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Daily Editorials

Draft Environment Impact Assessment Norms

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The publication of the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 in the Gazette was delayed by the COVID-19 emergency by 19 days.

Activists and the public sought an extension to the mandatory 60-day window for public feedback by another 60 days but the Environment Ministry set the new deadline on June 30 thereby limited the extension to only 20 days.

This editorial takes an analytical view of the changes proposed in the EIA norms.

2. BRIEF HISTORY

Far from an improvement, environmental activists have hailed the 2020 draft as a regressive departure from the previous EIA notification of 2006.

2.1 Background of the Act

  • India signed the Stockholm Declaration on Environment in 1972.
  • Being a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration, India enacted the following laws:
  1. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 - to control the pollution of water, and
  2. Air (Prevention and control of Pollution) act, 1981 tocontrol pollution of air.
  • However, it was only after the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984 that India enacted the Environment Protection Act, 1986 as an umbrella Act for environmental protection

2.2 Environment Protection Act, 1986

  • India notified its first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) norms in 1994.
  • The norms aimed to set up a legal framework for regulation of activities accessing, utilising, and polluting natural resources.
  • Henceforth, every development project was mandated to undertake the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance.
  • The 1994 EIA norms were replaced by a modified EIA draft in 2006.
  • In early 2020, the government redrafted the 2006 EIA norms to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders issued since 2006 with a stated aim to make the EIA process "more transparent and expedient.”

3. PROBLEMS WITH THE EIA

3.1 Woes of the Environmentalists

  • The EIA processes and norms are established with an aim to safeguard the environment but environmental activists argue that often the EIA norms fail to achieve its aims and on the contrary achieve the opposite effect by offering a façade of legal paperwork in lieu of various de facto concessions enjoyed by the industrial lobby.
  • Reports on the damaging potential of development projects (impact on the environment) which is the bedrock of the EIA process are made carelessly made and of low quality and the consultancy agencies who prepare these reports are rarely held accountable.
  • Although there is a long list of condition to be met before the clearance is provided, the lack of administrative capacity to ensure compliance renders these conditions meaningless.
  • The government comes out with periodic amendments to exempt one or another category of industry from scrutiny.

3.2 Woes of the Industrialists

  • The developers are of the view that the EIA regime is not in tune with the spirit of liberalisation and has dampened it.
  • EIA norms has led to red tape and rent seeking with increased bureaucratic interference.

4. THE 2020 EIA NORMS

4.1 Issues with the EIA norms

  • The 2020 EIA draft does not provide any remedy for political and bureaucratic interference in the EIA process and in effect on the industries as well.
  • On the contrary, the 2020 EIA draft has provisions to increase the government’s discretionary power while limiting public engagement in safeguarding the environment.
  • Projects related to national defence and security are naturally considered strategic, while for any other project, the government enjoys discretion in assigning the 'strategic' tag. The 2020 draft entails that no information on “such projects shall be placed in the public domain”.
  • This opens a window for summary clearance for any project deemed strategic without having to explain why.
  • In addition to that, the 2020 EIA draft exempts a long list of projects from public consultation. A case in point is of linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas, which will not require any public hearing.
  • The ‘border area’ is defined as “area falling within 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India.” This definition covers a majority of the area of the Northeast, which is the repository of the India's richest biodiversity.

4.2 What is exempt from EIA clearance?

  • All inland waterways projects and expansion or widening of national highways are exempted from prior clearance. These are the two major areas of focus by the government. These include roads that cut through forests and dredging of major rivers.
  • The 2020 draft also exempts most building construction projects of built-up area up to 1,50,000 sq. m.
  • This is a reiteration of the Environment Ministry’s December 2016 notification that was set aside by the National Green Tribunal in December 2017 (the government subsequently moved the Supreme Court but did not get any relief).

5. MAJOR CHANGES IN THE NOTIFICATION

  • Two most important changes in the new draft are:
    1. the provisions for post-facto project clearance and
    2. abandoning the public trust doctrine
  • Projects, which have violated the Environment Act, will now be able to apply for clearance, which is a reiteration of a March 2017 notification.
  • The violator will only need two plans for remediation and resource augmentation, which will correspond, to 1.5-2 times “the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation”.
  • The Supreme Court in an order had held that “Environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance. This would be contrary to both the precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development.”
  • The 2020 draft also has provisions on how the government will take cognisance of such violations.
  • Such violence have either to be reported by a government authority or the developers themselves.
  • In effect, there is no scope for any public complaint about violations, instead the norms rely on the violator to disclose themselves that they have broken the law.

