Senior Congress leader and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday that the draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2020, is part of a series of moves by the Centre to dilute environmental laws.

Speaking at a webinar on “Draft EIA Notification 2020”, Ramesh accused Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar of not acting as a protector of India’s natural resources.

“His [Javadekar’s] job is to protect the environment, his job is to protect the forests, his job is to enforce the laws of the land that we have,” Ramesh said. “But he does not see it that way. He sees his job as being an accelerator for project clearances...not as a guardian/protector of India’s natural resources.”

He called the draft “deeply anti-democratic,” “anti-public” and “anti-cooperative federalism.”

The Congress leader claimed that the draft notification was not the real problem and is only “the tip of the iceberg.” The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government sees the rules and regulations pertaining to the environment as a “speed-breaker” for the ease of doing business.

Ramesh said that the Centre has diluted norms for power plants meant for developing coastal areas and given clearances to coal mines in dense forest areas, especially in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha.

The draft notification takes away any scope of public hearing, Ramesh further claimed, adding that no concerned citizen or non-governmental organisations can bring into notice of the government if there are any environmental violations. “Only the project proponents and only government agencies will highlight environmental violations,” he said.

On Friday, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had also criticised the draft notification and said that it has ignored the sensitivity required for ecological conservation. In a letter to Javadekar, Baghel said the proposed notification should be in the interest of forest dwellers and had made several suggestions to strengthen the provision.

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 August 10 said that the criticism was “premature” as the document was merely a draft at this stage.

Last month, 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 a public response to the draft to August 11.

On August 5, the Karnataka High Court directed the environment ministry 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.