Assessing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Articles 48A and 51A (g) in the Constitution of India spell out the imperatives for the state and its citizens, namely, protection and improvement of the environment. Article 48A states, “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”. Article 51A (g) places a duty on the citizens of India to protect and improve the natural environment and have
compassion for all living creatures. The draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification issued by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in March 2020 dilutes the fundamental principles of the constitution. If implemented, the MoEFCC’s draft will replace the 2006 EIA notification for future projects, systematically and summarily stripping away or bypassing laws meant for the protection of the rights of communities, (specifically the indigenous) and the environment, creating violent ruptures in the local socio-economic fabric.

A. The Timing

With most people locked inside – schools, colleges, work places, everything off-limits, this is certainly not the right time to be pushing environmental legislations, especially of the kind that is expected to have far-reaching consequences on the economy, the environment and the people of the nation at large. To make things worse, this is a time when mainline media – newspapers in particular, are virtually off limits, television is facing severe credibility issues and fake news peddled by vested interests in the social media – unchecked and unedited, is ruling the roost. Naturally, the haste with which the Government is trying to push and bulldoze through
the proposed amendments, are forcing many environmentally conscious and right-thinking citizens to raise their eyebrows, questioning the very reasons underlying the frantic haste. Some are even going to the extent of seeing a sinister ploy, even an abject sell-out to vested interests, which they feel must be objected to, for the nation and our children.

B. The Genesis of EIA

Before we delve deeper into the matter, let us take a quick look at the past to understand how, at least legally, things had come to this pass. The genesis was the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, which had paved the way for the passing of the Environment Protection Act in 1986. It was in this Act that the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was unveiled before
us. Well, there were loopholes, and the objections from various stakeholders were strident, but we did have a written piece of enacted document. A document that sought to lay down the do’s and don’ts that needed to be adhered to, before setting up an industry or any other developmental project that would bring adverse effects on the environment. It also had talked of an Expert Appraisal Committee comprising of, among others, environmentalists, project management experts who were required to prepare a report that had to be placed before the local stakeholders who had the right to have their concerns and objections noted, before the draft was to be sent to the concerned authorities, often specifying the various steps that needed to be taken.

C. Dilution of EIA 2006

Various aspects ranging from the ways and means of addressing the issues arising out of the negative impact of the project on the environment to the rehabilitation of the sons of the soil who were affected, were all supposed to be the gist of the exercise. There was some amount of tinkering with the
provisions and the Act in 2006 – whether effective, good, bad or ugly is a separate debate – but the main drift of the provisions was not tampered with, nor did the amendments go against the very grain. But the far-reaching changes that are sought to be introduced now, even as the nation remains under lockdown, are not only scaring, but even borders on brinkmanship, according to many experts who are well versed with the
working of the industry and the government, including its departments.

D. Restricted Language

The fact that is being underscored by those in the opposition (to the EIA) – that the devil-may-care manner in which the entire process is being conducted – draft notification, for example, has been issued only in English and Hindi, with total disregard to the fact that the actual sons of the soil may not know either language being selected for highlighting. “It
has always been the practice to issue notifications even in the local language – a practise that has been done away with in the particular case, which is not only suspicious, but may be downright discriminatory”, say activists working on the ground.

E. The Lessons Learned

For a moment, let us go to Vishakhapatnam – the gas leak at AG Polymers that chalked up a toll of 17, or, to the Baghjan’s Oil India Limited in Tinsukia District of Assam, which has been throwing out jets of gas and fire for almost two months now, after a blow-out. Well, it is no coincidence that neither had the necessary environmental clearances. This brings
us to another very important aspect of the whole tamasha that is being played out in the present. The onus of filing a “complaint” is now proposed to be shifted to Government Officers and the concerned companies, as opposed to giving the aggrieved party (or the world at large) the right to have their concerns notified. In other words, we are moving towards a
situation where we will have to depend on the criminal having a change of heart to turn himself in, so that the law can take its due course. If that is not preposterous, what is it then? It is akin to asking the killer to turn himself in and willingly wear the noose around his own neck, even while the actual sufferers are expected to wallow in self-pity or elation at having been
wronged against, or both.

