The Karnataka High Court on Thursday directed the Union Government to consider extending the time for submitting suggestions and objections to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification issued on March 23.
The last date for submitting suggestions/objections, as extended by the Delhi High Court, is August 11. The last date as per the original notification was June 30.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice M Nagaprasanna said "We are making it very clear that if we are not satisfied that adequate publicity is not given in local languages and time is extended, we will consider interim prayer made in the petition of staying the notification"
The bench added that
"Prima facie we are of the view that the Central Government must take immediate steps to give wide publicity to notification in official languages of all the states before the deadline to submit objection ends. If publicity is to be given hereafter only a few days time will be available for citizens to submit objections. Central government will have to consider extending the time for submitting objections."
The counsel for the Central government, responding to the court's direction made on the previous hearing to give wide publicity to the Draft notification published on March 23 said, "The Ministry has directed all State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) to give publicity in local languages."
It was also informed that the Ministry has till now received over 4 lakh suggestions/objections from the public. The government wants all the stakeholders to participate in the process because it is an important notification, which will affect the life of the people.
However, as per rules, the notification can be published in official gazette in Hindi and English languages only, the counsel said.
Not impressed with this submission, the bench said :
"Your intention must reflect from your action. Your intentions should not remain on paper. If publicity is yet not given to notification dated March 23, in local languages. The very object of publication of the notification will be defeated."
The bench gave the direction while hearing a petition filed by a trust United Conservation Movement. The court has now posted the matter for further hearing on July 23 for the Central Government to respond.
Advocate Prince Issac and Advocate Bhavya AC, appearing for the petitioner, argued that when such notifications were issued by the government in past, it used to give wide publicity even in vernacular newspapers. But the present notification published during the period of lockdown is notified only in the official gazette and on the official website of the Ministry. Thereby, it has deprived the large general public of their legitimate right to file suggestions and objections, which is a violation of natural justice, the petitioner argued.
On June 30, the Delhi HC had extended the deadline for submitting objections against draft EIA notification till August 11. The earlier deadline was June 30. The HC also directed the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to publish the notification in 22 official languages