“Zero draft of the environment impact assessment notification 2019,” may become a new ground for face off for the new government with environmentalists and activists as it takes “ease of doing business” to its extreme. The timing of the draft which was released on April 15 when the whole country was in the midst of General Election raises doubt about the intention behind the new regulations. Also, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has sought comments from the state governments within a month’s time and strangely, a copy of the draft was not put on the Ministry’s website for general public’s knowledge.
While the Ministry is of the view that new notifications had become necessary in view of the substantial changes that have taken place over the years, environmentalists and activists believe that the move would dilute various green norms and virtually give builders and industrialists a free hand. For example, the draft notification 2019 gives authority to the district level environment impact assessment authority (DEIAA), headed by the district magistrate or district collector, to appraise district-level projects, grant or reject environmental clearance. In fact, the draft gives extensive powers to DEIAA almost equivalent to Expert Appraisal Committee and the state-level expert appraisal committee. Meanwhile, environmentalists feel that district authorities lacked expertise in assessing the environmental impact of various projects. If notified, this will replace the EIA notification of 2006 which is the regulation in place for environmental clearance of all infrastructure and development projects.
The draft also gives local bodies such as municipalities, urban development authorities and district panchayats the authority to grant building permission for building or construction projects with a built-up area of more than 20,000 sq metres and less than 50,000 sq metres. It may be recalled here that the environment ministry had introduced this clause through a draft notification in March 2018 but it was challenged on environmental grounds and later stayed by the Delhi high court.