6. CONCLUSION

The 2020 EIA notification has been constructed keeping in mind the aim of facilitating the government’s doctrine of “ease of doing business” but the question, if the draft is aligned to the purpose of Environment Act remains unanswered.

There are some legal impediments on the draft as well, but the story of its legal validity remains to be seen.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment.

EIA is a decision making tool. It compares various alternatives for a project and tries to identify the one with the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.

Stages in the EIA

The stages of an EIA process will depend upon the requirements of the country. However, generally the environment impact assessment consists of eight steps used to determine the overall performance of the project.

  1. Screening - determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
  2. Scoping - identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated.
  3. Impact analysis - identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
  4. Mitigation - recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
  5. Reporting- presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
  6. Review of EIA - examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
  7. Decision-making - decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
  8. Post monitoring - This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.

Draft Environment Impact Assessment Norms

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The publication of the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 in the Gazette was delayed by the COVID-19 emergency by 19 days.

Activists and the public sought an extension to the mandatory 60-day window for public feedback by another 60 days but the Environment Ministry set the new deadline on June 30 thereby limited the extension to only 20 days.

This editorial takes an analytical view of the changes proposed in the EIA norms.

2. BRIEF HISTORY

Far from an improvement, environmental activists have hailed the 2020 draft as a regressive departure from the previous EIA notification of 2006.

2.1 Background of the Act

  • India signed the Stockholm Declaration on Environment in 1972.
  • Being a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration, India enacted the following laws:
  1. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 - to control the pollution of water, and
  2. Air (Prevention and control of Pollution) act, 1981 tocontrol pollution of air.
  • However, it was only after the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984 that India enacted the Environment Protection Act, 1986 as an umbrella Act for environmental protection

2.2 Environment Protection Act, 1986

  • India notified its first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) norms in 1994.
  • The norms aimed to set up a legal framework for regulation of activities accessing, utilising, and polluting natural resources.
  • Henceforth, every development project was mandated to undertake the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance.
  • The 1994 EIA norms were replaced by a modified EIA draft in 2006.
  • In early 2020, the government redrafted the 2006 EIA norms to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders issued since 2006 with a stated aim to make the EIA process "more transparent and expedient.”

3. PROBLEMS WITH THE EIA

3.1 Woes of the Environmentalists

  • The EIA processes and norms are established with an aim to safeguard the environment but environmental activists argue that often the EIA norms fail to achieve its aims and on the contrary achieve the opposite effect by offering a façade of legal paperwork in lieu of various de facto concessions enjoyed by the industrial lobby.
  • Reports on the damaging potential of development projects (impact on the environment) which is the bedrock of the EIA process are made carelessly made and of low quality and the consultancy agencies who prepare these reports are rarely held accountable.
  • Although there is a long list of condition to be met before the clearance is provided, the lack of administrative capacity to ensure compliance renders these conditions meaningless.
  • The government comes out with periodic amendments to exempt one or another category of industry from scrutiny.

3.2 Woes of the Industrialists

  • The developers are of the view that the EIA regime is not in tune with the spirit of liberalisation and has dampened it.
  • EIA norms has led to red tape and rent seeking with increased bureaucratic interference.

4. THE 2020 EIA NORMS

4.1 Issues with the EIA norms

  • The 2020 EIA draft does not provide any remedy for political and bureaucratic interference in the EIA process and in effect on the industries as well.
  • On the contrary, the 2020 EIA draft has provisions to increase the government’s discretionary power while limiting public engagement in safeguarding the environment.
  • Projects related to national defence and security are naturally considered strategic, while for any other project, the government enjoys discretion in assigning the 'strategic' tag. The 2020 draft entails that no information on “such projects shall be placed in the public domain”.
  • This opens a window for summary clearance for any project deemed strategic without having to explain why.
  • In addition to that, the 2020 EIA draft exempts a long list of projects from public consultation. A case in point is of linear projects such as roads and pipelines in border areas, which will not require any public hearing.
  • The ‘border area’ is defined as “area falling within 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control with bordering countries of India.” This definition covers a majority of the area of the Northeast, which is the repository of the India's richest biodiversity.

