Javadekar Overruled Subordinates, Cut Time for Public Views on EIA
Javadekar cut short time for public comments on the controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 (EIA).
Amid ongoing outrage over the controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 (EIA) notification from youth activists and environmentalists across the country, an RTI, accessed by The Quint, has revealed that Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar cut short time for public commentary on the EIA notification by overruling his own ministry's senior officials who had suggested to keep 10 August the last date.
The Minister curtailed feedback time period by at least 40 days and fixed 30 June as the last day.
The draft EIA notification, which activists and environmentalists say will make it easy for industries to get environment clearance, was first made public by the ministry on 23 March and the initial date of notice period closure was 22 May.
This essentially meant that people were given time till 22 May for sending in objections and suggestions to the draft notification. After many activists and senior Opposition leaders such as former environment minister Jairam Ramesh strongly criticised the government for keeping the deadline for a crucial environment notification during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are already overburdened, the government, on 7 May, had extended it to 30 June - a date given by Javadekar.
Environmental activist Vikrant Tongad, who filed the RTI, shared the documents with The Quint, which reveal that the ministry’s joint secretary and other senior officials had suggested Javadekar to consider many emails sent by the concerned people requesting the government to extend the 60 days’ deadline, in light of COVID-19.
Officials also asked the minister to approve the date of publication of draft in the Gazette, i.e. 11 April, to be the start of the sixty-day period, instead of 23 March when the ministry first shared the draft on its website.
Joint secretary in the Union Environment Ministry, Geeta Menon, in her file noting on 23 April, had told the minister that there was some merit in the request to reconsider the time limit, and that in the case of waste management rules, the ministry accommodated similar request from the public.
“Numerous representations (over 4,000) have been received by the undersigned also. Since the EIA notification and any change thereto is of great significance to the management of the environment in the country as a whole and to the matters of access and utilisation of natural resources, there is some merit in the request to reconsider the time limit of 60 days that has been provided at present in view of the coronavirus pandemic,” Menon said.
She added, “....Accordingly, it is suggested that we may extend the time frame to a total of 180 days from the time of issue i.e. 23 March 2020.”
180 days from 23 March would mean 23 September. However, in the next few days, more discussions took place between the officers including retired secretary of the ministry CK Mishra and additional secretary Ravi Agrawal.
On 4 May, in her concluding words, Menon noted, “In response to the Draft EIA notification put up for public consultation, a large number of responses requesting for the Notification to be withdrawn/kept on hold/ extend the time frame for submission of feedback, etc., have been received. Accordingly, as directed, a draft communicating extension of time for feedback by a further period of 60 days from the date of publication in the Gazette i.e 11th April 2020 till 10th August 2020 is placed alongside for approval.”
The same was approved by the other two officials as well.
A day later, on 5 May, at the end of file noting, Javadekar signed off, saying ‘30 June 2020’. He did not make any remark about why despite Menon’s final note suggesting 10 August last date, 30 June was decided by him.
This revelation comes at a time when many experts and students unions are urging the Environment Ministry to put on hold the draft of EIA.
According to a report by PTI, in a letter to Environment Minister, the students from JNU, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, and outfits such as All India Students Federation and 48 others sought the draft EIA be rewritten as per recommendations from environment experts once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Meanwhile, in a social media campaign, many organisations that work for the environment and conservation are registering protests against the new draft.
An early notice-period completion (on 30 June) will mean these suggestions might not be accepted.
Vikrant Tongad, who filed the RTI, while speaking to The Quint, said, "Many may ask why this overruling is a big deal but it really is, since, this draft needs sufficient time for review and public comments. This is not the first time a draft has been proposed by the government but before this, sufficient time was always given for review and response from experts."
Delhi HC Seeks Centre's Stand on Objections to Draft EIA 2020
Tongad has now approached the high court of Delhi seeking a response from the government on the final date for inviting objections to draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. In response to his petition, HC has issued notice to the Environment Ministry and sought its stand by 29 June on whether there was any ambiguity in the government's 8 May notification where it had extended notice period till only 30 June, PTI reported.
"If the sixty-day period commences on the date of the draft notification, i.e., 23 March 2020, the extended date of expiry will be 18 July 2020. If the date of notification in the Gazette (i.e. 11 April 2020) is taken as the start of the sixty-day period, the extended date of expiry will be 9 August 2020," Tongad's petition said.
He also highlighted how new environment rules will replace all the existing ones.
"This draft notification proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 30 days to 20 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects," he added.
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