World Environment Day: New bill supports construction projects in environmentally sensitive areas
From ports to hydroelectric projects, in places from Tamil Nadu to Uttarakhand, the new environmental law being drafted has come under heavy criticism from activists.
Illayaraja, in her forties, is a fisherman in the town of Pulicat in Tamil Nadu. Three generations of his family made a living from fishing for a living. But Illayaraja hopes for a different life for her two children. “I hope they find better jobs elsewhere and leave this seaside town,” he says. The fishing village has hardly any families left, most of them having migrated to the towns in search of better livelihoods.
“Fishing is becoming untenable here. Today we are surrounded by factories and power plants, ”says Illayaraja, who had joined the protest against the port of Adani-L & T Kattupalli proposed here. The controversial project is expected to erode the northern part of the coast at an alarming rate of 16 meters per year and impact birds and marine diversity. The construction site is just 2.1 km from Pulicat Wildlife Sanctuary, although the law prohibits ports within 10 km of a sanctuary. “We already have high tides due to the development in the area and we are limited by the big boats and ships,” says Illayaraja.
The irony is that the Union government has listed Pulicat as one of Tamil Nadu’s 14 “priority wetlands” and an “important coastal and marine biodiversity area”.
As you read this, a team from J. Sagar Associates in Bengaluru is working on drafting a unique new environmental management law, which is ready to support this project and several others such as hydropower projects. in Uttarakhand and the Ujh multi-purpose project in Jammu. , all of which have the potential to destroy the environmentally sensitive areas in which they are located.
Amit Kapur, co-manager, J. Sagar Associates, is under a “strict confidentiality obligation” and unable to share details, but what we know so far is that this new framework law is intended to replace three existing laws – Air Act 1981, Water Act 1974 and Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
The roots of this new law can be traced back to the 2014 Sub-Araman Committee which was appointed by the Union’s Ministry of Environment to review environmental laws.
As for the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of Lake Pulicat, the State Forest Department has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) for a 0 km ESZ in 2019. The Expert committee on ESZ rejected The proposal. “If the new arrangements are notified, the Pulicat Lake area will be affected. The new provisions dilute environmental protection and open up areas for development and ease of doing business, ”says Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Center.
An article posted on Facebook on March 15 on the Chennai Climate Action Group page shows how, for the second time in a month, the fishermen of Kattupalli Kuppam demanded fulfillment of the promise of permanent jobs in the ports of Adani- L&T. “Angered by the government’s refusal to uphold the commitment, even as the threat of losing their fishing livelihood [because] of Adani’s request for a no-fishing zone around the port of Kattupalli, some of the fishermen are blocking the entrance to L&T and Adani Kattupalli ports, even though several boats have left to block the seaside entrance to the port », We read.
The MoEFCC’s evaluation of the Kattupalli Port Project to Grant Terms of Reference for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Government of Tamil Nadu’s decision to reduce the SEZ are both progressing on independent tracks, a. said Kumar. “It is suspected that the reduction of the ESZ will directly benefit the process of setting up the port of Kattupalli. ”
Hard not to question
The company has submitted the draft EIA report for a public hearing that has yet to take place due to COVID-19, and the new date has yet to be announced.
It’s hard not to question the timing of another environmental law amid a crippling pandemic. “The problem is when COVID-19 becomes a pretext to end the public consultation and discussion that is an essential part of parliamentary democracy. It’s ironic when the government considers public consultation not an act of public interest, ”said environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta.
While the government has not directly said that the sub-Rama committee’s report will be implemented, in reality it has implemented many of its more problematic recommendations, Dutta says. The simplified procedure for felling trees under the Forest Conservation Act 1980; exemption from EIA for construction and construction projects; exemptions for the expansion of coal mines; and the lack of a public hearing are all part of the Sub-Roman Committee report. “Environmental laws are now enacted without the environment or the public in mind, but with the best interests of those who want to exploit the environment in mind. Emission standards for power plants, for example, were developed with the interests of emitters in mind, not those who breathe polluted air, ”says Dutta.
Need to engage
India’s EIA process appears to ensure that a project gets approval as quickly as possible without baseline studies. In the case of Mopa Airport in Goa, after four years of litigation before the Green National Court and the Supreme Court, the latter tasked the MoEFCC Expert Assessment Committee to review the project. Dutta says the review was done in a single meeting one day and the committee re-approved the project.
Drafting environmental laws has rarely been a transparent and participatory process, says Shibani Ghosh, an environmental lawyer and member of the Center for Policy Research, adding that this is true for the legislative process in India in general. “Calls for reform of environmental regulations in general and specific regulatory instruments (such as EIA notification) have been raised so many times over the years. Several studies and reports have been published by governmental and non-governmental actors. The courts have also commented and made recommendations, ”she said.
“It is important that the government engages with all stakeholders in a meaningful way from the moment the proposal is on the drawing board. Adjusting some provisions in response to public comments (if a public consultation is undertaken, that is) is not enough. ”