Mains Paper 3: Environment
Prelims level: National environmental regulator
Mains level: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
• The Supreme Court’s notice to the Centre government on a public interest litigation (PIL) plea to set up a national environmental regulator under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
• To Oversee and Give Directions Related Environmental Clearances For Projects and revives an issue that successive governments have preferred to ignore, in spite of specific orders passed by the same court more than nine years ago.
The national environmental regulator:
• The NER an environmental agency of the central Government of India that was established Under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to “ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for India “.
• The agency functions as a parastatal of the Ministry of Environment and is headed by a Director General who is also the chief executive officer.
• NER has recorded several achievements in the area of environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement since its establishment, including the enactment of several regulations pertaining to environmental protection, monitoring environmental compliance and enforcement actions.
• The NER, Also Oversee and Give Directions Related Environmental Clearances for Projects and revives an issue of environment under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2006.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020:
• The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 is going to replace the EIA notification 2006.
• EIA 2006 regulates the environment clearance given by the national government for projects such as dams, mining, thermal power plants, infrastructure projects like highways, ports, airport and big construction projects.
• EIA 2020 seeks to legitimize projects that have violated environment clearance norms by giving them a chance for post-facto approvals as long as that project is permissible in the area.
• The violation of the norms would include those where projects either start the construction or excavation or undertake expansion without prior environment clearance.
• The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, which seeks to advance that goal, makes no effort to disguise the desire to virtually eliminate civil society’s role.
• It does not encourage the public to voice its views and report violations, while independent scrutiny of proposals is weakened.
The violation of the Environment Protection Act 1986:
• The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 authorizes the central government to protect and improve environmental quality, control and reduce pollution from all sources, and prohibit or restrict the setting and /or operation of any industrial facility on environmental grounds.
• But EIA 2020, to allow projects violating the law is against the ‘polluter pays principle’. Instead, it is propagating a pollute and pay principle that you come, damage and then get away by paying fine.
• It was quashed by the National Green Tribunal. The ministry has failed to have a clear stand on for post-facto approvals issue. and also violation of the Environment Protection Act 1986.
A key issue raised by the PIL:
• A key issue raised by the PIL is the lack of credibility of the EIA process, leading to reports that are often produced with the help of dubious expertise and manipulated data.
• The Supreme Court of India has disapproved the concept of post facto environmental clearances to industrial projects that initiate without a clearance.
• The environment ministry’s latest Environment Impact Assessment draft proposes a permanent mechanism for industries violating the 2006 norms by creating an opportunity for post-facto approvals.
• In most cases, the proponents also ignore the views of communities that would be displaced, and are ill-equipped to assess the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services such as clean air, water and farm productivity.
• The Centre and States must acknowledge the conflict arising from pressure on scarce land and ecosystems from polluting projects, which has already created clusters of industrial locations that, are doing badly on the CPCB’s Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index.
• The Centre is the haggardly pace at which multiple department’s process project proposals, raising transaction costs and resulting in the clamour to dispense with regulation.
Environmental Approvals in India:
• Data for March 2018 showed that 23 percent of projects in India, across all sectors, were stalled, due to the failure to obtain environmental approvals.
• Since 2015, the NDA government has given away 409 sq km forest area–twice the size of Kolkata city–to construct projects of all kinds from schools to irrigation and mining, according to the e-greenwatch dataset maintained by the MoEFCC and the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
• Three states–Maharashtra (380), Gujarat (316) and Uttar Pradesh (153)–received highest number of project (849) of the 2,053 ECs between July 2014 and March 2020, MoEFCC analysis revealed.
• There is no consensus on what a new regulator can achieve, since official policy privileges ease of doing business. For a national regulator to work, the government must recognise the limits to extractive growth respect a neutral body and preserve the integrity of the environment.
• EIA process, especially after the notification in 2020, has been heavily critiqued for conflicts of interest – the proponent of a project is responsible for producing the EIA report while clearances under forest, wildlife, air and water quality laws are heavily weighted in favour of promoters.
• The remedies lie in administrative reform. It is eminently feasible, for instance, to produce a whitelist of lands for industry, reclaiming polluted areas. What India cannot afford to do is further degrade its forests, rivers, wetlands and air, whose health is vital for its large population.