By Our Representative In yet another move to “remove” alleged hurdles in the way of coming with “developmental” projects, the Government of India is all set to undermine Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) and Carrying Capacity Studies (CSS), which have been an important part of the environment impact assessment process of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
A recent letter written by a group of senior environmentalists a Delhi-based advocacy group to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar has taken strong exception to not including CIA and CSS in the agenda of environmental clearance (EC) meetings held recently for projects proposed for several of the river basis projects.
Worse, the letter, signed by led by Himansh Thakker of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), in alliance with 18 people’s organizations across India, says none of the draft CIA and CCS were made available in the public domain on the EC website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
Pointing out that this is clear from the agenda of the meetings declared for Environmental Clearance January 21 as also on February 8-9, the letter reveals, this is in pursuance of a “recent decision” of the Ministry not to put make public these documents, insisting, “This is a clear departure from the past practice” and “against the basic principles of transparent.”
The letter says, “Availability of these documents in public domain at least two weeks before the scheduled meeting of the Environmental Assessment Committee (EAC) is crucial for all concerned to be able to study these document and share their views about the adequacy or otherwise of the studies with the EAC”, adding, refusal to do so is nothing but an effort to “informed participation” of all concerned stakeholders in this process. The letter goes on, this is also a violation of the order of Central Information Commission (CIC) dated January 18, 2012, which “specifically directed that all documents related to the EAC agenda must be in pubic domain, also required under Section 4 of RTI Act 2015.”
Insisting that “CIA and CCS are very important part of the decision making about the river basins and projects in river basins”, the letter says, “In the past the studies have left a lot to be desired and following inputs from many of us and others, the EAC has asked further work and studies in the CIA and CCS.” The letter further tells the minister, “Conditions of environment clearance also stipulate that the clearance is subject to the final CIA/CCS. It is hence also imperative that public participation in the approval of CIA and CCS is ensured.” It adds, “The MoEF&CC Office Memorandum of May 28, 2013 about need for CIA and CCS also is crucial in this process.”
The refusal to make public CIA and CSS crucially comes at a time when, says a SANDRP source, when MoEF&CC “has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and the North East.” “Over 70 dams are planned for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends”, says SANDRP, adding, “The cumulative impacts of these projects on the hydrology, downstream flow, sudden water releases, deforestation, muck disposal, influx of migrant workers, seismicity of the region, etc., is huge.”