A recent report by Amnesty International highlights that how the government in the regions of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha has failed to protect people and their rights in the process of development. The big corporates and large mining players are overriding the rights of the local communities by taking advantage of loopholes, both in law as well as the governance.
Over past two years, there have been lots of questions on the manner in which the NDA government has been managing the environmental governance process with respect to development projects. The leading environmentalists and action groups have alleged the government of taking a pro-capitalist approach (Governance Now). On the other hand, the government has justified its approach to be valid on the grounds of public interest and sustainable development. The government is with the view that development cannot be compromised because of the environment. They both have to go hand-in-hand.
Structure of Environmental Governance in India:-
EIA Notification of 2006 is considered to be the main document which deals with the environment clearances and other related issues like scrutinizing of projects by district and state level authorities. The notification was prepared under section 3(1) of the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. The section has to be read with sub-rule (3) of rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules 1986. The notification has divided the projects into two categories i.e. Category A and Category B. These categories have been designed on the basis of the impact of the project on human health, environment and disasters.
Category A projects have to be cleared by the central government whereas, category B projects are to be cleared by the state agencies. The state governments undertake the process of environment impact assessment through State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). However, the notification talks about the general conditions too. If the project is falling under Category B but, it is being hit by the general conditions laid down under the notification than the project of Category B will be treated as a project under Category A only. The projects falling under the provision of specific conditions (five categories) will have to apply for separate EC that means, they have to undergo the whole process of EIA.
At the central level, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) acts through several agencies for administering the process of environment impact assessment. EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) is one such nodal agency at central level for conducting the process of environment impact assessment. It functions as a recommendatory body to the central government. EAC scrutinizes and studies the projects falling under category A and submits its report to central government. The power to grant the clearance lies with the government and not with the EAC. EAC functions independently of the MoEF&CC. Although, one member of MoEF&CC acts as a member secretary in the EAC. Central pollution controls board (CPCB) also plays a vital role during the process of EIA. CPCB does not have a direct role but it indulges into carrying out of various important services like identification of polluted areas, industrial areas/clusters, clearances as per the water and air act. It has the power to issue a ‘moratorium’ against the EC’s granted in the identified areas. Cabinet Committee on Investment, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs are some of the other bodies which do participate during the process of EIA.
At the state level, State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) undertakes the responsibility of evaluating the projects. All the category B projects are dealt by SEAC only. State pollution control board (as per section 4 of Water (Prevention and Control) Act, 1974) is primarily responsible for the public consultation component for both the categories of the projects i.e. category A and category B. There are four stages that are involved in the EIA viz. screening, scoping, public consultation and appraisal.
Jeopardizing the process of EIA:-
Public hearing is one of the important elements of the EIA process but the NDA government has compromised this major element to a large extent. In December 2012, the government exempted the coal mines which are seeking one-time capacity expansion of up to 25% with a ceiling of up to two million tonnes per annum (MTPA) additional production. Similarly, there have been many official notifications by MoEF&CC which exempted the projects from the procedure of public hearing.
Official notifications with provision of exemption:-
- December 19, 2012, Coal mines seeking one-time capacity expansion of up to 25 percent—with a ceiling of two million tonnes per annum (MTPA) additional production
- January 7, 2014, Coal mines with up to 8 MTPA production capacity, seeking one-time capacity expansion up to 50 per cent (or incremental production of 1 MTPA, whichever is more)
- May 30, 2014, Coal mines with production capacity of over 8 MTPA and up to 16 MTPA, seeking one-time capacity expansion with production enhancement up to 4 MTPA
- July 28, 2014, Coal mines with production capacity more than 16 MTPA, seeking one-time capacity expansion with production enhancement up to 5 MTPA
- September 2, 2014, Coal mines with production capacity more than 20 MTPA, seeking one-time capacity expansion with production enhancement up to 6 MTPA
These notifications depict that government diluted the consultation process in the coal mining sector by providing exemptions. More significantly, MoEF&CC pushed for relaxation of the approval of tribal communities under FRA in case of projects on tribal forest lands. Famous example of this is Gautam Adani-led project in Chhattisgarh, which was pushed by the environment ministry under Javadekar, despite the vociferous opposition from the affected tribals.
