VICTORY! Environment Ministry buckles to citizen pressure and scraps ESP

24 August 2017 UPDATE: We’ve just got news that the proposed controversial Environment Supplemental Plan has been scrapped. 25,000 people including Jhatkaa members like you sent their comments to the Environment Ministry and they heard us!

The Ministry’s response to our RTI filed in July 2016 reveals that they scrapped the ESP because they received 25,000 public comments opposing the draft notification. Of these, 2,000 comments were from Jhatkaa members. Our voices were heard loud and clear and the Ministry took these comments very seriously!

This victory is a testament to the power of coordinated, strategic, citizen action. It goes to show that when citizens come together with scientists, experts and campaigners, we can shake things up. We can make even the formidable MoEFCC listen to us and do the right thing!

Help us run more campaigns to protect the Western Ghats and India’s beautiful environment – donate Rs. 1000 (or any other amount) today!

For reference, you can find the content of the email that Jhatkaa.org members sent below.


The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is proposing to allow companies who have illegally begun a project, without environmental clearances, to continue with their work after paying a fine.

This proposal by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is open for public comments till the 9th of July. We urgently need to tell the MoEFCC that we want them to implement the law and protect our environment – not find ways to allow corporations to continue violating our laws with impunity.

Will you join us and send in your comment immediately by filling the form below?

To,

The Secretary,
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road,
Aliganj, New Delhi-110 003

Subject: Comments on Draft Notification dated 10th May 2016 related to the drafting of Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP)

I am writing to you today to share my comments on the Draft Notification of 10.5.2016 (http://environmentclearance.nic.in/View_order.aspx?rid=48 ). It is admirable that the Ministry has taken the initiative to explain to the public the reasoning and justifications behind the issuance of this draft for public comments. But to my surprise, it appears that ministry has proposed a solution that amounts to condoning the violations of the EIA notification, 2006 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

It is my understanding that instead of strengthening the legal liability that violators are held to, the draft notification sets the process to do the following:

1. Legally allow for a violator to damage the environment and subsequently obtain an ESP to compensate for the damage.
2. Instead of improving our EIA practice this draft notification allows violators to bypass the EIA process altogether.
3. Assigns only monetary value to environmental impact of violations. This is an extremely limited form of valuation of environmental loss. The damage wreaked on our environment by various projects ranges from felling trees to altering the course of rivers to releasing toxic materials into land and water sources. These are not impacts that can be undone with a fine/ monetary fee. These fees cannot supplement the ecological and livelihood impacts of illegal project works.
4. Reduces the deterrent value of the EIA process. If the violation has already happened, does this mean that the entire process of screening, scoping, public consultation and appraisal can be done retrospectively? If so, the result this process would be skewed in favour of the violator, encourage violations before even getting an EC, and allow for the continuation of project activities unabated.

This Draft notification doesn’t follow the internationally established logic of assessing impacts before undertaking environmentally damaging activities. It, instead, allows the party which has already violated the law (assuming that the same will not happen again if an ESP is prepared as per the proposed procedure) to continue with its once illegal activity. There is no legal precedent to mandate such a convoluted solution to the problem of non-compliance. The NGT orders squashing two of the MoEFCC’s Office Memoranda also stated that any such move would “provide benefits to the class of the project or activity owners who have started construction in violation of law, i.e. prior environment clearance.” Therefore, suggesting that this proposal is in line with the “Polluter pays” principle is also misleading.

In light of these facts, I request the ministry to withdraw the draft notification dated 10.5.2016.

I suggest that the MoEFCC issue a new draft notification that ensures violation of environment clearance procedures would lead to the rejection of the application for environment clearance. The Ministry could include in this new notification a set of procedures aimed at including information of violations/ non compliance while evaluating any applications for expansion and modification of projects. The notification must also address the need for a systematic process of determining whether violation has taken place and the extent of damage incurred. This will help in establishing liability and stopping the illegal activity.

I urge the ministry to ensure, in the fresh notification, the active participation of affected communities in monitoring violations.

This approach will push project authorities to respect rule of law, rather than violate it. As a concerned citizen, I look to you to ensure that the legal safeguards for our environment and the right of project affected communities are not weakened in order to ensure ease of business.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool that has been in place in India since 1994. It’s the primary tool that helps us take environmentally sound decisions and allows for public consultation. The EIA is meant to protect our natural resources from unnecessary damage. But the MoEFCC is now pushing for this proposal that will allow for our environment to be harmed in exchange for money from rich profit hungry corporations.

We have till 9th July to send in our comments to the MoEFCC and let them know that we do not approve of this suggested policy change. We have participated in such consultations before and have seen it work. In December 2015, Jhatkaa members submitted comments in support of the Ministry of Road Transport’s effort to implement stricter emission norms, against the wishes of the automobile industry. And the Ministry did just that!

If thousands of us send in our comments now, the MoEFCC will know that we do not want this proposal to be implemented. We can play an important role in preventing further dilution of the Environment Impact Assessment process. Please send in your comments today. It won’t take you more than a few seconds!

The National Green Tribunal has already quashed two similar office memoranda from the MoEFCC2 stating that it would “provide benefits to the class of the project or activity owners who have started construction in violation of law, i.e. prior environment clearance.” The new proposal aims to introduce the Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) to this process thus making it easier for violators to continue their projects.

Over the last few years we have witnessed our forests and rivers withering away. It is imperative that we maintain our legal framework that, for the moment, allows us to put some checks and balances in place.

You can read the full text of the notification here.

Sources:

1) Letting them off easy, The Hindu, 20th June 2016

2) Backdoor opened for green norm violators?, The New Indian Express, 3rd June 2016