4.2 What is exempt from EIA clearance?

  • All inland waterways projects and expansion or widening of national highways are exempted from prior clearance. These are the two major areas of focus by the government. These include roads that cut through forests and dredging of major rivers.
  • The 2020 draft also exempts most building construction projects of built-up area up to 1,50,000 sq. m.
  • This is a reiteration of the Environment Ministry’s December 2016 notification that was set aside by the National Green Tribunal in December 2017 (the government subsequently moved the Supreme Court but did not get any relief).

5. MAJOR CHANGES IN THE NOTIFICATION

  • Two most important changes in the new draft are:
    1. the provisions for post-facto project clearance and
    2. abandoning the public trust doctrine
  • Projects, which have violated the Environment Act, will now be able to apply for clearance, which is a reiteration of a March 2017 notification.
  • The violator will only need two plans for remediation and resource augmentation, which will correspond, to 1.5-2 times “the ecological damage assessed and economic benefit derived due to violation”.
  • The Supreme Court in an order had held that “Environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance. This would be contrary to both the precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development.”
  • The 2020 draft also has provisions on how the government will take cognisance of such violations.
  • Such violence have either to be reported by a government authority or the developers themselves.
  • In effect, there is no scope for any public complaint about violations, instead the norms rely on the violator to disclose themselves that they have broken the law.

6. CONCLUSION

The 2020 EIA notification has been constructed keeping in mind the aim of facilitating the government’s doctrine of “ease of doing business” but the question, if the draft is aligned to the purpose of Environment Act remains unanswered.

There are some legal impediments on the draft as well, but the story of its legal validity remains to be seen.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment.

EIA is a decision making tool. It compares various alternatives for a project and tries to identify the one with the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.

Stages in the EIA

The stages of an EIA process will depend upon the requirements of the country. However, generally the environment impact assessment consists of eight steps used to determine the overall performance of the project.

  1. Screening - determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
  2. Scoping - identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated.
  3. Impact analysis - identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
  4. Mitigation - recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
  5. Reporting- presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
  6. Review of EIA - examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
  7. Decision-making - decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
  8. Post monitoring - This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.

COVID-19 and rapid development in India’s Health Infrastructure

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

  • India has entered into a critical unlocking phase of in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This editorial looks into the rapid infrastructure development in health sector by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), as a part of India's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. THE COVID-19 BATTLE

2.1 The new phase in COVID-19 battle

  • After going through three successive lockdowns wherein the severity of restrictions was lifted successively and normalcy was restored in most of the areas, India is now in the unlocking phase.
  • Recently the Hon’ble Prime Minister talked of expanding the vision from "preventing loss of life” to “saving lives and protecting livelihoods”
  • However, for the people whose lives and livelihoods are put on hold due to the epidemic, there is a certain amount of fatigue.
  • The rising number of active COVID-19 cases is also causing a sense of worry in the general public even though the number of recoveries has taken over the number of active cases in the country.
  • The Prime Minister on April 6 warned that the battle against Covid-19 would be a long one and it would take the combined and tireless effort of the nation to emerge victorious.

2.2 Indian Response to the COVID-19 epidemic

  • The Indian government was well aware of the scale of pandemic and the economic cost to the nation in the initial days of the lockdown itself.
  • This early recognition of the gravity of the COVID-19 situation enabled the government to prepare the health care infrastructure to deal with the rising number of cases.
  • Hence, it was imperative for the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to step up and build the foundation, protocol and infrastructure to test, track and treat cases.

2.3 Global Response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Nations throughout the world have had their own way of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of success.
  • The most common element of the response by all nations who have 'flattened the curve' has been to test more and more number of people.
  • The response of ICMR too been to rapidly ramp up testing capabilities to meet the needs of the huge population of India.
  • This rapid increase in testing capabilities of India is in accord with the vision of “saving lives and protecting livelihoods”.

3. COVID TESTING IN INDIA

3.1 Present testing capability of India

  • Today, India is testing over 200,000 everyday.
  • The ICMR has validated over 1,000 laboratories covering every district of the nation.
  • This shows a rapid development and ramping up of health infrastructure given the fact that India’s daily testing capacity was 100,000 in 555 laboratories just over a month ago.

