In an interim relief, the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday directed the central government to not finalise the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 till September 7. This extends the time allowed to file objections on the contentious notification by 27 days.
Earlier, the Delhi High Court had ordered the Centre to extend the time for views and objections till August 11 and asked it to translate the draft notification in 22 languages mentioned in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution.
The High Court granted interim relief while hearing a plea by Bengaluru-based United Conservation Movement that has sought extension of the time to file objections on the notification till December 31, 2020. The petitioners had also prayed that since the notification was officially published just a day before imposition of the national lockdown, wider public consultations ought to happen, especially after the notification is published in regional languages.
A bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice AS Kinagi said, “We restrain the respondents from publishing final notification on the basis of the impugned Draft Notification, 2020, till the next date of hearing. Prima facie it appears to us that the right of the citizens of raising objections to the Draft notification has been taken away.”
The Karnataka HC’s bench granted the interim relief after it was not satisfied with the Centre’s submissions and following an apparent change in stance by the Centre.
The Centre, during the hearing on July 16, had told the HC that it had asked State Environment Impact Assessment authorities to give publicity to the notification in local languages.
However, later in a statement of objections, the Centre said that it was under no obligation to publish the draft notification in official languages of the states. The Centre relied on provisions of the Official Languages Act, 1962, and said that the publication of the notification only in English and Hindi is valid and it is not necessary to publish it in any other language.
“This stand has been taken by the Central Government after making a solemn statement which is recorded in the order dated 16th July 2020, that the respondent has given direction to all the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities to give publicity to the notification dated 23rd March 2020 in all local languages. There is nothing placed on record to show that this direction issued to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities has been implemented,” the Karnataka High Court had said in its July 23 order, noting the Centre’s flip-flop on the issue.
The Karnataka HC’s order now extends the time for public comments on the draft EIA notification by almost another month.
Earlier, on June 30, a Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan had extended the time-window for submitting public objections on the notification from June 11 to August 11. The Delhi HC, while hearing a plea by environmental activist Vikrant Tongad, had also directed the central government to publish the draft notification in 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
“As of now we have no clarity if the notification has been published in any of the languages that are mentioned in the Eighth Schedule,” said advocate Prince Isac, counsel for the petitioners. News18.com could not reach central government counsel Shiva Kumar for comment.
The Draft EIA notification, 2020, was published on March 23, 2020, in the official gazette in English and Hindi, just two days prior to the national lockdown that was imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Environmental groups, activists and campaigners have criticised the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for initiating public consultation on the crucial environmental law in the middle of the pandemic, without adequate publicity.
In its new avatar, among other things, the draft proposes to institutionalise post-facto clearances for projects that have been involved in violation of environmental laws and norms. The draft also seeks to do away with mandatory public hearing for a projects involving expansion up to a specific limit, oil and gas explorations and linear projects.
It has also been criticised politically and former environment minister Jairam Ramesh has led the charge, accusing the Centre for hampering co-operative federalism by seeking to wield more powers in appointing the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities.