SC stays contempt plea in Delhi HC against govt for not publishing draft EIA in 22 Indian languages

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The Supreme Court Thursday stayed contempt proceedings against the Centre for alleged “willful disobedience” of a judicial order to ensure that the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020 is published in all the 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution within 10 days from June 30.

A bench comprising Chief Justice, Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian passed the order after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta withdrew the appeal to seek a remedy before the Delhi High Court.

“Accordingly, the special leave petition is dismissed as withdrawn with the aforesaid liberty. Needless to state that in case the petitioner fails before the High Court, it is permitted to approach this Court once again challenging the main order as well as the order passed in the review petition.

“The contempt petition shall remain stayed till the disposal of the review petition,” the bench said.

The Delhi High Court had asked the Centre on Tuesday to reply to a plea seeking contempt action against it for alleged “wilful disobedience” of the judicial order on the notification.  It had issued the notice to the Environment Ministry, which was directed by the high court on June 30 to ensure the draft EIA 2020 is published in all 22 Indian languages within 10 days, and sought its response to the contempt plea by August 17.

The order came on the plea by environmental conservationist Vikrant Tongad who has alleged “wilful disobedience and deliberate defiance” by the ministry as it neither published the translated versions of the draft EIA nor did it seek more time from the court to do so.

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The draft EIA 2020, according to the plea, provides for post facto approval of projects and does away with public consultation in some cases. A division bench of the high court said in the June 30 order that looking at the far reaching consequences of the public consultation process for which the draft notification has been published, “we are of the view that it would be in aid of effective dissemination of the proposed notification if arrangements are made for its translation into other languages as well, at least those mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution”.

The translation may be undertaken by the Centre itself or with the assistance of the state governments, where applicable, it said. “Such translations should also be published through the website of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India as well as on websites of environment ministries of all states as well as those of state pollution control boards, within 10 days from today,” the court had said.

The publishing of the translated versions within 10 days “would further enable the public to respond to the draft within the period stipulated in this judgment”, it had stated. The order had come on Tongad’s plea seeking extension of the time to respond to the draft EIA 2020 till September or till the COVID-19 pandemic subsists.

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

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“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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