Draft EIA in line with green rules, court rulings: Prakash Javadekar, Environment Minister

We are not giving any postfacto sanction. This is not our invention. UPA governments brought this concept in through memos in 2010, 2012 and 2013. NGT later quashed these...We have 1.8 m views from public and only 10,000 have new points. Our final...

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Facing criticism over the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar says the document is in keeping with court rulings and the Environment Act and rules out any retrospective clearance. Excerpts from an interview with ET:

Need for a new EIA notification
The 2006 EIA notification has been amended 55 times. 230 office memorandums (OMs) have been issued on it. All this led to confusion. EIA 2020 notification is not proposing major changes, we are just revising and consolidating the changes made so far. There are three key changes we are proposing. In 2014, we had given general approval for all defence projects and border roads within 100 km of the LAC, this will now be reflected in the EIA. Two, we are facilitating two categories of projects by waiving public hearing for them—MSME and clean technology— as both are small, with little or no environmental impact. Three, we are doing away with discretion given to states and the expert appraisal committees on environmental clearance and categorisation of industries —to do away with confusion.


The ‘post facto’ clearance controversy
We are not giving any post-facto sanction. This is not our invention either. UPA governments brought this concept through OMs in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The NGT later quashed these OMs saying these cannot override notifications. There are also three court orders —from the Jharkhand High Court and the Supreme Court. The former says we cannot refuse considering clearances except on merit and not on the issue of violation. In two orders, the SC has clearly said we cannot close down industry but may impose penalties/fine for violations. The EIA draft is in keeping with SC orders, EP Act and is part of a legacy. There will be no ‘retrospective’ clearance as is being misrepresented. There will only be ‘prospective’ environmental clearance and heavy penalty will be imposed for the period of violation.

On being labelled ‘pro-industry’ and ‘anti-environment’
We are not exempting anybody. In fact, we are proposing to bring in every company/industry into the ambit of a rigorous environmental clearance regime through mechanisms like the Environment Management Plan, Environment Impact Assessment and the Expert Appraisal Committee. Today, there are certain industries which have started production without any EC. So, we are framing 2-3 plans which will bring in a strong and deterrent penalty structure against violations. These will soon be public. The said industries will be put through proper appraisal and scrutiny to seek new EC.

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Exemptions and public hearings?
The 2006 EIA notification which brought in the B1 and B2 categorisation of industries was the UPA’s creation, not ours. This gave states the discretion to decide which industry was in which category and has led to wide variation and confusion across states on exemptions. We hope to do away with this confusion. We are adding to the list of industries that will require public hearings –– power, steel, cement and 17 critically polluting industries even in industrially notified areas. Many are raising the issue of reduction of time limit for public hearing from 30 days to 20 days –– and this is not a prestige point for us. My point here is that public hearing is conducted on a single day for a project and communication has moved faster now due to mobile telephony and other technology. So, a shorter window is in tune with the times.

EIA 2020 versus watchdog NGT
I am confident it will pass through.

Parliamentary panel’s serious view
The Parliamentary panel has not taken any such line on the issue. Our recent presentation was well appreciated by all members. There is no official comment on it. Also, no opposition is registered in the proceedings of the committee.
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Parliamentary Panel chairperson Jairam Ramesh’s views?
The chairman has his personal views. He wrote to me and I have responded to the issues raised, point by point.

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Political criticism — Aditya Thackeray to Rahul Gandhi?
I am responding to all issues raised. Also, go back to Rahul Gandhi’s statements in his Lok Sabha election campaign where he promised they will allow setting up of businesses without any permission and within three years will seek clearances. What was that about? There is no problem at all as far as political consensus is concerned. Everyone will be convinced. We held consultations with all states–– 20 states attended the conference –– on the proposed EIA last year and 12 gave their opinions, mostly supporting it. Suggestions will certainly be considered.

Final notification
There are 1.8 million views we have got through public feedback and only some 5,000-10,000 of these have new points. Our final notification will come after considering these views. This is not a final document. However, whatever is correct, we will stand by it –– for instance, the special dispensation for defence projects. We are not giving blanket freedom here; they will follow standard guidelines but the process will be expedited to save time.

Dilution of powers of states and the EAC
There is misinformation on account of the proposal to allow the Centre to nominate members to the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). As on date, and for the past three years, seven states and Union Territories including Delhi and Jharkhand –– have not nominated names for their SEIAA which means the body is not set up at all. All their projects come to us as a result. We are stepping in to ensure that every state has an operational SEIAA –– we will approve the names they will send us. On EAC, the 2006 notification allowed for much discretion to it on expansion of projects. We have done away with it clearly specifying a formula.

VC-based clearance spree in the environment ministry amid Covid?
Why should VC based meetings be objected to? Have you seen any country stopping all industry for 600 days to get one permission? Earlier EAC meetings saw a mere 50% attendance or so as many members could not travel to Delhi for some reason or another. Now, we have 80%-100% attendance at EAC meetings which go on uninterrupted for 3-4 hours.

Charges of the environment ministry becoming a ‘clearance’ ministry
In the last six years, not one file has been pending at our end for more than a week. From an average of 642 days of processing at the environment ministry under the UPA government, we have cut down processing time and without compromising on any environmental norms. There is no charge against us of any corruption. The time taken in the earlier regime for a certain ‘tax’ is a thing of the past. If somebody sees this as a crime, what can one say?
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