NEW DELHI—The union environment ministry told the Delhi High Court that it has received the translated copies of the controversial draft EIA 2020 in 22 regional Indian languages from states, but won’t publish them for public consultation as the translations cannot be verified so issuing them will cause “confusion and complications”.
The draft Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA 2020, is the Narendra Modi government’s proposed new law for environment clearance which courted controversy soon after it was released for public consultation in April.
Terming the translations of the draft law in 22 languages a “precautionary measure”, the ministry argued that this nevertheless “does not form an implication” on it to publish the draft for public feedback in all 22 languages mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, according to an affidavit filed by the environment ministry in the Delhi High Court and accessed by HuffPost India.
The Prakash Javadekar-led ministry also claimed that some state governments do not have the expertise for translations, without naming them, and added that there will anyway be several interpretations of the translations. Further, it said, if the ministry were to publish the translations for public consultations, many other government notifications may also come to be legally challenged on the same grounds, thereby “creating an endless chaos”.
The environment ministry made these observations and assertions in an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court on October 21. The affidavit was filed in connection with a review petition that the ministry had filed challenging the court’s judgment which directed it to translate the controversial draft law into the 22 languages mentioned in India’s constitution. HuffPost India wrote about the order and its implications here.
The environment ministry said if it were to publish the translations for public consultations, many other government notifications may also come to be legally challenged on the same grounds, thereby “creating an endless chaos”.
The specific points in the environment ministry’s affidavit, however, have been mentioned in response to another affidavit filed by activist Vikrant Tongad.
In his affidavit, which was filed in response to the environment ministry’s review petition mentioned earlier in this report, Tongad stated that, “as on date 22.09.2020, translations of all 22 languages mentioned in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution of India have been completed.” This was the first time when the fact that the ministry was in possession of translations in all eight schedule languages was disclosed in a court of law.
Confirming this information, the environment ministry nevertheless has argued at length in its own affidavit about why it won’t publish all translations of the draft EIA 2020 for public consultation.
This is significant because, when the Delhi High Court delivered its judgment directing the environment ministry to translate the proposed law in 22 languages, the Javadekar-led ministry had said it will comply with the court’s direction. However, as HuffPost India reported here, the environment ministry first did a u-turn on this position in the Karnataka High Court in a ‘statement of objections’ it filed there. It followed on this quickly by filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the directions of both the Karnataka and Delhi High Courts to translate the draft law in regional languages.
The Supreme Court, while allowing the environment ministry to withdraw its appeal and approach the Delhi HC to file a review petition, nevertheless also said that the green ministry should translate the controversial draft law in local languages and amend the Official Languages Act to make it mandatory for the government to conduct consultation in local languages.
Now the union environment ministry has repeated some of its previous legal arguments to justify its stand of not translating the proposed law in local languages. It has also said that it is “in receipt of more than 20 lakh representations/suggestions/comments, both offline and online, on the draft EIA Notification, 2020”.
In the ministry’s reckoning, this number proves that the draft, presently published only in English and Hindi, “has been read by a large number of people and is widely publicised”. It also reiterated that the consultation for the draft law that has been done so far, even if in Hindi and English only, has been done “in accordance with the law”.
The Delhi HC is scheduled to consider the review petition next on December 4.
(Correction: An earlier version of this report listed the next date of hearing as November 4 instead of December 4. The error is regretted.)
This article originally appeared on HuffPost India and has been updated.