Orgs, environmentalists demand withdrawal of 2020 EIA notification

ITANAGAR, Jul 28: More than 50 environmental groups, organizations, eminent ideologues and activists from across various states of the Himalayan region have issued a joint statement titled ‘Stop accelerating ecosystems distress in the Himalayas’ and ‘Withdraw draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020’.

The statement comes in the wake of an attempt by the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) to dilute the environmental regulations to facilitate ease of doing business.

The signatories from Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Himachal and Ladakh have demanded immediate scrapping of the 2020 draft amendments.

The statement is reproduced below.

“The Himalayan region today is in the most vulnerable position with massive climate induced disasters, increasing deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, drying of rivers, death of groundwater sources, melting glaciers, hollowing of the mountains, solid and hazardous waste-related pollution. As it is, this ecological region is known to be fragile, where even small changes in the landscapes lead to rapid and wide-ranging impacts on the lives of millions of people.

“This ecological crisis has worsened due to poor implementation of regulatory and governance mechanisms. Lack of adequate and thorough scientific planning and impact assessment studies, non-compliance with environmental norms and social accountability laws, and diminishing space for democratic public participation in decision-making processes have further worsened the situation in the past few years.

“The latest move of the central government proposes more exemptions in environmental rules to be followed by companies and project developers under the EIA notification. The EIA is a legal process, under the 1986 Environment Protection Act, for evaluating the likely environmental and socioeconomic impacts of a proposed project or development. Decision-making under this process has a series of mechanisms, including participation of affected populations through ‘public consultation’, and review by technical and scientific experts, to ascertain that the costs of projects do not outweigh the benefits.

“However, this notification has been amended and read down several times in the last two decades in favour of ‘easing the norms’ for business. The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality, whereas what is required for the protection of the Himalayan ecology are stricter and more robust environmental laws.

“The fact that the government of India, under the climate change action plan, had set up a separate national mission for sustaining Himalayan ecosystems almost 10 years ago is indicative of the criticality of protecting the biodiversity, geology and socio-cultural fabric of this region.

“From the western to the eastern Himalayas, there are about 12 states which fall in the Indian Himalayas, sustaining a population of close to 80 million, dependent almost entirely on land- and forest-based livelihoods. Over the last three decades, governments, both state and national, have pushed policies and projects which have contributed to severe ecological distress. The three most threatening developmental activities that have met with strong resistance from local communities and environmentalists include hydropower development, mindless construction of highways and infrastructure for commercial tourism, and growing industrialization.

“Hydropower development is being undertaken in the entire Himalayan region of India, to develop a potential of 150000 mw power. Nearly 90 percent of the Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and 27 percent of these dams would affect dense forests. If all proposed 292 dams are constructed, on the basis of the current global number of dams, the region will have the highest density of dams in the world.

“Commercial tourism in regions like Ladakh, Kashmir, Himachal and religious tourism in Uttarakhand have meant that there is an increasing push for infrastructure and mindless construction of roads, hotels and resorts. The Char Dham road project is a classic illustration of what such tourism can unleash. Polluted rivers are becoming a menace in the industrial hubs in the lower hills and the Terai Himalayan states.

“The climatic crisis is already a threat for the region with erratic rainfalls, changing weather patterns, and climate induced disasters disrupting lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants. Every year, the Himalayan states see crores of rupees worth of damages due to landslides, flashfloods, abrupt rains and forest fires. The impacts of the disasters are further exacerbated by the nature and scale of construction that is ongoing.”