather patterns, and climate-induced disasters disrupting lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants,” the signatories pointed out. They added that every year, the Himalayan states suffer huge monetary damage due to landslides, flash floods, uneven rainfall, forest fires and other disasters.

The EIA, 2020

The new updates to the draft 2020 Environment Impact Assessment notification 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.

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.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh alleged last week, in a letter to environment minister Prakash Javadekar, that the draft law reduces public participation in all steps of the environmental clearance process. 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.

Javadekar told Ramesh that his concerns were “unfounded” and based on “misrepresentations”, to which Ramesh responded by highlighting several problem areas in the draft notification, and saying that his concerns were based on the text of the notification.