In an op-ed published in The Hindu, Gandhi said that “protection of the environment must go hand in hand with promoting public health and access to dignified livelihoods for all”.
The Covid-19 pandemic, she said, should have made the government reconsider its environmental and public health governance, but alleged that clearances were being handed out during the lockdown without proper public consultations.
Calling the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020 Notification “disastrous”, Gandhi said that it will unleash unprecedented devastation on the environment.
HuffPost India’s Akshay Deshmane has reported on many of the controversial aspects of the proposed law (read here, here and here), which was published in the government’s gazette for publication while the coronavirus lockdown was in force.
The draft EIA Notification 2020 was first uploaded on the Ministry’s website on March 23 and despite the lockdown, the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change received thousands of mostly-negative comments by April 22 over email. Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar overruled his own officers and decided to give a fewer number of days for the public to give feedback about the specific provisions of the draft.
The proposed law also restricts the scope of Corporate Environment Responsibility in line with the real estate lobby’s demands, letting developers avoid mandatory payments for some activities that address environmental damage.
The Modi government has also been resisting translating the draft into 22 regional languages for wider public consultation, claiming in the Karnataka high court that doing so would create “a big hurdle for the Union of India”.
Gandhi, in the op-ed, asked the government to stop dismantling environmental regulations. The first step in this regard, she said, is to withdraw the Draft EIA 2020 Notification. “What is essential is widespread public consultation to shape a national agenda that will place India at the forefront of the battle against global warming and pandemics.”
The Congress President also said that Adivasis and forest-dwelling communities are being harassed by the Forest Department because of the “twisted interpretation and shoddy implementation” of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. She pointed out that the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 was passed by the government in both Houses of Parliament despite the Opposition saying that it bypasses the FRA, 2006, and disempowers Adivasis, forest dwellers and gram sabhas.