ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Insights from the Expansion in Coal Mining

The Road Ahead for Environmental Impact Assessment in India

One of the most contentious changes proposed in the draft environmental impact assessment notification, 2020 in India is the circumvention of public consultations for the expansion of projects for up to 50% of their original capacity. Similar exemption from public hearing, albeit for 40% capacity expansion, has been permitted as a special case for the coal mining sector since 2017. The minutes of the meetings of the coal mining expert appraisal committee between August 2017 and January 2021, which reviewed the requests for coal mine expansion, are analysed herein. It was found that the expert appraisal committees had effectively sidelined the environmental- and non-compliance-related concerns and that the review and approval process was influenced by the pressure from external stakeholders with vested interests.

 

The setting up of any major project or its expansion in India requires clearance from the Ministry of Environment, and Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC),1 following an environmental impact assessment (EIA) under the current EIA notification, 2006 (MoEF 2006).2 The notification contains guidelines on two primary aspects: accounting of environmental and social impacts and public consultation, including public hearings,3 for affected parties as well as interested stakeholders. Sector-specific panels are appointed by the MoEFCC to screen, scope, and appraise the projects seeking such environmental clearance—the expert appraisal committees (EACs) and the state expert appraisal committees (SEACs)—at the central and state/union territory levels, respectively.4 These committees are expected to assess project impacts, review public hearing proceedings, and public comments and suggest environmental safeguards for projects that are granted clearance.

Between 2006 and 2020, over 50 amendments were made to the EIA notification, 2006 (Dinesh and Kapoor 2020), followed by a “zero draft” of a new iteration of the EIA notification in 2019 and a brand new draft EIA notification in 2020 (MoEFCC 2019a, 2020a). The 2020 draft notification proposes changes in project categories that require environmental clearance, process of environmental appraisal, possibility of ex post facto approvals, and assignment of projects to the central or state EACs (Gupta et al 2020). A contentious suggestion in the proposal is the removal of public consultation for modernisation of industrial units in all sectors within the existing premises or mine lease area with an increase in capacity of up to 50% of the production capacity for which a prior environmental clearance exists.

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Updated On : 20th Mar, 2022
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