EIA 2020 may spell ecological disaster in Meghalaya

Kenny L. Khongsdier | Syllad.com

In a time when the citizens of Meghalaya are plagued with the repercussions of climate change such as floods, landslides, loss of life and a pandemic while still trying to make ends meet for their family – the central government has decided to release the draft of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020. If recent tragedies such as the Assam Baghjan’s Oil Well Massive fire and Vizag Gas leak has taught us one thing, is that we need more policies that regulate industries and to prevent such disasters from happening in our state.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020(a subordinate legislation under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986) has been criticized for potentially being damaging for the entire country and possibly the region of Meghalaya. Let us highlight just a few elements of the draft which has been deemed Industry friendly.

  1. All projects concerning national defence and security or involving other strategic considerations, as determined by the Central Government, shall require prior-EC or prior-EP, as the case may be, from the Ministry without any change in the category of the project. Further, no information relating to such projects shall be placed in public domain.
  2. Move several industries from Category A to Category B1 or B2 which have lesser EIA processes and B2 industries which don’t need public consultation or EAC reports. (Category A, B1 and B2 are project classifications listed in the Draft EIA 2020, pg 37)
  3. If an industry is found with non-compliance of any environmental condition, there is little provision to suspend or cancel their Environment Clearance.
  4. Increase the validity of environmental clearance for mining projects from 30 to 50 years and river valley projects from 10 to 15 years respectively.
  5. Environmental reports by industries will be yearly and not half yearly.
  6. Reduce the time period from 30 to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.

Public Hearing
The new EIA 2020 draft seems to suggest that the central government can determine if a project is categorized as a national defense or security project and for it to be cleared without the public knowledge. This could, also means that the expansion of these projects can be done without the public knowledge. The new draft of the EIA, 2020 could weaken the Environment Protection Act of 1986 and could create many loopholes that would work in the favor of companies and private interest.

In a statement written in the Shillong Times (18th July 2020, p3), The KSU President Lambokstarwell Marngar, Censured the Center by saying, “It was very evident that (Center) it is trying to do away with public consultations/hearing. On the part of the Union, we find it unacceptable and we have to oppose it. With uranium deposit in the state it has its eye in the state and it may bypass the public”

Relaxation of Regulations
The further relaxation in regulation could also mean that mining of minor minerals (below 5 hectares) such as Limestone that are used in kilns for manufacture of lime and dump mining of major minerals such as Coal, can be given clearance without public consultation as they fall under B2 Categories. The setting up of Small and Medium Cement plant enterprises as well falls under this Category.

The new draft also does not require B2 categories to perform ‘scoping’ before receiving their Clearance, meaning, that the scale of ecological impact of the project is not going to be assessed. The implications of this is far reaching and we can only speculate on the consequences these decisions will have on our lands, air and rivers. As we have observed in our state, that even with strict regulations, pollution of land and water bodies was still happening.

Little Scope for Fighting Back
The new draft of the EIA 2020, also gives little choice of suspension or cancellation of Environment Clearance for any industry found to be in violation and a very meagre fine for such violation (The maximum being Rs. 2,000/day for B2 categories and Rs. 10,000/day for A Categories from period of violation to Application). The extension of clearance to mining and river valley projects from 30 to 50 years and 10 to 15 years respectively with the requirement of a yearly report instead a half yearly report also makes these industries less accountable to the people and the local environment.

Even in cases where a public forum is held, A minimum notice period of twenty days is provided to the public for furnishing their responses, earlier the notice period was thirty days which, even then was a not enough time. The aim of the draft EIA, 2020, it seems is to fast track the process for giving Environmental Clearance to industries and not public interest and safety.

The consequences of not having a public hearing and a weak Environmental Impact Assessment, is clearly seen during the Assam’s Oil Fire at Baghjan, Tinsukia District. A recent investigation revealed that Oil India Limited (OIL) had received environmental clearances to expand its hydrocarbon testing and drilling activity without a public hearing. An EIA report as well was required to go ahead with their activity, however, an exemption was recently made for oil and gas firms, looking to conduct exploratory drilling.

Meghalaya is blessed with a diverse bio diversity, packed with dense forest and national parks and sanctuaries such as the Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary, Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary and Balpakram National Park. These are ecologically sensitive areas where if, for example, even a medium scale Cement Plant was to be established in or nearby, without a public hearing and an effective EIA Report, then we can expect that this will create an ecological imbalance that could destroy the very delicate bio diversity that exist within these regions.

What you can do?
There have been various environmental organizations that have tried to bring attention to these issues as well such as ‘Friday for Future’, ‘Let India Breathe’ and ‘There is No Earth B’. However, they have reported that their website had been rendered inaccessible, which they have used to bring awareness on environmental issue. Though they are still vocal through the various social media sites.

A Memorandum was submitted by the ‘Friday for Future Meghalaya’ Group on the 3rd of July 2020, to the office of the Minister of Forest and Environment, Govt. Of Meghalaya, expressing their concerns about the impact the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 will have. You can also do your part in changing this draft. These changes have not been implemented by the government and any suggestion to changes on the draft can be made till the 11th of August 2020 by sending an email.

You can send an email to: eia2020-moefcc@gov.in
Or you can draft your e-mail through: https://linktr.ee/LetIndiaBreathe
Download the Draft EIA Notification 2020 here:

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