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Will draft EIA be a trump card to resurrect Congress in Assam?

Opposition to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is escalating in Assam along with rest parts of the country. Congress in Assam taking an opportunity ahead of the Assembly Election to be held in 2021 has come out sharply against the government’s draft EIA.

Assam Congress termed the draft EIA 2020 as a “recipe for disaster”. “EIA 2020 exempts public consultation for construction & area development projects, inland waterways, national highways among others. The draft is anti-people. Thousands of communities will be displaced. Local people will lose their livelihoods,” the Assam Congress said.

During a telephonic conversation with Inside Northeast, Leader of the Opposition, Assam Legislative Assembly, Debabrata Saikia said, “The draft EIA will leave equal impact on the people of the country as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the demonetisation left in the country. The BJP government is doing everything against the opportunities and benefits provided by the previous governments of the country.”

Also read: Assam: Draft EIA is a blueprint to destroy state’s biodiversity, says Ripun Bora

Saikia further accused the government of working in favour of the capitalist section of the country. “This government is only working in favour of the capitalist section of the country. They are not working for the poor section of the country. They are doing all these things to loot the properties,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, while demanding withdrawal of the draft to stop environmental destruction, said in a tweet, “The objective of the EIA draft is to loot of the nation. This is another terrible example of what the BJP government has been doing for the ‘friends’ of the suit-boot who have robbed the resources of the country.”

On contrary to this, the Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar said, “This is only a draft, not the final notification. The draft will be finalized after taking into considerations all suggestions and comments received.”

Will draft EIA be a trump card for Assam Cong?

Apart from the Congress, several organisations, environmentalists and also civilians raised vehement protest to the draft pointing out that it poses threat to the fragile ecology of the state as well as the rest part of the country.

But, the vehement opposition to the draft EIA by the Congress has raised another question whether it would be a trump card to resurrect the party ahead of the Assembly Election to be held in 2021. The Citizenship Amendment Act is somehow no more a poll issue.

Also read: Assam: Draft EIA mocks Baghjan blast tragedy by exempting Oil and gas exploration

What the new notification modifies?

The existing notification requires the scoping of projects as B1 & B2 category on a case by case basis but as per the new draft EIA, they have predefined A, B1 and B2 categories so as to determine the jurisdiction of central and state govt agencies. In addition, a new Technical Expert Committee has been established which will be bestowed with the responsibility of categorization and even re-categorization of A, B1 & B2 projects on a regular basis but in consonance with scientific principles.

Around 40 forms of projects have been enlisted in the draft EIA, which are exempted from prior environmental clearance. In fact, some of the extraction projects are covered under this list (sand mining for example). As regards public consultation, the prior notice of public hearing has been reduced to 20 days, which gives very less time for any objections from the stakeholders. Certain toxic industries (red as well as orange) can run their operations in close proximity of between 0-5 km from any Protected Areas (National Park/Sanctuary).

The validity of EC for river valley projects has been escalated to 15 years from existing 10 years, mining projects has been increased to 50 years from the existing time period of 30 years. This will favour entities like COAL India and other Hydel power projects proponents

In the existing EIA norms, industries are required to submit two compliance reports/year but the draft EIA proposes to submit only one such report in a year.

Even the decentralized frame of EIA has been diluted upto certain extent because it does away with the prerequisite of expert committees to be set up in consultation with state governments and the central govt will determine the composition of the state level regulatory bodies dealing with EIA.

In addition, in 2015, one committee was formed by the Central govt under the chairmanship of T S R Subramaniam. Selected environmental laws were under the review of the said committee. environmentalists pointed out several criticisms as regards this committee, including alleging the said endeavour as an attempt to ease single-window environmental clearance by diluting stringent pre-existing standards. COVID-19 jolted the economy and I feel the government will aim to enhance the pace of industrialization for fixing the setbacks due to the pandemic but how sustainable will these development efforts be, that is going to be a matter of great challenge as well as concern.

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