A slew of amendments made or sought in multiple fundamental laws related to the environment – all to the detriment of the cause, if experts are to be believed – have raised questions throughout 2021 about the exact role of the ministry. Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
And unfortunately, the outlook for 2022 does not look any better as the government works to promote the ease of doing business, instead of going against the grain of environmental conservation.
With a severe hangover from the introduction of an amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act in 2020 amid the pandemic-induced lockdown, the ministry has struggled before the High Court to accept the translation into the ’22 official languages’ of the first semester of the EIA. 2021.
The ministry finally gave its approval at the end of August 2021 and made the projects available in the 22 languages in November. He had claimed that the ministry had received more than 15 lakh responses.
With the stipulated deadline for sending comments, criticisms and suggestions, the ministry will do everything possible to make this proposed amendment a reality.
The MoEF&CC, in July 2021, introduced a new SOP to address ex-post clearances for industrial projects operating without prior EIA approval.
The second half of 2021 – particularly after Bhupender Yadav, a lawyer by profession, took over as minister – saw a series of drafts/proposals for amendments or, in the case of the law on (conservation) of forests, a memo on the government’s intention to water down the forest law to suit business.
“The government is moving slowly towards watering down the laws,” said Vikrant Tonga, founder of Social Action for Forests and Environment (SAFE) and activist. They had filed the petition demanding translations into 22 languages.
In October 2021, the most alarming development came from a consultation paper calling for multiple amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. In quick succession came the draft Coastal Zone Regulatory Notification Amendment 2019 which sought, among other things, to exempt petroleum and natural gas exploration and development activities from obtaining license. prior authorization required.
In December 2021, Yadav introduced the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill 2021 and another to amend the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (WLPA).
All these changes are proposed when natural disasters such as the bursting of the Chamoli glacier, high intensity cyclones, floods caused by waterspouts have caused massive devastation in 2021. Despite the impact of climate change.
To the dismay of the environmentalist, the MoEF&CC and two other ministries have reached a consensus to give a green signal to no less than seven hydroelectric projects in the heights of Uttarakhand; proposes to clear large tracts of the ancient forest of Hasdeo Arand for mining and finally the cabinet authorized the SPV for the Ken Betwa Interlinking of Rivers project which has yet to obtain specific statutory clearances among d other such projects.
Odisha water and climate change expert Ranjan Panda observed: “I see environmental legislations going in a direction where rules will be relaxed to clean up more and more coal mining projects , hydroelectricity and solar energy without really addressing the problems of destruction of forests, the decimation of freshwater ecosystems and the erosion of the rights to natural resources currently enjoyed by local and indigenous communities who depend on these resources and protected them.”
These detrimental measures have largely overshadowed the few positive measures taken by the ministry. For example, the MoEF&CC embarked on dolphin censuses, developed an action plan to demarcate elephant corridors, and gave a massive boost to the conservation of wetlands and urban forests.
So what’s in store for 2022?
Observing that it is difficult to change the attitudes of individual leaders, which in turn can bring about positive political change, Tonga said “one cannot expect a change of mind overnight. “.
Environmental lawyer Rahul Choudhury, co-founder of Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE), said: “Conservation is nowhere on the agenda. None of the laws seem to show their intent and approach to conservation.
But Choudhary is more concerned about how “some laws are changed by notification. It will mean almost like delegated legislation, which happens at the administrative level. the rules would be passed just “As easy as the government wants it? Have we said goodbye to the environment? Public consultation processes have already been weakened, causing significant damage to the governance of environmental conservation,” Panda said.
Pointing out that when it comes to pollution, people don’t even understand source separation of waste, experts said there is still a long way to go before people speak out against these laws.
According to Choudhary, “Other than legal, there may not be much resistance. The environment, pollution, forests have still not become political issues. No constituency will be threatened if these laws are passed; there will be no further pressure. »
Tonga, however, had a different view. “There will soon be Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and then the countdown will start for the 2024 general election. I don’t think drastic changes will happen before that.”
The above article was published from a telegraphic source with minimal changes to the title and text.