The Delhi High Court on Tuesday extended the time period granted by the Central Government for filing objections to the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 till August 11.
June 30 was the deadline set by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change for the objections.
While taking note of the ambiguity that existed in the notification issued by the Ministry in February, the Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan has partially allowed the petition.
'There was an error apparent on the face of the notification issued by the government wherein the notice period for filing objections was extended to 60 days', the court said.
Filed by Mr Tongad, the petition challenges the notice period provided in the notification issued by the Environment Ministry on March 23 wherein a notice period has been provided for the public to send their comments and suggestions on the draft EIA policy.
In light of the COVID19 lockdown, an extension notification was passed which had increased the notice period till June 30. However, the Petitioner believes that the said extension is 'woefully inadequate' as the COVID cases are still on the rise and restrictions continue to remain in place in major cities.
For instance, the Petitioner has highlighted that the postal services in Delhi and Mumbai are still suspended. As per the Petitioner, this would prevent many people from sending their objections to the concerned Ministry.
While highlighting that the public has a fundamental right to participate and comment upon public policy, the Petitioner has argued that the fact that the draft policy is only available in English, it adversely affects the meaningful participation of the public in the draft policy.
The petition says:
'Moreover, the notification is largely inaccessible online as it is only in English and has not been posted prominently on the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, apart from not having been posted on the websites of various State Pollution Control Boards or any Environment Department websites of any of the States. As a result of this, the members of public have been unable to comment on a substantive notification that completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms.'
Therefore, the Petitioner has asked for a direction to be issued to the concerned Ministry to facilitate a fair and meaningful consultation, the notification needs to be translated into all official vernacular languages as given in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution, and placed at a prominent position on the MoEF & CC website as well as the websites of the Central and State Pollution Control Board and the Environment Ministries of all the States.
The Petitioner has further argued that the draft policy has multiple features, such as post-facto clearances, reduction in public consultation time, which needs to be properly addressed by three public at large as it seriously affects their rights.
While asking the court to intervene, the Petitioner has said:
'The present Petition is being filed to protect the rights of the persons of India to a clean environment and human health and their right to community participation guaranteed to them under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, as well as under the provisions of the EP Act, 1986 and the Regulations thereunder.'
Case Title: Vikrant Tongad v. Union of India