even as the Union ministry of environment and forests has come out with an environment impact assessment (eia) notification to reconfigure the eia regime in September 2006, three task forces are working on eia. (see 'Obvious bias', Down To Earth, September 30, 2006).
A Task Force on Mountain Ecosystems (Forest and Environment) has been constituted for the 11th five-year plan, which, among other things, is working on eia. It will review the current understanding of environmental changes in the Indian mountains and assess the effect of climate change in these sensitive and fragile regions. It will also review and assess other conservation related issues. The terms of reference include a review of the current eia laws in the context of the mountains.Significantly, though the eia has already been notified, the task force will not submit its report till October-end.
In such a scenario, sceptics have questioned the relevance of the task force. "The process does not have a lot of credibility," says Souparno Lahiri, of the Peoples Forum against Asian Development Bank. He rues that the task force merely has recommendatory powers and that it was given a very short period for submission of the report. Manju Menon of Kalpvriksha is more optimistic "It gives us space to engage with the government again."
The notification has been criticised by some environmentalists. Amba Jamir, a member of the task force, says that the eia process is generic for the whole country, but the mountains need specific parameters. The task force will look into the practical dimensions of eia in the mountains, the status of reports and the follow up, among others, says R S Tolia, its chairperson. He also looks forward to working with experts from various fields, some who are already members of the task force and others to be brought in as invitees.
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