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In Conversation With Anjali Dalmia: On Youth Against Dilution Of EIA2020

Divya Wagle, UG 22

On 23rd March 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released an 83 page long draft notification on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA 2020 is very problematic, with provisions that shorten the public consultation period and exempt several projects (such as development, oil drilling, dams, etc) from public consultation altogether. Other issues include post- facto approval, increased validity for river projects and mining clearance, and a general easing of rules among other things.

Anjali Dalmia, a UG 22 student and environmental activist, is spearheading a petition that demands the EIA 2020 Draft be withdrawn and rewritten according to expert recommendations. Through her initiative, within 9 days of its inception, the petition has been backed by over 55 student unions ranging from JNUSU in the north to the Student Bar Association (NLSIU) in the South. An email was sent to the MOEFCC with student concerns about EIA, the first of many more such youth letters and petitions to be sent against the EIA 2020. The Edict interviewed Anjali to learn more about this issue and what can be done about it.

So, the first and most obvious question would be what is the EIA?

EIA is the Environment Impact Assessment, which assesses what the impact of any project undertaken in the country would be on the environment. It’s a way for the public to know the details of a project and voice their opinions on it. It’s a way to assess how many trees need to be cut down, what the damage could be if the development project does go through and there are certain parameters to measure whether a project can or cannot happen. It is linked to environmental clearance.

What is the EIA2020, i.e. the new draft?

There are some huge issues with EIA 2020 and the main reasoning behind implementing these terrible changes is to boost the Indian economy through development projects, which can provide a lot of employment. However, this is actually very degrading for the people involved in these projects as they are being removed from their homes and put to work in factories and mines. I feel we really have to figure out what development and economic growth actually is. It’s high time we assess who really is benefiting. Some of the main issues with the EIA are the continuance of post facto approval i.e. industries and plants can start projects before actually getting clearance and later just pay a fine. A clear example is the Vizag Gas Leak where the company had not gotten the plant cleared for 2 decades. Also, the public consultation period has been cut from 45 to 40 and public response period from 30 to 20 days. They have formed industry categories on normative parameters of size and capacity. One problematic category is the B2, under which any industry that is considered necessary for national security or other strategic considerations by the Central Government can carry out projects without the approval of the public. Additionally, this category contains some destructive industries like red and orange plastic industries which are the worst kind of toxic industries, projects like expansion of irrigation, construction and area development. Furthermore, industries can submit just one compliance report a year instead of two. Two was never enough so just one is unacceptable. The clearance for mining is now valid for 50 years instead of 30 and for river valley projects it is 15 instead of 10 years. These are major changes. It’s rather scary.

What is the provision through which you are petitioning against this draft? Are you bound by the time period of the notification?

Actually we are protesting against the EIA itself. We are and already have sent out an email to the MOEFCC signed by a lot of student Unions. Hopefully we are able to get a response soon. This will be followed by a twitter storm at 4 pm on 28th June, and we have just sent a follow up email to the PMO on 28th morning. We are not responding to a particular project within the EIA, so the period is not applicable to us. However, the EIA may be passed on the 30th and whatever we do has to be done before then. We have to get it withdrawn.

Do you think environmental issues are getting the coverage and attention they need? What would the future under these new circumstances (EIA2020) look like?

Definitely not. You often hear people say, “oh, I’m not passionate about it.” This is not something that you need to or need not be passionate about. It’s as basic as human rights. It’s essentially our futures we are talking about. The only reason it’s not receiving attention is because we think this is in the future. We are living in our privilege of being able to ignore it. But pollution is increasing, people are being displaced, dams are being built, and rivers are drying up. It’s impossible for us to survive if this is the path we go down. But as seen with our movement, media attention is slowly being drawn to these matters.

Coming to your work, when did you first start this movement and how did it gather momentum?

So this started on 16th June when Tarang and SG collaborated to send a statement of solidarity to the student body at Ashoka. The idea of connecting to other universities was suggested by a student in response. I started contacting people and got added to the EIA war room, which has some of the most prominent environmental heads and people working towards this issue. Through them, I was able to get some good leads and contacts. We then created a team with students from Ashoka, Azim Premji, St. Joseph’s etc. We contacted universities like crazy and got through to around 50 of them. We reached out to a bunch of journalists. Networking helped us gain attention and from there it just picked up.

What’s your target ?

We are trying to be 100 student unions strong before the EIA deadline. Hopefully, it will be 70-80 by the time we send another email on 28th June. We will try to keep this up so we can form a coalition for the environment and maybe seek legal action. We can continue working on this and bringing attention to not just the EIA but other environmental issues as well. We aim to get as much youth involved as possible.

How can we support this cause?

We have two forms- one is for student unions and one is for individuals. Unions can join by just signing on the form and individuals are getting added to a list of students/youth by providing their email details. You can read up about this and spread the word, there are some great videos for information.

Fill in this form to back the petition for the EIA2020 DILUTION:

Watch this video to get more information on the EIA and this movement:

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