Bengaluru activists call on government to maintain status quo on environmental laws during lockdown

Jhatkaa.org says that due to the lockdown, they will not be able to visit the place affected by a particular policy, nor register their protest.

Activists from Bengaluru-based Jhatkaa.org have written a letter to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar asking him to maintain the status quo on all existing environmental laws and protectionist policies in place, counts given the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, dated May 6, was also sent to Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and other authorities and further requested that during this period no environmental clearance be granted or denied and no clearance granted under the environmental protection law. The letter comes amid concerns that approval will be given to cut down more than a thousand trees for the construction of Phase 2A of the Bengaluru Metro, disregarding the opinion of citizens.

According to a petition by Jhatkaa.org, while the BBMP said a total of 1026 trees will be felled in the stretch from Central Silk Board to KR Puram, experts said nearly 3000 trees could be felled. The campaigners said in their letter that in a situation like the current lockdown, citizen participation, which is necessary for any law-making in a democracy, will take a back seat. They also said such actions would force environmentalists to go to court for redress and would burden the justice system.

Later in the letter, they mention the 2020 lockdown during which they allege approvals were granted, after holding online referrals, for projects that significantly damaged the environment. Among them, they said, was the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, which was introduced when the country was under lockdown. Activists say several clauses in the draft EIA would dilute existing environmental laws.

To prevent such a situation from happening again, the letter called for no public hearings to be held, even online, to provide committee approvals, clearances and consent.

“During a lockdown and especially this time in the second wave, everyone is dealing with a personal crisis in one way or another. Now, if the government asks citizens to register their objections, they won’t be able to do so. The first reason is that they themselves are in crisis and cannot deal with it and the second thing is that to see the impacts you have to see the actual place that is affected by the policy, which is impossible during a lockdown,” said Nimisha Agarwal, campaign manager at Jhatkaa.org.

She added: “The other important aspect is that under normal circumstances, if there is something we don’t agree on in the policy, we will at least have the opportunity to register our protest, but currently this is also not possible. Thus, laws and other proposals could be approved without consultation or consent of citizens.