The Karnataka High Court has restrained Centre from publishing the final notification of the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification until September 7. The direction was given in a petition filed by a trust called United Conservation movement stating that the draft EIA notification was not given sufficient publicity.
The bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Ashok Kinagi noted that the draft notification was published on March 23, which was a day before the national lockdown was announced by the Centre. Further, the draft was published on the website only on April 11. The Covid-19 pandemic did not give much opportunity to people for filing objections. The Bench observed, “Prima facie it appears to us that the right of citizens to file objection has been taken away”. The Centre has extended the date to file objections until August 11.
The order says that if the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is willing to grant reasonable time to people for filing objections from the date on which wide publicity is given in the state, then this interim relief may be vacated.
The court also pointed out that in Karnataka the lockdown went on till May; in June there were some relaxations and in July again limited period lockdown was in place.
The court even expressed its disappointment over the stand taken by the Centre that the notification be published in the official gazette only in Hindi and English. The counsel appearing for the Centre, Advocate Shiva Kumar cited Article 343 of the Constitution and stated that it was not the obligation of the Centre to give publicity in regional languages.
The same argument was raised at the previous hearing and the court had then said, “Prima facie, we do not agree with the submission that the hands of the respondent are tied by virtue of provisions of the Official Languages Act and that they cannot ensure publication of the notification in official languages of the state.” The Court further said, “The approach of the respondents suggests that perhaps those who don’t understand Hindi and English language need not file comments or objections to the notification.”
When Kumar said that all State Environment Impact Assessment Authority was directed to give publicity in local languages, the court said, “Till today it is not brought on record by respondents that publicity is given in Kannada language”.
A similar matter has been previously heard by the Delhi High Court whereby the court had directed the Centre to extend last date of filing objections to August 11 and had also directed that the notification be published in all 22 official languages.
The matter will be next heard on September 7.
The draft EIA 2020 amends the EIA 2006 but it proposes a legal regime that could potentially increase the environmental risks to forest dwellers, endangered species and the overall ecosystem. It has been widely criticized by environmental and civil rights groups for weakening environmental regulations by giving post facto clearance and doing away with important processes like public consultations.