7. Paryavaran Mitra

Having heard of Public interest Litigation or PILS, I wanted to know the procedure of taking any legal action against a project that a citizen feels would affect the lives of people.

Paryavaran Mitra is an Ahmedabad-based, registered Non-Governmental Organization working on socio-environmental issues since 1997. I came across their website by chance and the words Environment Public Hearing caught my attention. I thought that this NGO deals with legal aspects of environment issues besides awareness programmes and so on the afternoon of March 26, 2011(2pm) I visited their office.

A team of seven people, they have been especially active in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process giving a special focus to ensure that Environment Public Hearings in the State of Gujarat are a transparent and democratic channel to voice public grievances against industrial pollution and disasters. The Director, Mr. Mahesh Pandya is an Environment Engineer. He along with his colleague Mr. Mahesh Parmar explained to me the concept of Environment Public hearing (EPH) or Paryavaraniya Jan Sunwai.

When an industry is set up in a rural area, it may affect the villagers health, agriculture, soil, water resources etc. Since even the local inhabitants are stakeholders besides the industrialist and the government, they should also be consulted. Keeping this in view, the Government, on 10th of April 1997 under the Environment Protection Act-1986 made it compulsory for a new Establishing industry to hold EPH before getting Environmental Clearance from the Government. Industry falling under Category A needs clearance from the Central Government and those falling under Category B can do with clearance from the State.

EPH is a legal provision for People’s participation. It is mandatory for the industry to prepare an Environment Impact Assessment report (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and share the results with the public before holding an EPH. The Industry has to announce the date and other details of EPH 30 days in advance in a leading English newspaper as well as a newspaper in the local language. The EPH is video recorded and minutes of the meeting are taken down. The details of EPH are sent to the Environment Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA )and Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and then Environmental clearance certificate can be obtained on the basis of Environment Impact Assessment report and Environment Public Hearing.
I have to now find out if the concept of EPH applies even to Government Projects and how did the Mumbai Airport and other illegal high rises get Environment clearance? Was there a public hearing before?

Recommended Reading:
Environment Protection Act, 1986 and the Water Act, 1974.
Shailesh Shah versus the State of Gujarat.

About PILs, Mr Pandya said that while it is power given to the public by courts through judicial activism, it is a time consuming and expensive process. You need to hire an advocate and the expenses may run upto a lakh or two. Mr Pandya commented that though major civilization grew and flourished at the banks of the rivers, today, to live besides a river is a bane. ‘Aajkal Nadi ke kinare rehna ek abhishaap hain.’

After the discussion, Mr Pandya invited me to a talk organized by Paryavarana Mitra scheduled at 4:30 pm. Attended by some 15 people, there were various interesting discussions about various aspects of environment activism. I got a chance to interact with a few.

Mr Paresh Dave I met there said that we should not expect too much Kranti or Revolution in cities. Being born and brought up in a city myself, I got a little defensive and asked why cannot awareness programmes work there? To which he answered that since the livelihoods of the urban do not depend on the environment, there is a disconnect and hence a little difficult to sensitize them. But as communicators, we can keep trying to talk to them in a language they understand. I feel this is important insight that needs more reflection, and I need to more thoroughly understand my Target Audience , the Mumbaikars, before talking to them.

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