India Mining RoundupPublished by MAC on 2005-11-10
India Mining Roundup
A draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification was issued by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on September 15th, 2005.
This seeks to change the requirements and stipulations regarding Environmental Clearance procedures for industrial or developmental projects. The text of the draft is available at http://envfor.nic.in. The EIA Notification threatens to fast-track the setting up of environmentally damaging projects by limiting public participation and increasing the discretionary powers vested with the Ministry and State Pollution Control Boards.
The EIA Notification has been drafted in close consultation with industrial lobbies and trade associations and repeated complaints by citizens' groups have been set aside on the pretext that it impedes industrial development.
Between the new and disastrous National Environment Policy currently with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the draft EIA Notification, the Ministry of Environment has finally thrown all of India's natural resources open to plunder by industries and the construction lobby.
A petition to the Minister of Environment and Forests with some of the key concerns with regard to this notification is pasted below
To: Mr. A. Raja
Minister of Environment & Forests
Rm No. 423,Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodi Road, New Delhi 110 003, India
10 November, 2005
Sir: We, the undersigned, are deeply disturbed by the undemocratic and secretive manner in which the MoEF has conducted itself, and are writing to call for an immediate freeze on the issuance of the DraftEIA Notification, 2005. We trust that you would have already received the representations sent by many people, some of us included, to protest against the content and mode of preparation of the NationalEnvironment Policy.Your Ministry's repeated proclamations about transparency, public participation and decentralisation notwithstanding, the Draft EIA Notification reflects only the aspirations of industrial lobbies, and not that of communities, local Government bodies and public interest organisations.The Draft leaves the public with few tools or fora to influence industrial or development proposals impacting them. The draft notification proposes to weaken provisions guaranteeing access to information and public participation, relax clearance requirements on industries and activities with serious potential for environmental damage, and increases discretionary powers to the Ministry and State Pollution Control Boards without concomitant increase in their accountability.
Coming as it does in light of a demonstrable, and perhaps willful,failure by the Ministry of Environment to grant clearances in keeping ith the letter and spirit of the EIA Notification, the proposed draft Notification is nothing short of malafide, and requires to be set aside. The draft Notification also exposes the extent of influence wielded by industrial lobbies and trade associations vis-à-vis citizens, citizens groups, NGOs and local Government bodies.Industry's concerns are taken on board proactively, whereas the people's concerns are seen as impediments to investment and development.We, the undersigned, demand:
a) An immediate freeze on the issuance of the EIA Notification, 2005b)
An independent review of the performance of the EIA Notification,1994, with a view to assessing the strengths, weaknesses, loopholes,institutional failures and reasons thereof associated with the implementation of the Notification.
c) Initiation of a fresh round of consultations with citizens,citizens groups including NGOs and community organizations, local Government bodies and State Governments, to re-engineer the EIA Notification taking into account the independent review and comments below, and with a view to enhancing informed public participation in environmental decision-making.
Broadly, our objections to the proposed Notification can be summed up as follows:
1. Complicated, Poorly Drafted: Drafted in a hurry, the proposed EIA notification does not even have paragraph numbers to allow for easy critiquing. The language is convoluted and the recommended procedures complicate the clearance process rather than simplify it.
2. Pro-Industry; Anti-Environment: The reengineering process and the subsequent draft notification are guided almost entirely by recommendations of the Govindarajan Committee on Investment Reforms, constituted by the previous NDA government, and proposals made as part of the World Bank-funded Environmental Management Capacity Building Programme. The explicit and sole objective of the process and the draft EIA notificationis to expedite clearance mechanisms to assist investors. Environmental protection and public participation do not seem to be a priority at all.
3. Limits Public Consultation by a) Restricting access to Public Hearings.The draft notification prevents people who are not local residents from participating in public hearings, thereby eliminating the possibility of participation by public interest organisations, public interest scientists and engineers, professionals and advisors to communities in public hearings. The public hearing should be kept open to "persons" as defined in the EIA Notification, 1994.b) Allows for unjustifiable cancelling of public hearings:The proposed notification provides for the cancellation of public hearings in the event that local conditions are not conducive for hearing the views of the public in a free and fair manner. Oftentimes, such vitiated conditions are orchestrated by the project promoter and the State Government or district administration who wish to keep the public from attending the public hearings. This gives district administration and regulators unwarranted discretion in calling off public hearings, even while orchestrating the conditions to justify their cancellation. The State and District Administrations should be made to create the conditions required to hold the public hearing and solicit public comments.
4. Dilutes Due Process on Environmentally Damaging Activities: a) Caves in to builder lobby pressure: Despite widespread public outcry over the role of unregulated construction over the Mithi River in the Mumbai floods earlier this year, the new draft Notification further eases regulatory and siting requirements for buildings within cities. Only buildings larger than 100,000 square metres require Central clearance, and construction greater than 20,000 square metres require State clearance. Earlier, all buildings generating more than 50,000 litres/day of sewage or housing 1000 persons required EIA and clearance under the Notification. To put that in perspective, according to accepted norms, construction projects covering an area of 14,000 square metres would be capable of housing 1000 persons or generating more than 50,000 litres/day of sewage. We oppose this dilution because it would exempt more than 90 percent of all building projects from the purview of the Notification.b) Deregulates polluting industries such as sponge iron factories, exempting them from Central clearance. c) Exempts Industries within Industrial Estates. Individual units coming up inside dedicated industrial estates with prior environmental clearance will not be required to obtain individual environmental clearance. This exemption has been suggested on the unscientific pre-supposition that cumulative environmental impacts of an industrial estate can be estimated without any idea about the specific quantum and nature of raw materials, the processes employed and products manufactured by individual units within the estate.
5. Expert Committees Lack Experts: The Expert Appraisal Committees to be constituted at State and Central levels no longer have social scientists or ecosystem experts. The Committees are to be loaded with technocrats a breed whose worldview is often in contradiction with sustainability, and far removed from the realities faced by the country's poor. Expert Committees should include social scientists, ecosystem experts, public interest lawyers and social/environmental activists of renown.
6. No action on licensing of consultants.The world of EIA consultants is a seamy one characterised by fly-by-night operators and established names that do a slick job of saying what their client wants them to. There is no check on the quality, integrity and veracity of claims made in the EIAs, and no liability on the consultant. This issue was to be resolved by the MoEF and was noted as an agenda point for discussions. However, the proposed EIA notification contains no language to hold consultantsliable for their EIA reports. This lacuna has to be remedied.
7. Inadequate use of internet. The proposed notification continues to propagate an archaic system to access information wherein many information, such as project EIA, will be sent to interested persons upon request. In the interests of transparency and expeditious project evaluation, the Ministry and state/Union Territory regulators must put up important project related documents on the websites. Such documents must include: TOR for EIA, Complete EIA and summary, proceedings of Public Hearing, Results of Appraisal, Clearance Conditions etc. Regulators must be held accountable for failure to disclose.
1. Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
2. Rashida Bee and Champa Devi, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
3. Shahid Noor, Bhopal ki Awaaz
4. Irfan Bhai, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Samiti
5. R. Sridhar, Thanal
6. Manju Menon/Kanchi Kohli, Kalpvriksh
7. Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk (The Other Media)
8. Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring
- and others