Shimla : Nearly 50 environmental groups and activists from Himalayan states have opposed a draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, saying that it was an attempt to dilute the environmental regulations to facilitate ease-of-doing business.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has put the notification that intends to modify the EIA of 2006.
The Himalayan region today is in the most vulnerable position with massive climate induced disasters, increasing deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, drying of rivers, death of groundwater sources, melting glaciers, hollowing of the mountains, solid and hazardous waste related pollution, said the statement.
As it is, this ecological region is known to be fragile, where even small changes in the landscapes lead to rapid and wide-ranging impacts on the lives of millions of people.
This ecological crisis has worsened due to poor implementation of regulatory and governance mechanisms. Lack of adequate and thorough scientific planning and impact assessment studies, non-compliance of environmental norms and social accountability laws, diminishing space for democratic public participation in decision making processes have further worsened the situation in the past few years, it said.
The statement titled "Stop Accelerating Ecosystems Distress in the Himalayas" and "Withdraw Draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification", said the latest move proposes more exemptions in environmental rules to be followed by companies and project developers under the EIA notification.
The EIA is a legal process, under the 1986 Environment Protection Act, for evaluating the likely environmental and socio-economic impacts of a proposed project or development.
Decision making under this process has a series of mechanisms, including participation of affected populations, through 'public consultation', and review by technical and scientific experts, to ascertain that the costs of projects do not outweigh the benefits.
However this notification, it said, has been amended and read down several times, in the last two decades, in favour of aeasing the norms' for business.
The latest draft continues to move in the direction of rendering the EIA process a mere formality. Whereas what is required for the protection of the Himalayan ecology are stricter and more robust environmental laws, it said.
The fact that the government of India, under the Climate Change Action plan, had set up a separate national mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems, almost 10 years ago is indicative of the criticality of protecting the biodiversity, geology and socio-cultural fabric of this region.
From the Western to the Eastern Himalayas, there are about 12 states which fall in the Indian Himalayas sustaining a population of close to 80 million, dependent almost entirely on land and forest based livelihoods.
Over the last three decades, governments -- both state and national -- have pushed policies and projects which have contributed to severe ecological distress.
The three most threatening developmental activities that have met with strong resistance from local communities and environmentalists include hydropower development, mindless construction of highways and infrastructure for commercial tourism and growing industrialisation.
Hydropower development is being undertaken in the entire Himalayan region of India, to develop a potential of 150,000 MW power. Nearly 90 per cent of Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and 27 per cent of these dams would affect dense forests.
If all proposed 292 dams are constructed, on the basis of the current global number of dams, the region will have the highest density of dams in the world, added the statement.
The signatories were from Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Himachal and Ladakh.