03/09/2020 8:33 AM IST | Updated 03/09/2020 8:33 AM IST

EIA 2020: Why A Petition In Delhi HC Is Seeking 60 More Days For Public Consultation About Modi Govt's Controversial Draft Law

The MoEF failed to comply with the Delhi HC’s order directing translation of draft EIA 2020 into 22 local languages, the application claims. The environment ministry has been asked to respond by the court.

HuffPost India
Screenshot of the Delhi High Court gate from a video documentary about the setting up of the court prepared by the Mint newspaper.

NEW DELHI—Citing the failure of the Narendra Modi government’s environment ministry to translate the controversial draft law for environmental clearance into India’s 22 local languages, an application in the Delhi High Court has sought at least 60 more days for official public consultation about it. 

As HuffPost India reported here, the Delhi HC on June 30 directed the union green ministry to translate the proposed law, officially called the draft environmental impact assessment notification 2020 (EIA 2020), for environment clearance into 22 languages mentioned in the eight schedule of the constitution by July 10. 

The court, while extending the overall time limit for public consultation till August 11, had also directed that the translated versions of the law be uploaded on the websites of the state pollution control boards and state environment ministries by July 10 to ensure that people get enough time to read and submit their feedback about it. 

However, the latest application filed by activist Vikrant Tongad asserts that this hasn’t been done and requests that 60 more days be given after the translated drafts are uploaded on the websites of the respective state pollution control boards and state environment ministries. Without this specific direction, the “letter and spirit” of the June 30 judgment “will be frustrated”, the application states. On Monday, the HC issued notice to the Centre to respond to the application. The Delhi HC is likely to take up this matter next on September 23. 

In this report, HuffPost India revealed how the union environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled his officials and cut short the official period for public consultation about the draft law which was released when the coronavirus pandemic and its related lockdown were in full force. Activists accused the government of trying to ram through a controversial law by avoiding any meaningful public scrutiny under the cover of the pandemic. 

Tongad’s application also notes the fact that the official time for public consultation lapsed on August 11—the deadline set by the Delhi HC itself in its previous judgment. But the application points out that, due to the ministry’s failure to translate the draft law in most of the 22 local languages, only Hindi and English speakers have been able to participate in the public consultations.

“It is submitted that the non-compliance with the directions and the timelines set down by this Hon’ble Court has hampered the public consultation process,” the application claims. 

It is submitted that the non-compliance with the directions and the timelines set down by this Hon’ble Court has hampered the public consultation process.Application filed by activist Vikrasnt Tongad

It then further adds, “As the deadline for receiving public comments has lapsed as on 11th August 2020, an anomalous situation has been created throughout the country wherein speakers of vernacular languages will not be allowed to respond to the draft Notification, while English and Hindi speakers have got a total time of 120 days to respond to the draft notification. It is submitted that this anomalous situation has arbitrariness writ large over it, and negates the very letter and spirit of the order of this Hon’ble Court dated 30.6.2020.” 

Given this background, the application has termed translation of the draft law into local languages after expiry of the consultation process a “mere formality, defeating the purpose” of the Delhi HC’s judgment directing translation in 22 languages of the eight schedule of the constitution. 

The application also notes that translations of the EIA draft 2020 have been prepared in Marathi, Oriya, Nepali, Konkani, Telugu and Bengali. However, some of them have not yet been published online since the environment ministry directed the states to seek its permission before uploading them. 

It also claims that the draft law wasn’t uploaded on the websites of the state pollution control boards and state environment ministries in Hindi and English–-the copies of which were already available with the union environment ministry. “...the Respondent has not taken even the bare minimum steps to give wide publicity to the contents of the draft notification,” the application claims. 

As HuffPost India reported here, the Karnataka High Court has stayed the publication of the final notification based on the draft EIA 2020 and asked the ministry to translate it into Kannada and conduct a thorough public consultation process based on it by giving additional time. The stay is in force till September 7.