Much ado about transparency

Or, nothing: so far as environment clearance is concerned

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- the National Environmental Policy Act, 1969 was the legislative basis for environment impact assessment (eia) in the us. That country realised, in the 1960s, that major environmental problems could also be created by what government did. This legislation required that all federal agencies would consider the consequences of their actions. A few years after, other countries designed eia legislation. Australia passed its first eia legislation in 1974. India -- better late than never -- did the same in 1994.

It was a significant step, for India, towards recognising the rights of people affected by industrial and developmental projects, involving them in a process that had a progressive intent: let there be a healthy and productive environment. But as eia began to be implemented, things went horribly wrong. We can justifiably ask today: was the process ever designed to fulfil what it professed? Consider only the 'public hearing', the only stage people figure in the picture: it is today a gargoyle, created by the unholy nexus between project promoters and government officials. The eia notification also has the dubious distinction of being amended more times than the number of years it has been under operation. Each amendment was a dilution: the nation's development, so-called, was speeded up. If, in the bargain, some villages got uprooted, or the environment got polluted? Too bad. It was a price all (read: the poor) had to pay, even unwillingly.

The ministry's currently toying with the mother of all eia amendments. Here, the public hearing will be conducted by the project proponents themselves if a state pollution control board (spcb) is not able do it in a specified time period. A perfect reason for spcb s to not conduct it. A perfect occasion for project proponents to push for speedy clearance. Everybody is happy. But we are not: governance cannot be predicated on creating conflict of interest.

One more piece of information: the project document for this amendment was funded by the Word Bank. Hardly any civil society groups were invited to comment.

So much ado about transparency.

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