F. Ease of Doing Business

  1. For some environmentally detrimental projects, it is proposed that they will no longer be required to seek environmental clearances before setting up the industry. One can start a project, wreck environmental havoc, and then, almost as an afterthought, can apply for the necessary documentation. The point is, once the crime against nature is already committed, what is the point in having a system where such crime can be
    legalised with retrospective effect? Isn’t the whole tenet bad so far as natural law is concerned?
  2. There is more to it, a cruel joke in fact, for the proposal talks about a fine of a princely sum ranging between Rs 2000 to Rs 10000 per day, in case of non-compliance. That is, suppose you continue your plunder and pillage for one full year, you will be liable to pay a maximum penalty of Rs 36.50 lakhs – not even peanuts, considering the thousands of crores which project costs run into, and the fragile ecological balances that have
    evolved over millions of years, priceless in other words, that are destroyed forever.
  3. There is more: earlier construction businesses required clearances for anything above 20,000 square meters. This has now been raised to 150,000 square meters. There are other such glaring efforts to throttle every concern with, as some experts are putting it, an “abject ulterior motive”, a sell out to large businesses to “crony capitalists” deliberately. The real whammy however is, if the Government in its wisdom thinks
    something is in the “National Interest”, then even this fig leaf can be removed. “Go forth and plunder” will be the standing order. Before I bid adieu, let me point out two more instances of injustice – the time accorded for public hearings have been reduced from 30 days to 20 days, which will now be conducted online. Imagine a forest that is threatened where you live in a village. Now whip out your smartphones and register your protest. What is the percentage of 1.37 billion having internet
    facility or smartphones to register complaints? The Chipko Movement was born without smartphones and data plans.
    What God has created, let no one plunder!
    The author is an Environmental Scientist and Professor at St. Xavier’s
    College, Kolkata.

Source: Jivan February 2021

Xavier Savarimuthu, SJ, PhD

Xavier Savarimuthu, SJ, PhD, is a Jesuit priest, an environmental scientist, a researcher  and an academician. He was a Fogarty trainee in the Arsenic Research group of UC Berkeley Public Health Department, completed his Ph.D. on arsenic toxicity and its health impacts on the affected population in West Bengal, India. (

Dr. Xavier is a multifaceted personality, who was a  Vice-Principal of Commerce, Head of department of Environmental studies and assistant director of Central and Goethals libraries at St. Xavier’s college, Kolkata. He teaches and guides research scholars in Environmental Science and Microbiology. He is known for implementing state-of-the-art technologies in the teaching and learning of higher education. He has the honourable distinction of sharing his knowledge as a teacher abroad – International Exchange Program Professor in Santa Clara University, California, USA and Donald McLean Chair in Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, USA. He has presented conference papers and invited lectures  in Manila, Philippines, Stockholm, Sweden and in renowned USA Universities, namely, The University of Notre Dame, Indiana, St. Louis University, Missouri, Loyola University, Chicago, and Boston College, Massachusetts. The latest feather in his cap was the invitation from the Oxford University to present his paper on Environmental Ethics and Human Rights.

 He was a former coordinator  and now a core member of  Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks (GIAN), a Global Ecology Jesuit Network known as ECO-JESUIT for Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA). He participated in the United Nation’s climate summits of 2015 & 2017 in Paris (France), Bonn, Germany respectively.

Dr Xavier is also reputed as a published author who has multiple books and technical, people’s welfare-oriented research papers to his name, a duty to academia, that he performs with an undiluted spiritual fervour. His publishing record includes international journals, co-authored textbook on “Fundamentals of Environmental Studies” from Cambridge University Press, published in December 2015, ISBN 9781107536173, A Routledge & CRC Press-Taylor & Francis Group publication,  “Go Green for Environmental Sustainability; An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Theory and Applications, ISBN 9780367517403, in July 2021. His well-known article on “The Earth we want requires reconciliation with creation” has been published in four languages, namely, French, Spanish, Italian and English. (

Fr. Xavier’s presentations with humourous anecdotes, thought provoking videos and latest research data have won him laurels from the students and research communities. He organises Global Earth Summit conferences and brings out the best in his students in terms of ecological and environmental awareness.

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