NEW DELHI — Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled a recommendation by his own ministry officials to extend the time for public consultation about controversial dilutions proposed for a landmark environmental law to August 10, 2020, documents obtained by HuffPost India establish. Javadekar fixed the deadline for June 30 instead, giving the public 40 fewer days to respond.
The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, it is worth noting, was first uploaded on the Ministry’s website on March 23 — a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s so-called Janata Curfew, and a day before imposing a nation-wide lockdown which continues, albeit with significant modifications, to this day.
Despite the lockdown’s punitive restrictions, the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change received over 5,000 mostly-negative comments by April 22 over email making the case for more time for public consultations or withdrawal of the draft. Thus, the then Environment Secretary C.K. Mishra and his subordinates in the ministry suggested that time till August 10 be given for public consultation.
But documents show Javedekar overruled his bureaucrats’ suggestion of allowing a longer time frame for consultation and set the June 30 deadline without putting down any reasons in writing. His decision lends credence to claims that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is evading meaningful and participatory public scrutiny of its actions by using the coronavirus lockdown to ram through controversial dilutions to an important environmental law.
Speaking with this reporter, environmental lawyers and analysts explained some of the most controversial aspects of this draft notification. Advocate Parul Gupta said, the draft notification “attempts to legalise the violations committed by the project proponents by allowing projects which have already started construction or commenced operations without obtaining the necessary...