Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today asked people to protest the new Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 draft, saying it was "dangerous" and if notified, the long term consequences will be "catastrophic".
The draft EIA notification, which involves procedure of issuing environmental clearances to various projects, was issued by the Environment Ministry in March this year and public suggestions were invited.
In a Facebook post using the hashtag WithdrawEIA2020, Mr Gandhi slammed the government over the EIA, 2020, draft, saying it is not only "disgraceful", but "dangerous".
"Not only does it have the potential to reverse many of the hard fought gains that have been won over the years in the battle to protect our environment, it could potentially unleash widespread environmental destruction and mayhem across India," he said.
Rahul Gandhi added: "Consider this: according to our 'Swachh Bharat' propagating government, if labelled 'strategic', highly polluting industries such as coal mining and other mineral mining will no longer require Environmental Impact Assessment. Neither will highways or railway lines passing through dense forests and other eco-sensitive areas, this will result in the massive hacking down of trees, leading to the destruction of habitats of thousands of endangered species."
The idea that Environment Impact Assessment can be given post facto is a "terrible" one, he said.
"That is, EIA can be done, after a project has already destroyed the environment," the former Congress chief added.
This EIA, 2020, draft is a "disaster" and it seeks to silence the voice of communities who will be directly impacted by the environmental degradation it unleashes, Mr Gandhi said. "I urge every Indian to rise up and protest against it. Our youth, who have always been at the forefront of every battle to protect our environment, must take up this cause and make it their own."
"A fight to protect our environment cuts across political and ideological beliefs. If nothing else, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how fragile human life is," he said.
For millions of Indians, already living on the edge, the environment is not an abstract term, but a life and livelihood issue, the Congress leader said.
If EIA, 2020, is notified by the government, the long term consequences of the widespread environmental degradation will be catastrophic for us and future generations of Indians, he claimed.
Mr Gandhi's criticism came days after Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said it does not relax the process of public hearing, but aims to make it more meaningful.
Mr Javadekar wrote a letter in response to the objections to the draft EIA raised on various occasions by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, a former environment minister and the current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and climate change.
Mr Javadekar had also said that Mr Ramesh going public with his objections and letters was "premature" as public consultations on the draft EIA were underway.
The Environment ministry had earlier said it would not extend the deadline for people to give suggestions and opinions beyond June 30, but later gave time till August 12.
Mr Ramesh, in his letter to the environment minister on July 25, has said that the draft EIA reduces public participation in all steps of the environment clearance process by lessening the notice period for public hearings and doing away with them for a large category of projects.
In his response on Thursday, Mr Javadekar termed as "wrong connotation" the point raised by Mr Ramesh that the government intends to give ex-post facto approval to the cases involving violation.