The Delhi High Court on Monday adjourned till June 30 hearing on a petition seeking an extension of time granted to the general public to give their suggestion for the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan asked the counsel of the Central government to take instruction regarding the possibility of an extension of time and listed the matter for further hearing on June 30.
The High Court observed that there is ambiguity in the notification concerned and asked the Central government how will it be resolved. In the last hearing, the court had issued notice to the Centre to file its response on the matter.
The plea sought directions to the respondent to extend the notice period to the public, in the draft EIA notification 2020 until September 30, 2020, or till such further period till the COVID-19 lockdown subsists.
It also sought directions to make translated copies of the draft notification available across the country in the official vernacular languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution, and upload the same on all its websites including those of the Environment Ministries of all the States as well as those of the State Pollution Control Boards.
The petitioner urged the court to issue directions for conducting consultations with various stakeholders and concerned persons across the country through its State Pollution Control Boards, as a precondition to considering the draft notification.
“On March 23, the government published a draft notification on Environmental Impact Assessment (Draft EIA Notification 2020/ Draft Notification) and, as per Rule 5 of the Environment Protection Rules, sought objections or suggestions from members of the public,” the plea said.
“However, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a force majeure event, the public has been unable to comment meaningfully on the draft, the petition said adding that recognising the difficulties faced by the members of the public the government vide notification later extended the notice period to the public until June 30, 2020, on the belief that the COVID-19 lockdown would be over by then,” it added.
It said that even this time is woefully inadequate, since cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, and there are still several restrictions on movements and access to technology and resources.
The extension notification itself is contradictory and unclear as to the exact duration of extension of the notice period, the plea claimed. It said that postal services have also been suspended, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, on account of which citizens cannot send their objections.
“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 been posted on the websites of various State Pollution Control Boards or any Environment Ministry websites of any of the States,” the plea said.