On Tuesday 30 June 2020, the Delhi High Court extended the deadline for the submission of objections to the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 of Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change to 11 August 2020. Earlier the government had set the deadline as 30 June 2020. The matter was heard by a division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan.
The petition was filed by Mr. Vikrant Tongad. The petitioner challenges the notice period provided in the notification that was issued by the Ministry on 23 March 2020. The notice period provides for the public to send their comments and suggestions on the draft EIA policy.
According to experts in environmental issues, the draft EIA notice will make it easy for industries to get environmental clearance. It was first made public by the Ministry on 23 March 2020 and the initial date of notice period closure was 22 May 2020.
Thereafter many activists and senior opposition leaders such as former environment minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh criticized the government for keeping the deadline for such important environment notification during the COVID pandemic. On 7 May 2020, the government had extended it to 30 June 2020.
On 4 May 2020, the Joint Secretary for the Union Environment Ministry, Geeta Menon, said, “In response to the Draft EIA notification put up for public consultation, a large number of responses requesting for the Notification to be withdrawn/kept on hold/ extend the time frame for submission of feedback, etc., have been received. Accordingly, as directed, a draft communicating extension of time for feedback by a further period of 60 days from the date of publication in the Gazette i.e 11th April 2020 till 10th August 2020 is placed alongside for approval.”
However, on 5 May 2020, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar decided 30 June 2020 as the date for notice period closure. According to PTI, in a letter to Environment Minister, the students from JNU, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, and outfits such as All India Students Federation and 48 others sought the draft EIA be rewritten as per the recommendations from environment experts after the COVID-19 crisis is over. An early notice-period completion on 30 June 2020 will mean that these suggestions might not be accepted.
Commenting on the Minister's decision, Tongad said, "Many may ask why this overruling is a big deal but it really is, since, this draft needs sufficient time for review and public comments. This is not the first time a draft has been proposed by the government but before this, sufficient time was always given for review and response from experts."
Apart from the issue regarding the deadline of the issue period, the petition sought for directions to be issued to the concerned ministry to facilitate a fair and meaningful consultation. He demanded that the notification be translated into all official vernacular languages as given in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution and placed on the websites of Union and state Environment Ministries, CPCB and SPCB.