3.2 Evolving response of the ICMR

  • The India strategy underwent iterative calibration to keep pace with the changing epidemiology and extent of infection to ensure inclusive and equitable access to testing.
  • The ICMR has coordinated and worked closely with the state governments to ramp up development of testing laboratories to ensure inclusiveness of thousands of economic migrants returning to rural areas.
  • The ICMR has also been in close contact with state governments to frame strategy to monitor, investigate and treat new cases.
  • In the quest of Atmanirbhar Bharat several Union ministries came out will meticulouslycrafted economic stimulus and an unlocking plan to prevent the loss of livelihood.
  • At the same time, ICMR kept on ensuring that the expertise, materials, staff and capacity to carry out testing safely, successfully and reliably were being put in place to prevent the loss of life.

4. ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

4.1 COVID-19 and Atmanirbhar Bharat

  • As response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the government has worked in close coordination with the domestic health care industry to make India self-sufficient in testing making ICMR’s Covid-19 programme a flag-bearer of Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative.
  • The nationwide lockdown had forced industries to shut and the industries had to face severe operational challenges related to the movement of human resources and procurement of material and machinery.
  • To deal with these challenges and enable the industry to accelerate production a task force was setup to realise the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

4.2 Success stories

  • The development of swabs for Covid-19 was started domestically within six days of forming the task force. Today, three companies manufacture up to 200,000 swabs daily.
  • The production of viral transport medium (VTM) kits increased from 500,000 units per year to 500,000 units per day despite a nationwide lockdown.
  • Private players in the health sector have developed 10 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and five million viral extraction kits after expedited approval from the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation.

4.3“Mission Lifeline Udan”

  • This was a combined mission of the ministry of civil aviation and their airline partnersin the government and private sector to ensure safe and timely delivery of supplies to every laboratory.
  • Under Mission Lifeline Udan, airlines carried consignments of diagnostic material developed and procured by the ICMR to laboratories across the country.
  • 150 flight operations transported and delivered 40 tonnes of testing material to even the remotest corner of India.
  • Courier companies and state governments joined hands to ensure doorstep deliveries.
  • The India Post with its wide network of countrywide operations proved to be very helpful as the network of laboratories expanded.
  • A network of 16 storage depotswere developed in a phased manner to cut down transit times, logistical complications and risks of stock outs and ensure decentralised storage.

5. INDIGENOUSLYTESTING OF COVID-19

  • ICMR has encouraged the use of indigenously developed TrueNAT and CBNAAT testing protocols along with internationally accepted reverse transcription (RT)-PCR test kits.
  • TrueNAT and CBNAAT testing protocols are very cost effective and can be more easily used in rural areas where migrants are returning.

6. CONCLUSION

  • The collaborative efforts of ICMR and state and central government ministries, has facilitated in testing laboratory construction in the remotest corner of India.
  • The construction of 1,000 laboratories with testing capacity of 200,000 tests per daywithin three months has made sure that the economic activity associated with the construction, procurement and staff for these has built an ecosystem that protects and provides livelihoods.
  • Scientific and data driven inputs from the best minds and leading epidemiologists and scientists of India at ICMR have been also been instrumental in formulating the protocols and procedures for Unlock 1.0 to kick start the economic engine and take Indian lives and livelihood back to normalcy.
  • While our brave soldiers are securing India's territorial integrity at the borders, the warriors at ICMR are saving the lives and protecting the livelihoods of those living in this territory.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Truenat TB Test

  • The Truenat TB test is a new molecular test that can diagnosis TB in one hour as well as testing for resistance to the drug rifampicin.
  • The TrueNat test has been developed by the Indian firm MolBio Diagnostics Pvt Ltd Goa. It’s development has been funded by Bigtec Labs, India.
  • This test for TB uses a sputum sample taken from each patient.
  • Only about 0.5 ml of the sample is required.
  • The test works by the rapid detection of TB bacteria using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique.

CBNAAT (Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test)

  • The Genexpert test is a molecular test for TB. The Genexpert diagnoses TB by detecting the presence of TB bacteria, as well as testing for resistance to the drug Rifampicin.
  • In India Genexpertis known as the CB-NAAT
  • The test is a molecular TB test which detects the DNA in TB bacteria.
  • It uses a sputum sample and can give a result in less than 2 hours.
  • The Genexpert has been developed by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), who have partnered with the Cepheid corporation and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.