The Delhi High Court on Thursday said that its order that the draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 be translated in all 22 languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution should not be taken “combatively” by the Centre, PTI reported.

“View taken by the court should not be taken so combatively by the Union government,” a special bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan told the environment ministry which has been against translating draft EIA in vernacular languages.

The court said that people living in remote areas of the country might not understand the contents of the draft EIA if it was published only in English and Hindi. It further said that the “statutory scheme” as well as “principles of good governance” demand that everyone should be included in the consultative process, PTI reported.

“They [people in remote areas] are our citizens, they also need to be heard,” the bench said. “Why are you resisting it so hard?”

The court also suggested that the translation into vernacular languages can be “ordered in the peculiar facts of the instant case”, which would mean that it will not be considered as a precedent in future cases.

Representing the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told the bench that translation to all 22 languages posed various administrative difficulties. The translations may not conform to the actual content of the draft EIA, he added.

Sharma informed the court that over 20 lakh responses had been received on the draft and so it cannot be said that the consultative process or participation by stakeholders was skewed. He also assured the court that the Centre was not being combative, PTI reported.

The court then ordered Sharma to come with instructions on the next date of hearing, March 26, on whether the draft EIA can be translated in all the 22 languages for a better consultative process.

The High Court was hearing the Centre’s plea seeking review of its June 2020 order to the Environment Ministry to translate the draft EIA notification in all the 22 languages within 10 days of the order.

In September, the Centre had filed a review petition against the June 30 order. The High Court had, during the hearing, also put on hold the proceedings in the contempt plea filed by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad against the Centre for non-compliance of the June 30 direction.

Tongad’s plea said that the draft EIA provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases. The plea said that the draft EIA completely supersedes and replaces existing environmental norms.

The EIA, 2020

The 2020 Environment Impact Assessment draft has been widely criticised for its problematic changes in rules. Experts say most of the provisions in the new draft are a regressive departure from the earlier version.

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.

Some of the criticism against it includes that the draft notification does away with the requirement for public consultation for a number of projects.

Agencies affiliated with the Centre had last year blocked the websites of some environmental organisations that have opposed the draft EIA 2020.

Various environmental activists, bureaucrats and politicians, including former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, have raised objections to the draft.