The draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification does not relax the process of public hearing, but aims to make it more meaningful, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday told senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. Javadekar wrote a letter in response to the objections to the draft EIA raised on various occasions by Ramesh, a former environment minister and the current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and climate change.
Javadekar also said that Ramesh going public with his objections and letters was “premature” as public consultations on the draft EIA were underway. The draft EIA notification, which involves procedure of issuing environmental clearances to various projects, was issued by the ministry in March this year and public suggestions were invited.
The ministry had earlier said it would not extend the deadline for people to give suggestions and opinions beyond June 30, but later gave time till August 12. Ramesh, in his letter to the environment minister on July 25, has said that the draft EIA reduces public participation in all steps of the environment clearance process by lessening the notice period for public hearings and doing away with them for a large category of projects.
In his response on Thursday, Javadekar terms “wrong connotation” the point raised by Ramesh that the government intends to give ex-post facto approval to the cases involving violation. “The main purpose of this provision is to bring all violators under regulatory regime by imposing heavy penalty. You will also agree that we should not allow such companies in perpetual unregulated status. When I look back to the records, it was noticed that previously search for leaders were allowed to regularise on permanent basis via office memorandum issued in 2010.
“The government has engaged the public and has received hundreds and thousands of suggestions. So we are doing it not through memorandum but through new proposed notification with wider public consultation,” Javadekar said.
In a point-by-point rebuttal to Ramesh’s July 25 letter, the minister said every project expansion will require submission of an Environmental Management Plan and that the draft EIA is not meant for reducing the process of public hearing, but making it more meaningful.
On Ramesh’s objection that the draft EIA reduces time period for public hearing, Javadekar said the government was making the process more meaningful.
“Today we have 30 days period given for conducting public hearing but actual public hearing takes place one day only in the presence of district authorities. Thus we are not reducing the process of public hearing but making it more meaningful and B2 category projects are exempted from public hearing since 2006. We have not change that. We have many suggestions on addition of more industries in this category which we have take a note of,” he said in his letter.
Projects in ‘B1’ category require an Environmental Impact Assessment report. Responding to Ramesh’s third objection about doing away with EIA in many cases of expansion, Javadekar said it was “not true”.
“Every expansion will require submission of environmental management plan, and if expansion is more than 25 per cent in terms of production capacity, then EIA also is needed.
“Expansion projects above 10 per cent increase in production capacity will require recommendation of environment appraisal committee (EAC) and we are allowing expansion without public hearing only in cases where the proposed expansion does not lead to increase in pollution load and with adequate environmental safeguards,” he said.
About the validity of environmental clearance for 10 years, Javadekar clarified that even in the present EIA notification of 2006 regime the EC is valid for seven years which can be further extended by three years requiring a project proponent to visit office again and again seeking extension.
He said the draft EIA proposes to give permission for 10 years at one go so that an entrepreneur need not come to government offices repeatedly.
On Ramesh’s objection that central government will have full power to appoint the state environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA), Javadekar said it is to ensure approvals by respective SEIAA if the state governments fail to appoint one in reasonable time.
“…Today there are seven states/UTs which have not recommended any names for constituting SEIAA. The seven states are Delhi, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, Nagaland and Goa…. So all the cases of the seven states/UT come to central government for appraisal…. Therefore, to ensure that proposal should be approved by respective SEIAA, we have proposed to appoint the SEIAA if state government fails to do so within a reasonable time,” Javadekar said.
Sharing a copy of this letter on Twitter, Javadekar also criticised Ramesh for publicising his second letter. “I was a little surprised to see this correspondence in the media as draft EIA notification has not been finalised yet as the public consultation is still underway and the process of finalisation may take more time. Therefore, publicity of your letter was premature,” Javadekar said. Ramesh had earlier in the day tweeted a copy of his second letter saying although I await your detailed reply, I must thank you for acknowledging and accepting the role of standing committees and Parliament