The Report has highlighted that the companies in the areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are taking the support of a colonial-era law i.e. Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 which empowers the government to acquire land just by publishing a statement of intent. Secondly, if any community or individual who stands in objection to these development projects, can file an application in the designated authority under the coal ministry within 30 days and ultimately the government will decide the matter.
“The government plans to nearly double coal production by 2020, and Coal India wants to produce a billion tons of coal every year. Yet both the company and central and state governments don’t seem to care to speak or listen to vulnerable Adivasi communities whose lands are acquired and forests destroyed for coal mining,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
(Source: Amnesty International Report on Coal Mining and violation of Adivasi Rights)
EIA notification clearly states that the notice regarding the public hearing has to be publicized widely. Even the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 mandates the companies to hold consultations with the communities who will be getting affected by the projects. A Parliamentary Committee in 2007, however, pointed a very major and reasonable problem with notifications getting published in the official gazettes, most of the rural or tribal areas do have an access to these sources of information and secondly, they are not much literate to understand the contents of the same. As a result, they are not aware of the risks involved in the project and the resettlement and rehabilitation schemes. However, later on, it was made a rule that where there is no proper access to the information due to several reasons there the methods like drum beating and radio/television advertisements related to the public hearing must be conducted.
“There is no answerability when this deliberate disrespect for the law is manifest.” – High-Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India
According to the report, different companies like Coal India Subsidiaries, South Eastern Coalfields Limited, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited etc. are running several open cast mines which are in clear violation of human rights. The report highlights in-depth several such incidents where the projects were expanded ignoring people’s interest and rights. The report also stated that since EIA studies are done by private consultants and researchers, they are mostly bribed. One of the former environment ministers who spoke to the organization said that the environment impact assessment procedure in the country is “a bit of a joke”.
‘The Narmada Bachao Andolan has had a lasting influence on the way rehabilitation has been viewed,’ says researcher Himanshu Thakkar (SANDRP)
Not only this several hydropower projects, river linking projects, building and construction projects got cleared by the government amidst huge cry and protests by the people. For example, the linking of Godavari-Krishna river basins could be illegal, unnecessary and misconceived- as reported by the South Asian Network on Dam, Rivers, and People (SANDRP). Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is already an on-going people’s struggle against controversial water project initiated by the government.
“The bulldozer entered our village at 10 am. At the time, many of us had left for our fields and our daily work. Hearing that demolitions had begun, we ran home as fast as we could. By the time I reached, my house had been broken down. They didn’t even give us time to remove our belongings from our home- everything was destroyed, including a year’s worth of grain. It rained for a week after. In the next two days, we scraped together whatever we could. Our clothes were torn, belongings scattered- we built whatever shelter we could from what remained. Where do we go? How do we survive? Who will listen to us now?
I understand that some people must make sacrifices for the nation, but why must it always be us?”
Nirupabai, forcibly evicted in February 2014 from Barkuta village, Chhattisgarh
(Source: Amnesty International Report on Coal Mining and Adivasi Rights.)
In 2015, a Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) rejected a high level committee (HLC) report which was constituted to review the existing laws on different areas like water, air, forest, wildlife etc. (Down To Earth). The committee was also responsible for suggesting some of the remedial measures for strengthening the environmental governance system in India. But, since the PSC rejected the report, it is evident that the government is not ready to accept and pursue changes that are focused on firming the environmental governance system in India.
The EIA procedure should be reviewed thoroughly and the component of public hearing shall be restored immediately. The participation of local communities and acknowledging their rights should be priority of the government. Un-biased and corrupt free EIA studies of the project should be undertaken by the government. Government should focus more on following and strengthening the EIA procedure instead of rallying support from corporate lobby for political funding and other agendas of political parties.
Author: Rishabh Shrivastava, Founder and Editor-in-Chief (Analysis)
Author is currently interning with Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi. He is studying and researching on laws related to different energy projects like Hydropower plants, coal mines and thermal power units.
You may reach author at: firstname.lastname@example.org