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COVID – 19 and draft EIA Act

COVID – 19 and draft EIA Act

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

In news:

  • India is witnessing such severe directand indirect devastation on account of the COVID-19 pandemic . 
  • However, there is little attention on the roots of our vulnerability.
  • The challenge is hardly limited to fighting the virus with lockdowns and masks in the short term, and vaccination in the long term.
  • Our vulnerabilities lie  in the,
  • Absence of equitable access to food
  • Healthcare and housing
  • Finally the heart of global development models that sacrifice environmental resilience for limitless economic growth and wealth accumulation.

The 21st century has seen multiple lethal epidemics.

Two were serious enough for the World Health Organization to designate as pandemics.

Reasons:

  • The accelerating destructionof wild habitats, forests and diversified food systems for urbanisation, mining, and industry means pathogens which were once largely confined to animals and plants in the wild are now better positioned to infect humans.
  • The expansion of monoculture croppingand livestock farming systems.
  • This coupled with dense human settlementsdependent on narrow diets of global commodity crops and meat.

Impacts:

  • All these are eliminating the biodiversityand distance barriers that lent resilience to the human species and domesticated plants and animals.
  • A virulent pathogen can then trigger an epidemicthat much more easily.
  • As long as we do not address this march to unsustainability, we will remain vulnerable to pandemic outbreaks.

Environmental Impact Assessment:

During the lockdown, ‘expert’ bodies of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) have considered, and in many cases cleared, multiple industrial, mining and infrastructure proposals in critical wildlife habitats, and life and livelihood-sustaining forests.

These include,

  • The Etalin Hydropower Project in the biodiversity-rich Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh
  • A coal mine in Assam’s Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve
  • Diamond mining in the Panna forested belt
  • A coal mine to be operated by Adani Enterprises with a coal-fired power plant in Odisha’s Talabira forests
  • A limestone mine in the Gir National Park; and a geo-technical investigation in the Sharavathi Lion-Tailed Macaque Sanctuary in Karnataka.

“As the environment site Mongabay reported in May, authorities considered these projects via video-conferencing in contravention of environmental laws, and without all necessary documents or site inspections, in many cases spending just 10 minutes on a proposal.”

Draft Environment Impact Assessment:

What is the draft:

  • As per the draft, starting a project before obtaining environmental approvals will no longer be a violation. It can be regularised post-facto.
  • The draft even allows for a class of projectsto secure clearance without putting out any information in the public domain.
  • The notification proposes to exempt a wider range of projects from hearings, including those which authorities can arbitrarily designate as ‘strategic’.

Analysis of the draft:

  • No meaningful public consultationcan take place amidst a pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
  • However, the MoEFCC pressed ahead with a June 30 deadline for feedback on its draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification.
  • It took a Delhi High Court ruling to extend the deadline to August 11.
  • Several groups have pointed out that the draft will undermine environmental protection.
  • The draft notification says virtually nothing on improving monitoring, and compliance with clearance conditions and safeguards.

Road ahead:

  • The sum effect of all the above moves will be further environmental degradation.
  • India already has an abysmal record of environmental destruction and development-induced displacement.
  • They will further endanger habitats and lives, and intensify our vulnerability to infectious diseases and related socio-economic shocks.
  • While the government is clearing projects to bring economic development and jobs,safeguarding the environment and front-line communities should also be the government’s agenda.
  • Public hearings are riddled with problems and their content routinely ignored while awarding clearances, but they remain the only opportunityof voice for project-affected peoples and environmental and social experts.
  • It is to be noted that the lockdown period itself has seen a horrific gas leak in Visakhapatnam, and a blowout of an oil well in Baghjan.
  • In both instances, incalculable damage was caused to human and non-human lives by violating environmental laws.

Hence there is a strong need to strengthen the EIA process.

Source:” The Hindu“.

POSSIBLE UPSC CSE MAINS QUESTION:

The COVID – 19 pandemic should be a lesson to keep a check on the goal of blatant economic production while ignoring the environment. Comment. Why should the Environmental Impact Assessment be strengthened in the nation?