Updated: Jul 6, 2021
On World Environment Day it is important to realize that if corporates seize the forests of India in the name of “development”, the indigenous people will lose their basic life support.
Whenever a government body or a corporate/industrial body proposes to set up a large-scale project in India, the law mandates that the area be assessed for environmental impact. This process is called EIA, which stands for Environmental Impact Assessment. This policy has been instrumental in safeguarding the flora and fauna of India, thereby giving some agencies to Adivasis who mostly reside in forested areas.
In 2020, however, the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) published the draft environmental impact assessment notification (EIA) 2020 that seeks to dilute many of the protection guaranteed under the earlier EIA (2006). This poses severe risks to the Adivasis of India who will lose their forests, livelihood, and identity in the face of rapid environmental clearances given to corporates.
How the EIA (2006) functioned:
Earlier, any large-scale project required the generation of an assessment report. The report had to determine the likely effect of the project on the local flora and fauna as well as the damage it may cause to the soil, air, water etc. The report must also mention the measures to be taken by the petitioner to mitigate the ill-effects of the industry and devise ways to recover those damages. Other than that, an assessment is also made to highlight the ways in which the project will provide benefits to the local communities. This report, once prepared, has to be translated in the local language and submitted to the Gram Pradhan/Mukhya so that every village in the area is fully aware of the pros and cons of the proposed project.
Following the distribution of the EIA report, a public hearing used to be held between the project authorities and the villagers. This hearing was presided over by the Pollution Control Board. During the hearing, the villagers had the right to question the authorities on the various facets of the project and the authorities had to give them a proper reply. If the villagers were not convinced by the project they had the full authority to deny the organization's project. The Pollution Control Board, under such circumstances, was obliged to listen to the villagers. The Board, would not give environmental clearance and No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the setting up of the project. This way the villagers maintained autonomy over the usage of their forests and land.
Changes in the EIA Notification (2020):
Firstly, the new notification does away with the requirement of public consultation for a wide range of projects. This means that the communities which would be directly impacted by big projects will no longer have a say in the matter. Secondly, it basically allows for post-facto clearances which would legitimise projects that have not received proper clearances and approvals.
Adivasis will be worst-affected:
Adivasis primarily live in the forested hills and plains of India. They are fully dependent on the forest and its resources for their livelihood and income. They make use of the fruits and flowers supplied by the forest and also additionally grow their grains. Adivasi medical practitioners carry a treasure of knowledge about the plants of the forest that could aid in improving health and managing ailments. Such is their close-knit relationship with nature that they worship the trees and forests, and make them an important part of their rituals. In some communities, the sal leaf is mandatory during festivals. During certain seasons, Adivasis harvest the fruits of the forest like Chironji, Tendu, Wild berry and sell them in the market to gain some income. Despite being so dependent on the forest produce, Adivasis have devised lifestyles in which they preserve the natural resources and don't cause any environmental damage. If corporates seize these forest lands in the name of “development”, the indigenous people will lose their basic life support. This in turn will force them to flee their land and migrate to cities in search of jobs thereby destroying their independent lifestyles.
As such, the laws which have been made for environmental protection should not be diluted or amended. In fact, such laws that protect the environment should be made stronger. The corporates were successful in setting up many projects even when EIA, 2006 was implemented. Now with the dilution of the law, even the small protective wall separating corporate greed from Adivasi forests, will be gone. At this time when the world is dealing with climate change and worsening pollution, the government must take every step to increase the protection of land, water, and forests. It is time the youth of the country step forward and resist the injustice meted out through the amendment to EIA. It is the youth who will grow up to inhabit this country and it is they who have to decide whether they want their future environment to be clean or polluted.