ITANAGAR: The All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU) has written a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC), citing its strong objections to the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA 2020).
The apex students' body of the State further said that it found many provisions of the draft to be pro-industry and averse to the affected people's participation, consultation and public unaccountability with respect to the projects.
"There are numerous loopholes in the proposed EIA-2020 which demand immediate attention and course correction from the Ministry. The Draft EIA proposes to give 'Prior Environment Clearance' and 'Prior Environment Permission' to the project proponents for carrying out the projects listed in the schedule in respect of different categories," the apex students' body said in the letter.
"Such projects are not required to be placed before the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). Incidentally, the EAC is a committee of experts constituted at the Central level for appraisal of projects referred to it and for making appropriate recommendations," it said.
"Why can't public consultations also be made for such prior clearances to the project proponents? The idea of granting such prior clearances to the project proponents without adequate checks and study defeats the very purpose of the EIA and the Environment Protection Act, 1986," the AAPSU said.
The Union also said that the State-level EIA Authority according to Section 7(i) of the draft should have at least seven instead of three members including a Chairman and a Member-Secretary who need to be "mandatorily well-versed in environmental laws".
The AAPSU welcomed the exemption, from public consultation, all projects concerning national defence and security as outlined by Section 14(2)(e) of the draft. But it also said that the line "projects involving other strategic considerations" to be determined by the Centre was confounding, ambiguous, "shrouded in mystery" and likely to be misused.
The Union also sniffed "disaster" for a frontier State like Arunachal Pradesh vis-a-vis "linear projects" under item 31 exempted from public consultation in border areas. The Draft EIA-2020 defines border areas as falling within 100 km aerial distance from countries bordering India.
"Aerial distance of 100 km from the border will cover almost all of Arunachal Pradesh, which is a highly eco-sensitive zone. While we don't have serious problems with linear projects under item 38 (highways, expressways, multi-modal corridors or ring roads), we are of the strong opinion that linear projects under item 31 will be an ecological disaster," the AAPSU said.
Projects under item 31 are oil and gas pipelines (crude, refined or petrochemical products) and slurry pipelines (coal, lignite and other ores) passing through national parks or sanctuaries or coral reefs or ecologically sensitive areas.
"Even for linear projects under item 38, there should be scope for public accountability and consultations," the Union said.
The APPSU also faulted Section 16 (1) of the draft for doing away with public consultation in both public and private projects applying for modernisation up to 50% in production capacity.
Referring to Section 22, the Union said: "The draft fails to provide scope for cognisance of violation by public application and intimation. The provision is notorious and smacks of criminal intent as it will definitely give upper hand to the project proponents rendering them unaccountable even if they are found committing gross violations."
The AAPSU further stated that in Appendix I, entailing procedure of public consultation, notice period of only 20 days has been provided to the public for furnishing their responses.
"We feel that the given time period will not be sufficient to examine the impact (both negative and positive) by the people. Adequate time should be given for the affected people to put forth their claims, objections and suggestions, if any," the AAPSU added.
The Union stated that if the Draft EIA 2020 is approved in its current form, it would be disastrous not only for Arunachal Pradesh but also for the entire North East as a whole.
"Our region for long has been the carbon sink of India. In addition to creating massive ecological imbalance and destruction, it shall also prove futile for the existence of numerous indigenous communities in the region," the AAPSU added.
The Draft EIA proposes to grant post-facto approvals which will definitely be favourable for projects which have previously been started illegally. Instead of strengthening, there seems to be serious attempts to dilute the various safeguards provided under the existing EIA and other norms.
"The EIA should emphasize on public consultations and accountability while stressing upon sustainable development at the same time. However, the Draft EIA 2020 fails on all these fronts and curtails tribal rights," the AAPSU said.
"We are of the view that the committee headed by the MoEFCC responsible for preparation of the Draft EIA 2020 should physically visit and meet all the stakeholders across the North East who will be affected in case this draft becomes a reality," the union said. The Union welcomes development and any initiative in this regard by the Centre but at the same time, it feels that such development should be sustainable, followed by proper accountability and also the concerns of the indigenous stakeholders should be seriously looked into and addressed.
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