Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Friday criticised the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2020, saying the draft has ignored the sensitivity required for ecological conservation, PTI reported.

In a letter to Union Minister of Environment and Forest Prakash Javadekar, Baghel said the proposed notification should be in the interest of forest dwellers and made several suggestions to strengthen the provisions, an official from the public relations department told PTI. ‘Chhattisgarh is predominantly a tribal state with 44% forest cover,” the chief minister said. “Bastar, Surguja, Koria, Kawardha areas of the state have been recognised as ‘Scheduled Area’ under Article 244(1) of the Constitution of India, which provides protection to these scheduled areas against such laws derogatory to the land rights of indigenous population.”

Baghel stated that an executive action through a notification cannot override the statutory protection granted under the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act. Section 4 of the PESA Act gives power to the panchayat to approve the acquisition of land for development projects, according to Hindustan Times.

“The EIA notification 2020 should be in consonance with the rights of the tribals and panchayats,” he added. “It is also mandatory to consult with a gram sabha/panchayat before acquiring land for developmental projects and resettling project-affected people. But, the draft notification completely overlooks this mandate and does not make it mandatory for the project proponent to get any such approval from the gram panchayat which grossly violates the rights and interest of village panchayats in scheduled and tribal areas.”

Baghel added that exempting a large number of projects from public hearing and giving post facto clearances will adversely affect the rights of the forest dwellers to conserve, manage and protect forests. The rights are granted to forest dwellers through section 3 of the Forest Rights Act, which allows the indigenous people the claim over minor forest produce.

“The draft EIA notification, 2020, states that levelling of the land without any tree felling and geotechnical investigations does not require prior green clearance,” he said. “Levelling of project sites may have [an] impact on landscapes, mountains slopes causing soil erosion and can trigger landslides. Geotechnical investigation for roads, hydropower projects and other ventures, which involve heavy construction activities, may have serious impact on the environment.”

The official said the chief minister hoped that the Centre considers the problems raised by him before finalising the key environmental policy guideline.

The EIA draft has been widely criticised for its problematic changes in rules. Experts say most of the provisions in the new draft is a regressive departure from the earlier version. However, Javadekar had on Monday said that the criticism was “premature” as the document was merely a draft at this stage.

Last month, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had said that the draft law reduces public participation in all steps of the environmental clearance process. He had 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.

The EIA, 2020

The new updates to the draft 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.

It prevents the proposed activity or project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account.

On June 30, the Delhi High Court extended the deadline to provide public response to the draft to August 11.

On August 5, the Karnataka High Court directed the Ministry of Environment to not publish the final draft notification until September 7. The court noted that since the draft Environmental Impact Assessment, 2020, was published on March 23, two days before the imposition of the nationwide lockdown to control the coronavirus, people had not been able to file objections to the document.