NEWS
12/08/2020 7:16 PM IST | Updated 12/08/2020 9:06 PM IST

EIA 2020: Karnataka HC Nudges Modi Govt To Translate Draft Law In Kannada, Give Citizens Time To Submit Objections

Citizens’ right to file objections was taken away as the proposed law was translated only in Hindi and English, and circulated couple of days before the imposition of coronavirus lockdown for consultation, said the Karnataka HC.

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Facade of the Karnataka High Court as seen in a file photo. 

NEW DELHI—Observing that the citizens’ right  tofile objections against the draft environment impact assessment (EIA 2020) notification had been “taken away” since it was released only in English and Hindi—and that too a couple of days prior to the imposition of the coronavirus  lockdown—the Karnataka High Court nudged the union environment ministry to translate the draft law in Kannada and give “reasonable time” for people to submit their objections and suggestions.

The Karnataka HC did this in an order dated August 5 through which it also restrained the environment ministry from publishing the final notification based on the draft EIA 2020 notification. The copy of this order was released earlier today. 

Effectively this implies that, if the union environment ministry decides to comply, the public consultation process for the controversial new draft law for environment clearance will be conducted separately in Kannada.  Officially, though, the last date for public consultation about this law was August 11. 

As HuffPost Indiareported earlier, the Karnataka HC had warned in an order dated 16 July that it may consider staying the draft EIA 2020 notification if wide publicity is not given to it in local languages by the environment ministry, and people are not given adequate time to respond. As the August 5 order makes it clear, the court believes the environment ministry has not given wide publicity to the draft law. 

“Prima facie, it appears to us that the right of the citizens of lodging objections to the Draft EIA 2020 Notification has been taken away due to the factors which we have indicated above,” the August 5 order given by a two judge bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S. Kinagi said. 

Prima facie, it appears to us that the right of the citizens of lodging objections to the Draft EIA 2020 Notification has been taken away due to the factors which we have indicated above.Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S. Kinagi

The factors indicated in the preceding two paras of the order include two: a) publication of the draft notification/law only in English and Hindi and the fact that many citizens in Karnataka not being conversant in the languages, and b) release of the draft notification couple of days prior to the imposition of the coronavirus lockdown.

“We repeatedly asked a question to the learned counsel for the respondent whether he is in a position to make a statement that a reasonable time will be granted to file the objections to the Draft EIA 2020 Notification after a wide publicity is given to the same in the State. He is unable to make a positive statement in this behalf,” the order noted. 

It then proceeded to restrain the PM Narendra Modi led government from publishing a final notification on the basis of the draft EIA 2020 notification till September 7 which is when the next hearing is scheduled. 

“We may clarify here that in the meanwhile, it will be open for the respondent to take all permissible steps on the basis of the draft EIA Notification. In the event the respondent is ready to grant a reasonable time for submitting the objections from the date on which wide publicity is given in the State of Karnataka, it can always apply for vacating the interim order,” the August 5 order said. 

According to Advocate Prince Isac, who is representing the United Conservation Movement that filed a petition seeking publication of the draft law in Kannada, this basically implies the court is asking the union environment ministry to translate the draft law in Kannada and seek objections and suggestions from citizens. The reasonable time here, Isac said, would be sixty days according to sub-rule 3 of rule 5 of the Environment Protection rules, 1986.  

He also said that this order is likely to have a bearing on the petitions in other High Courts about the draft EIA 2020 and the case for translation of the proposed law in other states’ official languages just got stronger.  

As HuffPost Indiareported earlier, the Madras HC asked the union environment ministry if it is willing to publish the draft law in Tamil and invite public objections and suggestions. The ministry’s reply is expected to be considered at the next hearing on August 13. 

It is unclear if the union environment ministry is considering conducting the public consultation process in Kannada, as asked by the Karnataka HC in its August 5 order. A response from the ministry’s lawyer was not immediately available. 

As this previous report by HuffPost Indiarevealed, the environment ministry has challenged the Delhi HC judgment directing it to translate the draft EIA 2020 into 22 languages mentioned in the schedule 8 of the Indian constitution, in the Supreme Court. The challenge in the SC is also expected to come up for hearing on August 13.