New Delhi, Jan 28 : The Supreme Court on Thursday sought response from the Centre on a plea citing issues of credibility and authenticity of environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports across the country, and sought direction to set up an autonomous and independent national regulator for appraising projects and enforcing environmental conditions.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian issued notice to the Environment, Forests and Climate Change Ministry on the petition.
The plea, filed through advocate Satya Mitra, by former Indian Forest Services member A.N. Yellappa Reddy and Lt Gen S.C. Sardeshpande (retd), cited the 2011 verdict of the top court, where direction was issued to appoint a national regulator under section 3 of the Environment Protection Act 1986, but has not been done so far.
The plea also cited a 2016 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on environmental clearance and post clearance monitoring, where it was noted that environment impact assessment process suffers from various procedural deficiencies.
“Several courts across the country have dealt with petitions where issues of credibility and authenticity of EIA reports have been called into question, the effectiveness of public consultation process has been assailed and where the appraising authorities have been found to have failed to adequately apply their minds before clearances have been granted,” the plea said.
The petitioners emphasised that there is need for an autonomous, expert body for appraising projects for their potential impact on the environment and to ensure effective monitoring has been examined by the apex court. The plea claimed that presently, the environment clearance (EC) processes are neither transparent, nor objective.
“ECs are issued in an arbitrary manner because of, amongst other reasons, lack of permanency of EAC members, lack of validated data, ineffective monitoring and enforcement of environmental clearance conditions, and, in some cases, conflict of interest in the case of some members,” the plea argued.
The petitioners said several expert bodies have been called for reform in environmental governance and they cited several difficulties in ensuring compliance with the environmental laws, due to the structure of the institutions involved in the appraisal and approval process.
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