08/08/2020 4:38 PM IST | Updated 08/08/2020 4:40 PM IST

EIA 2020: Madras HC Asks Modi Govt If It Will Translate Controversial Draft Law In Tamil

Petition filed in Madras HC cites ongoing coronavirus lockdown in Tamil Nadu and unavailability of EIA 2020 in the Tamil language among reasons for seeking a stay on the draft law.

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The Madras High Court in a file photo.

NEW DELHI—The Madras High Court has asked the union environment ministry if it can publish the controversial draft law for environment clearance in Tamil to ensure that the people of Tamil Nadu also read and give their opinion about it.

The court asked this on Friday while hearing a petition filed by Meenava Thanthai K.R. Selvarajkumar Meenavar Nala Sangam—an environmental nonprofit based in the state capital Chennai

This petition is slightly different from two previous ones filed in the Karnataka High Court and the Delhi High Court which also similarly sought more time for public consultation and publication of the draft EIA law in local languages. 

The Madras HC petition is different on at least three significant grounds. It points out that Hindi and English are understood by “few people” in Tamil Nadu so not publishing the draft law in Tamil will be a “violation of natural justice” of the people. It also says that the ongoing coronavirus  lockdown in Tamil Nadu has been extended till August 31 so it will be difficult to conduct public consultations about the proposed law and thus argues for preventing it from being made into law till consultations are carried out in Tamil. The petition also asserts that citizens will not be able to comply with their fundamental duties described under Article 51A(g) of the constitution in the absence of a translated edition in Tamil of the draft EIA notification 2020.  The Article 51A(g) makes it a fundamental duty of Indian citizens to “protect and improve” the natural environment, and to have compassion for living creatures. 

The Madras HC petition is different from those filed in Karnataka and Delhi on at least three significant grounds.

The Madras HC petition also pointed out that residents living in rural and forest areas have been unable to access the draft of the proposed law, which has only been uploaded online on a few central government websites, because they do not have access to the internet. So it sought publication of the Tamil version of the draft law in printed format in the offices of the panchayats and municipal corporations to ensure broad based consultation with the people. 

Advocate Stanly Hebzon, who is representing the environment non-profit, told HuffPost India the reason why the organisation moved a petition in the Madras High Court seeking complete stay of the draft law till public consultations are also conducted in Tamil despite the Karnataka High Court having already stayed it till September 7. 

He said the Karnataka HC stay is “limited” and can be withdrawn before September 7. What his client was seeking is a complete stay till the Tamil translation is provided by the union environment ministry and consultations are conducted widely. This looks like a difficult prospect as of now since Tamil Nadu is under a lockdown till August 31. 

He also said that, during the petition’s hearing on Friday, the court ‘suo motu’ made the Tamil Nadu state government a party to the matter. The environment ministry was also asked if it can translate the draft law in Tamil during the same hearing. The next hearing in the matter is scheduled for 13 August.

As HuffPost India reported recently, the draft environment impact assessment notification 2020 has courted controversy especially since it was revealed that, despite receiving public criticism for releasing it during the coronavirus lockdown for consultation, the environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled his officers who were batting for a longer time frame, and vetoed 30 June 2020 as the last date for consultations.   

Soon after, the Delhi HC ordered that the time limit for consultations be extended till August 11 and the draft law be translated into 22 languages mentioned in schedule 8 of the constitution. 

When an environment group informed the Karnataka HC that the Modi government had not complied with the order to translate the draft law in the 22 languages, and the centre also insisted that it is not legally bound to do so, the court ordered a stay. This implies that the government cannot notify the draft as the final law for implementation till consultations are carried out in the 22 languages of the eight schedule.