Raipur: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has taken an exception to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC) draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2020, and pointed out that the document in its current form has ignored the sensitivity required for ecological conservation and also to achieve sustainable development goals.
Baghel has drawn Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar’s attention to the gaping holes in the draft EIA notification, 2020.
He made an impassioned plea that the key environmental policy guideline should be in consonance with the rights of the tribals and rural bodies in a state such as Chhattisgarh.
“Bastar, Surguja, Koria, and Kavardha have been included in the ‘Scheduled Area’ under Article 244 (1) of the Constitution (Fifth Schedule), which provides protection to these areas against such laws that are derogatory to the land rights of indigenous population of Chhattisgarh. At the outset, an executive action by way of a ‘notification’ cannot override the statutory protection granted under FRA (Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers [Recognition of Forest Rights] Act, 2006) and PESA (Panchayats [Extension to Scheduled Areas] Act, 1996). The EIA notification, 2020, should be in consonance with the rights of the tribals and panchayats,” the CM stated in his letter to Javadekar.
Baghel cited that the section 4 of the PESA Act empowers a gram sabha/panchayat to prevent alienation of land and to approve plans and projects. It is also mandatory to consult with a gram sabha/panchayat before acquiring land for a developmental project and rehabilitating the local population affected by the commercial venture.
He pointed out that the draft EIA notification, 2020, glossed over the mandate and did not make it mandatory for the project proponent to get any such approval from a rural body that grossly undermined the rights and interests of panchayats in Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs)-dominated areas of Chhattisgarh.
Baghel raised the issue of extending exemption to large number of projects from public hearing as per the policy draft, which, he argued, would adversely affect the rights of the forest-dwellers to conserve, manage and protect forests in line with section 3 of the FRA, 2006, which deals with the right to minor forest produce (MFP), a key source of sustenance for the SC and ST population of Chhattisgarh.
He also expressed concern over the dilution of panchayats’ power under section 5 of the FRA, 2006 that deals with protection of wildlife, forests, bio-diversity, adjoining catchment areas, water resources and ecological-sensitive zones.
“The draft EIA notification, 2020, states that levelling of the land without any tree felling and geo-technical investigations does not require prior green clearance. Levelling of project sites may have impact on landscapes, mountains slopes causing soil erosion and can trigger landslides. Geotechnical investigation for roads, hydropower projects and other ventures, which involve heavy construction activities, may have serious impact on the environment,” the CM stated.
The draft EIA notification, 2020, grants wide discretion to the executive to define certain terms like “projects involving other strategic considerations” (clause 5, sub-clause 7) without providing guidelines or broad contours to determine its scope.
The notification leaves it to the executive’s wisdom to decide its scope and ambit, where there is ample room for subjectivity and arbitrariness that cannot be wished away, he added.