Thursday, March 4, 2021

Delhi HC questions Centres resistance to draft EIA in all vernacular languages

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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said it cannot understand why the Centre was “vehemently” resisting its order to translate the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in all 22 languages in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution.

A special bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said the government would have to understand the objections in local languages to the draft EIA and therefore, “what was the harm in translating it in all the 22 languages”.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma, appearing for the central government, told the bench that it has already received 20 lakh responses till date to the draft EIA and therefore, there was no need to translate it in more languages.

The ASG also claimed that translating it in all 22 languages would create a lot of administrative problems as the government “does not have the wherewithal to carry out the translations”.

“It will be administratively chaotic. There will be gaping gaps in the different translations,” he claimed and added that even the Constitution does not say that the notification has to be translated in all the languages.

The court, however, did not agree with the stand, saying “in modern day it cannot be a factually impossible task”, but asked the government to indicate the difficulties it has in translating the draft EIA in all the languages.

The bench, during the hearing, also said that the Constitution says the final notification may not be translated in all the languages, but it does not say anything about the draft which is put out for receiving public opinion.

“We don’t understand why the Union government is resisting vehemently an order of this court for translating the draft into all the languages so that everyone can understand it and respond to it,” it further said.

The court gave the government time till February 25, the next date of hearing, to place on record its difficulties in translating the draft in all the languages.

The bench was hearing the government’s plea seeking review of its June 30, 2020 direction to the Environment Ministry to translate the draft EIA notification in all the 22 languages within 10 days of the order and had also extended till August 11 the time for receiving remarks from the public.

The June 30, 2020 order had come on a PIL by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad seeking publication of the notification in all vernacular languages and also extension of the time to receive public comments on it.

The June 30 order was initially challenged by the ministry in the Supreme Court which allowed the government to withdraw its appeal and instead file a review before the high court.

The apex court also put on hold the proceedings in the contempt plea filed by Tongad for non-compliance of the June 30 direction.

Subsequently, the ministry filed a plea seeking review of the June 30 order on grounds that official documents are required to be published only in Hindi and English. 

During the hearing on Wednesday, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for Tongad, told the court that while the draft has been translated in all the languages by the government, it was not publishing the same and wanted to argue on whether such translations was required under the law.

The draft EIA 2020, according to Tongad’s plea, provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases.

The petition by Tongad had claimed that the draft EIA 2020 completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms.

“This draft notification proposes significant changes to the existing regime, including removing public consultation entirely in certain instances, reducing the time for public consultation from 45 days to 40 days, and allowing post facto approvals for projects,” it had said.

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