With concerns over the increasing chances of human vulnerability due to climate related changes, the role of public participation in climate policy making has become more important. Incorporating public opinion has been a key feature of environmental decision making through the formalized environmental impact assessments (EIAs), meant to objectively evaluate developmental projects with environmental impacts. However, recent evidence has raised concerns that India’s EIA process is no more than a procedural puppet. This is of concern if India is serious about integrating equitable and effective climate policies which has been the rhetoric echoed by government officials.
EIAs in India
EIAs have become an integral part of environmental policy formulation and sustainable development dialogue in various countries. While they continue to be scrutinized for their subjectivity and tediousness, they remain an essential component of government regulations seeking interested in balancing development priorities with environmental conservation. In India, environmental impact statements were introduced and mandated for developmental projects in 1994. However, the formalized EIA process in India has had significant flaws since its 1994 inception despite multiple amendments to improve. The role of public participation in the EIA process and sustainable development goals has faced challenges in the Indian context due to population density, land pressures, and varied uses/users natural resources. The Chipko movement in 1980s protesting forest encroachment, Narmada coalition contesting Sardar Sarovar dam in the 1980s, the halt of Tata Nano factory in 2006 due to land disputes are just a few prominent events catalyzing the closer inspection and need for public participation inclusion in India’s EIA process.
The environment and local livelihoods take a back seat
In response to these events, the Government of India, since 1994 has amended the EIA process. In 2006 the EIA legislation was revamped to facilitate environmental clearances– streamlining criterion and bureaucratic processes to clear development projects faster! The environmental clearance notification has given way to poor quality documentation in the EIA process such as false accounting of flora and fauna, omitted endangered species, and fraudulent statements in impact statements that received clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
In mid January 2009, the MoEF published a notification mandating that environmental clearances and associated terms be published in two local newspapers and on the state government website. Is this enough action to increase transparency and bolster the credibility of India’s EIA process? While this action can be viewed as welcoming, is it truly accessible to the communities and locales affected by such projects?
Recent analysis over India’s climate policy suggest it is, in many ways, heavily centered on developing energy security and development agendas that are sustainable. With equally important concerns over issues such as energy and water security, environmentally-friendly alternative energy and developmental projects, such as dams and mining, are more likely to get the green light than face intense scrutiny over their environmental and social costs. Is this trend compatible with India’s climate policy principles- “Protecting the poor and vulnerable sections of society through an inclusive and sustainable development strategy, sensitive to climate change” (Page 2, National Action Plan on Climate Change)?