India has been under a nationwide lockdown for well over a month now. With mainstream media coverage being flooded with COVID-19 news and updates, very little screen time has been allocated to issues that are unrelated to the pandemic. In this scenario, some news, such as the arrests of journalists and activists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, may have caught your attention; but here are six other things that might have slipped through the cracks.
On March 12th, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) released this notification to replace the EIA notification of 2006. If approved, it will ease the process of obtaining environmental clearances for businesses—public consultation will no longer be mandatory for several projects, including modernisation of irrigation projects and widening of national highways. Importantly, the issue also legitimises some actions that are currently categorised as violations, such as starting construction without a valid clearance. Additionally, it reduces the frequency of compliance reports required from project owners from once every six months to once every year.
On March 31st, eight months after Article 370 was revoked in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Ministry of Home Affairs issued new rules for permanent residency in the region. According to these rules, those who have resided in J&K for at least 15 years, or have studied there for seven years and appeared for Class 10 and/or Class 12 examinations, will now be considered ‘domiciles’ of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
These new rules will allow non-natives to apply for local government jobs (which were so far reserved for native residents), leaving only non-gazetted class four jobs reserved for natives. Non-natives can now hold senior positions in the police force, administration, and state-owned universities of J&K. This move is being perceived as an attempt to alter the demographic composition of the region.
On April 2nd, the Standing Committee of the NBWL, cleared projects in 11 states through a virtual meeting. These include the Nagpur-Mumbai superhighway for which more than 32,000 trees will be cleared, a highway construction in Goa which passes through the Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary, coal mining in parts of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam, and a railway bridge in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana which goes through the Kawal tiger corridor.
According to an expert who was privy to the process, “In a virtual conference, it’s difficult to scrutinise maps that show the location of the proposed projects. There was also no occasion to ask questions of officials for clarifications.”
On April 18th, The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment released the draft rules for the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that was passed in December 2019. The draft is only available for viewing in English for those with an internet connection, making it widely inaccessible to the community it affects directly, especially in the midst of the lockdown.
The draft is widely inaccessible to the community it affects directly.
There are many criticisms of the rules. For example, while the Trans Act granted the right to self-perceived gender identification and an option to get this status certified by the district magistrate, the proposed rules require proof of consultation with a psychologist as well.
The ministry only allowed comments and suggestions from the public on the draft rules until April 30th.
On April 20th, the state’s forest department issued a proposal to transfer 778 hectares of the Rajaji National Park and Narendra Nagar forest division to the Kumbh Mela Samiti to initiate ‘temporary’ construction of camps, parking, and police check posts for the event scheduled for 2021. If approved, this use of the Rajaji National Park, a tiger reserve with a significant population of tigers, for non-forest purposes will be in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
In October 2019, the MoEF&CC had issued an order permitting temporary use of unprotected forest land for a maximum period of two weeks without prior approval of the central government. However, in this case, the forest land is intended to remain under the Kumbh Mela Samiti for more than nine months.
On April 23rd, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the MoEF&CC held a meeting to discuss the Etalin Hydro Electric Project, among other things. An FAC sub-committee has recommended that the project be allowed, with a condition that the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area.
The resulting biodiversity loss could lead to further rise in zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.
If cleared, the project will require the felling of at least 2,70,000 trees in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley, and will result in large-scale decimation of the valley, which is globally recognised for its rich and unique biodiversity. It will also put more than 400 plants and 500 mammalian species at risk. Additionally, scientists opposing the project have noted the absence of a cumulative ecological impact assessment of the project, and have said that the resulting biodiversity loss could lead to further rise in zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.
Is there anything else that should be in this list? Tell us in the comments.