Guwahati: Listing their concerns with the draft notification of the ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ 2020, 500 academics, scientists, and researchers from India, across various educational institutes, have written an open letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change.
The controversial notification has received severe criticism and protests from students, citizens, activists, environmentalists across the country, for allegedly fundamentally dismantling environmental safeguards to promote ease of doing business.
The draft also sparked a face-off between Prakash Javadekar- environment minister and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as well. According to Gandhi, “Not only does it have the potential to reverse many of the hard-fought gains that have been won over the years in the battle to protect our environment, but it could also potentially unleash widespread environmental destruction and mayhem across India.”
Additionally, when Fridays For Future India’s online EIA activism was able to generate high engagement (over 1000 emails sent to the environment ministry) FFF India’s website was blocked in July. On top of that on July 12, the group received a notice stating that they had been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This, however, was removed eventually citing a “clerical error” by the Delhi Police.
Together, the signatories came from over 130 research institutes and universities, including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to name a few.
“As citizens of this country, many of us have sent our feedback and comments on the document by the specified deadline, 11th August 2020. However, limited circulation and publicity of the Draft Notification compounded by a lack of its availability in most Indian languages hindered true and inclusive public participation,” the letter said adding that many traditional communities of rural India- often most affected by unappraised developmental projects, also lack the technology and access to take part in such an exercise.
According to them the Draft Notification, in its current form, is likely to seriously threaten the country’s ecological and environmental security. The letter notes the legitimisation of ex post facto environmental clearances as a significant dilution of the EIA process. It also expresses concern on the reclassification of many highly polluting industries and projects to exempt them from proper environmental appraisals altogether. It calls for improved and more inclusive public consultation processes in environmental decision-making and effective post-clearance monitoring mechanisms.
Dr. Kartik Shanker, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who is one of the signatories of this letter points out, “While a lot of noise is made about iconic species like tigers, turtles, and elephants, and there is outrage even about individual animals, the truth is that poorly planned large scale development projects have the greatest negative impacts for biodiversity, ecosystems, and people. This notification leaves the door open to projects that may severely impact the environment and yet have little real benefit for people in need.”
The signatories strongly urge the MoEF&CC to withdraw this draft and, instead, strengthen the existing EIA 2006 Notification with a new proposal. Ayaz Ahmed, a Ph.D. scholar from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay says that the EIA process is supposed to regulate polluting industries and other developmental projects and mitigate the impact on the environment, but instead, this draft proposes to ease the environmental safeguards. “We need stronger environmental regulations,” he added.
This cross-institutional collaboration, initiated by Ph.D. students from different institutes, was supported by 105 faculties, former faculties, and senior scientists along with over 400 Ph.D. scholars, Postdoc fellows, independent researchers, and other research students, who have all signed the letter in their capacities.