Expect dreary 2022 after attempts to dilute environmental laws in 2021: Experts

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By Nivedita Khandekar

New Delhi, December 26 (IANS): A multitude of amendments made or sought to be made to multiple fundamental environmental laws – all to the detriment of the cause, experts believe – have raised questions throughout the year 2021 on the exact role of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC).

And sadly, the outlook is no better for 2022, when the government strives to promote the “ease of doing business” rather against the grain of environmental conservation.

With a deep hangover from the introduction of an amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law in 2020 amid the pandemic-induced lockdown, the ministry has struggled to the High Court to accept translation into “22 official languages” for the first semester of 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. The ministry received more than 15 lakh of responses, he said.

Once the deadline for sending comments, criticisms and suggestions has passed, the ministry will do its utmost to make this proposed amendment a reality.

The MoEF & CC, in July 2021, introduced a new SOP to process post-facto authorizations for industrial projects operating without prior EIA approval.

The second half of the year 2021 – especially 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 the (conservation) of forests, a note on the government’s intention to dilute the Forest Law for the benefit of companies.

“The government is gradually moving towards watering down the laws,” said Vikrant Tongad, founder of Social Action for Forests and the Environment (SAFE) and the activist who filed the petition demanding translations into 22 languages.

In October 2021, the most alarming development came with a consultation paper calling for multiple amendments to the 1980 Forest (Conservation) Act. to exempt petroleum and natural gas exploration and development activities from obtaining mandatory prior authorizations.

In December 2021, Yadav introduced the 2021 Biodiversity (Amendment) Bill and another to amend the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA).

All of these changes are proposed when natural disasters such as the bursting of the Chamoli Glacier, high intensity cyclones, floods caused by downpours took a heavy toll in 2021, despite the impact of climate change.

Much to the environmentalist’s chagrin, the MoEF & CC and two other ministries have reached a consensus to give a green signal to no less than seven hydropower projects in the upper parts of Uttarakhand; proposes to clear large areas of the ancient Hasdeo Arand forest for mining, and last but not least, the cabinet authorized the SPV for the Ken Betwa Interlinking of Rivers project which still has not obtained certain statutory authorizations among d other projects of this type.

Odisha’s water and climate change expert Ranjan Panda observed: “I see environmental laws going in a direction where the rules will be relaxed to wipe out more and more coal mining, hydropower projects. and solar energy without really addressing the issues of forest destruction, decimation of freshwater ecosystems and erosion of the rights to natural resources currently enjoyed by local and indigenous communities who depend on and protect these resources. “

These damaging steps have largely overshadowed the few decidedly positive steps taken by the department. For example, the MoEF & CC embarked on the dolphin census, developed an action plan to demarcate elephant corridors and gave massive impetus to the conservation of wetlands and urban forests.

So what’s in store for 2022?

Observing that it is very difficult to bring about a change in the attitudes of individual leaders, which in turn can bring about positive political change, Tongad said that “a change of mind cannot be expected overnight. “.

Environmental lawyer Rahul Choudhury, also 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 intention and approach to conservation.

But Choudhary is more worried about how “some laws are changed by notification. It will almost mean like delegated legislation, which occurs at the administrative level.”

Does this mean that the laws would meet no resistance? Does that mean that the laws would be passed as easily as the government wants them to be? Should we say goodbye to the environment?

Public consultation processes have already been weakened, causing enormous damage to the governance of environmental conservation, Panda said.

Pointing out that when it comes to pollution, people don’t even understand segregation of waste at the source, experts said there is a long way to go before people speak out against such laws.

Choudhary said: “Other than legal, there might not be a lot of resistance. The environment, pollution, forests, have not yet become political problems. No constituency will be threatened if these laws are passed, there will be no further pressure.

Tongad, however, had a different point of view. “There are assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh soon, and then the countdown will begin to the 2024 general election. I don’t think any drastic changes will happen before them.”


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