EIA 2020

The impression I get with the protests over the proposed amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment 2006 rules is that everything was going so very well for a decade or so, we had built up a great environmental governance framework since the last modification in 2006, projects were being vetted properly, EIA studies were top notch and were able to filter out harmful projects and mitigate where required, industry could not longer go unchallenged and was on a tight and proper leash and then suddenly in 2020 came this effort to dilute the EIA and all peace has been disturbed in paradise.

The reality is otherwise. Whether you keep the EIA process exactly as it is or allow the dilution to go through one way or the other the projects have been going through and the damage happening. The other way of looking at it is that the environmental movement and community have really become so ineffective and incidental over a period of time that the dilution was inevitable.

Why is it that over the past decade when EIA has been reduced to a joke we have not seen similar effort to raise concern? Have we gone through every EIA and EC provided since 2006 and are sure that the EIA process was the best?

Have amendments to the EIA 2006 been kept track of? If through the years amendments were taking place which were anyways removing teeth from the EIA then should those not be challenged at each instance? I have hardly seen any such nationwide uproar. I would like to believe that we are in changed times.

There was much uproar at the time the amendments to EIA were introduced in 2006. A few of the same names which we see today could be seen writing back then also. Curiously with the same energy levels. I also wrote an article then. What happened? My focus has all along been Think Global, Act Local and I can say with conviction that there is zero improvement in the ability to bring outcomes on any environmental issue in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Should people from this region who are part of the current noise and protests not be spending some time going over half a dozen MMR specific issues and understand where they stand and what has been their participation there? Understandably a lot of the current noise might be from 20 year olds and historic baggage cannot apply to them (the learnings should). But is this the best avenue for them to apply their energy?

In the picture the dumping ground at Diva – you can see the smoke – situated on top of mangroves, surrounded by illegal housing again on mangroves. These are the estuarine areas of Ulhas River. This is one of my favourite mangroves areas in the Mumbai region and I have helplessly seen it being sliced and diced through urban pressures. What is the EIA of the dumping grounds in Mumbai region? Where if their EC? These are the questions to be engaged by those who go after EIA 2020.

Then comes the complaint from the industry and business that a number of environmental rules and guidelines are needless red tape and just a part of the corruption endemic in the process of procuring permissions. It is equally the business of the environmental community to be concerned about this aspect whether those complaints are genuine or stale rhetoric. If environmental regulations can be sidestepped with graft and there is no oversight then the damage is not as much to ease of doing business as much as to our commitment to safeguard the environment.

To me what it says is that there will be much hue and cry to achieve a positive environmental outcome through a legislation or rules or a PIL (an easy way out and a great intellectual exercise) but once it is achieved then the same community stops activity and involvement about how that rule or legislation or order is performing. That is left to the same bureaucracy which is otherwise reviled. Those short term bursts of energy with glitz are appealing but then come the daily chores. EIA 2006 or EIA 2020 (if it goes ahead with the modifications or does not) the reality will not change. Fixing that reality is the real environmental battle which no one wants to take on.

Every metro city has some form of eco housing guidelines for more than a decade now, somewhere waste management is a focus, else rainwater harvesting or grey water treatment or solar rooftop. Housing projects get passed after ticking all the check boxes. There are no numbers available but it is anybody’s guess that less than 5 percent of housing complexes having anything to show on the ground after completion. What is the recurring environmental impact of the solid and liquid waste being discharged from thousands of such complexes around the country? EIA has happened for some of the projects. Hear the struggles of solution providers and innovators who thought that with rising eco consciousness green entrepreneurship opportunities will open up and they could provide themselves a stable financial existence while doing something they are passionate about.

The state of any of our institutions is so third grade, forget the environmental ones. Everything runs on mai baap culture rather than with strong, courageous individuals willing to stand upright for what they believe is right and uphold rules.

Look at our democracy. I would say the real environmental issue is how in spite of the hue and cry over MLAs deflecting political parties and subsequent introduction of an anti-deflection law, we till today have a robust system in place for trading of MLAs? At the most fundamental link in the chain trust is broken. A political system which runs with some basic modicum of integrity and accountability is not available and we vainly discuss issues like amendments to EIA.

Outside a number of crematoria in Mumbai there can be a set of people who are professional mourners. The moment a dead body come for cremation they are either paid by the dead persons close ones to mourn or start mourning on their own as a means of getting something. Remove the payment part but the environmental scene and community in the country seems like those mourners to me. Every few weeks a new issues arrives and unfailingly the digital mourning starts.

There is desperation evident in fights like EIA 2020; every environmental matter currently in the country. That desperation creates more noise and heat than any worthwhile outcome. I would say stop being desperate. Let the situation slip out of hand completely. Lets do away with fig leaves. Let everybody introspect and revisit the state of environmental spirit and movements before we decide to pick fights. Let everybody figure out what they are doing about environmental or fundamental administrative issues at the cellular level – their immediate 1-10 kms radius.

In numbers I don’t think all the petitions and emails against EIA will come to even 1 crore (10 million). How does that show for a nation of 130 crores? The important topic in June was the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput and China.