Hyderabad: The central government received close to 2 million responses for an amendment proposed to the Environment Impact Assessment Act (1986). Proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in March, the policy will replace the 2006 notification.

However, environmentalists and people's representatives in Telangana feel that the policy changes may impact tribal lives and forest cover in the state.

Mulugu MLA Danasari Anusuya, or Seethakka, feels that the draft notification, if passed, may give a green card to capitalists and industrialists to encroach tribal lands. A representative of the tribal communities, she said, "The draft proposes de-facto clearances for industrialists. This will give a free hand for capitalists to take over tribal lands. These lands belonged to tribals for generations and they have protested whenever their land was under threat." Citing the example of uranium mining at Nallamalla forest, she said that tribal protests will be rendered useless, if the law acts in favour of bigger industries.

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In the draft EIA notification 2020, projects that require laying of inland waterways and widening of national highways are exempt from prior clearance. This also includes roads built through forests and dredging of rivers.

As per experts, the biggest issues that come with the draft notification are de-facto clearances to industrialists and push towards centralisation of clearances. The latter part does not include citizens in the battle against environmental violence.

A strong voice in the #SaveKBRPark protests in 2017, environmentalist Kajal Maheshwari feels that the changes in the law would endanger the cause of protests also. "When we fought to save this park, we had the law by our side. People, of course, participated in large numbers, but we were backed by a law that ruled in favour of the environment," she added.

She further commented that the last few years have made people more conscious about the environment, and the draft notification was the fuel we needed to light up the fire of awareness in the country.

Ms Kajal also feels while forests have a bigger red tape for industrialists to cut through, local parks and lakes can be easily encroached or affected. She added, "If the draft notification is passed, then parks and gardens will face a bigger threat."

Another section in the draft policy hinders citizens from complaining about environmental negligence by companies. Hyderabad-based social activist Dr Lubna Sarwath, added, "The Environment Assessment Act came into existence in 1986 after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. It was made to help the people impacted by environmental atrocities. This notification goes against the very genesis of the draft, and pushes those impacted out of its governance."

She further commented that the draft EIA avoids all accountability mechanism. Dr Sarwath is currently pursuing cases in the National Green Tribunal against Pheonix Spaces Private Limited, for allegedly constructing a huge building at the Mamikunta lake at Puppalguda without proper environmental clearances. "The law currently allows me to fight these cases as a regular citizen, because there are several instances of EIA breaches happening even today. Passing the new policy would only worsen things."

Dr Sarwath further added that the existing notification that grants clearances has several loopholes, but it allows space for the voice of citizens. Both Kajal and Dr Sarwath also feel that in a city like Hyderabad, where lake encroachment is a common issue, the new notification would only lead to its rapid rise

As per the draft notification, corporations can apply for clearances after starting construction as well. In cases of violations, they can pay a fine decided by the government and proceed with the construction.

Priyali Dhingra

Priyali Dhingra is a post graduate in Communication Studies from Hyderabad Central University. She has previously worked as a photojournalist, editorial, and graphic design intern in The Indian Express, Newslaundry, and NDTV. Reigning from Delhi, she has an avid interest in photojournalism, and all things visual. She has also represented India as a delegate in the JENESYS 2019 Student Exchange Program with the Government of Japan. Having pursued her graduation in history from Delhi University, she was also a part of her college's theatre society. Her primary interests include: photography, poetry & politics.

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