The Delhi High Court Friday sought the Centre's reply on a plea seeking directions for extending the period for receiving objections with regard to its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, which proposes post facto approvals for projects and does away with public consultations in some instances, till the COVID-19 lockdown subsists.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan issued notice to the Environment Ministry and sought its stand by June 29 on whether there was any ambiguity in the government's May 8 notification extending till June 30 the period for receiving objections and suggestions regarding the EIA 2020.
The petition by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad has claimed the May 8 notification states that the period for inviting objections has been extended by another 60 days, but it is not clear as to when the initial period of 60 days commenced.
"If the sixty-day period commences on the date of the draft notification, i.e., March 23, 2020, the extended date of expiry will be July 18, 2020. If the date of notification in the Gazette (i.e. April 11, 2020) is taken as the start of the sixty-day period, the extended date of expiry will be August 9, 2020," the petition has said.
It also stated that at the same time a contradiction arises in the extension notification as an end date of June 30, 2020 is specified, which is less than sixty days from the date of issuance of the extension notification May 8.
"Thus, the extension notification is unclear and contradictory," it claimed.
The bench on Friday asked the Centre to clarify on the next date as to what would be the last date for giving objections/suggestions.
"Take an approach which is fair to everyone," the court said and asked the Centre to come up with a resolution if there was an ambiguity and not to merely issue a corrigendum.
The petition has sought that the period for receiving public opinion regarding the draft notification be extended till September 30 or till such time the lockdown remains.
The draft EIA 2020, according to the petition, completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms.
"This draft notification proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 45 days to 40 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects," it has said.
Tongad, in his plea, filed through advocates Srishti Agnihotri and Abishek Jebaraj, has said that the draft EIA was issued on March 23 and first published by the Environment Ministry on its website on April 11 and a 60 day period was given for receiving objections and suggestions from all stakeholders, including the general public.
However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and resultant lockdown, the ministry on May 8 issued a notification extending the period for inviting objections/suggestions till June 30, the plea has said.
It has sought that the translated copies of the draft EIA "be available across the country in the official vernacular languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution, and be uploaded on all websites including those of the Environment Ministries of all the States as well as those of the State Pollution Control Boards.