Tracing India’s Environmental Footprints with EIA 2020

EIA 2020 will have to re-assess its impact on India’s ecological balance even as the country’s aspires for its dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy.

A drop in seismic noise—the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust” due to Covid 19 restrictions is just another discernible marker of the environmental impact of global industrialisation amidst a population exceeding 7 billion people. Even as carbon credits (Fig. 1) are traded worldwide, attempts were afoot to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius as ratified by 189 countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement. In India, the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) 2020 has recently concluded its public discourse after agitated and contentious feedback from a majority of 17 lakh respondents against the dilution of the EIA process, particularly the exclusion of public consultation for many projects which could adversely impact the environment.

United Nations Carbon Offsets
United Nations Carbon Offsets | Source: United Nations Environment Programme

The inaugural EIA Notification in 1994 required public consultation for ‘all projects requiring environmental clearance from the Central Government’ as listed under 30 categories of its Schedule I. However, the due diligence involved in assessing environmental impact was skewed for “site specific projects such as mining, hydro-power, major irrigation projects, ports and harbours, prospecting and exploration of major minerals in areas above 500 hectares.” According to EIA (1994), the “decision regarding suitability or otherwise of the proposed site” had to be conveyed “within a maximum period of thirty days by the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests.” This was probably to quash the misgivings of people like Medha Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan which caused the withdrawal of World Bank funding for the Sardar Sarovar Dam in 1993

As governments in independent India have forged ahead to improve the country’s economy after centuries of British plunder, a commitment to environmental impact assessment has largely been influenced by external factors such as the enactment of Environmental Protection Act (1986) after the Bhopal Gas tragedy; or even Indira Gandhi’s establishment of the National Committee for Environmental Planning and Coordination (NCEPC) in April 1972 in preparation of the first environmental conference held in Stockholm in June 1972. But the skewed balance of economic growth and environmental conservation/protection is just as evident in the EIA Notification (2020). 

With the Modi government’s push to support economic growth at the grassroots level, the focus has been India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), growing from 6.33 crore MSMEs reported in the “MSME Ministry’s FY19 annual report.” According to the recent notification by the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, MSMEs are categorized by investment in Plant and Machinery or Equipment and turnover; ranging from INR 1 crore and INR 5 crore for a micro enterprise, to INR 10 crores and INR 50 crores for a small enterprise, extending to “investment in Plant and Machinery or Equipment not exceeding INR 50 crores and turnover less than/equal to INR 250 crores.” Even as the debate about public consultation continues, what is particularly disconcerting is that the government in its attempt to bolster Indian MSMEs has exempted many projects from prior-Environmental Clearance (pEC) or prior-Environmental Permission (pEP) such as  – 

Manufacturing of Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulphonic Acid (LABSA) from LAB; Chemical processing of ores/ concentrate; Manufacturing of Acids; Petroleum products and petrochemical based processing; and Manufacturing of paints, varnishes, pigments, intermediates (excluding blending / mixing).

Waste Management & Soil Contamination Image
Waste Management & Soil Contamination | Source: Memuco

The decentralization effected by EIA 2006 included a segregation of projects not requiring an “Environment Impact Assessment report” (Category ‘B2’). In EIA 2006, projects categorised as B2 did not require public consultation, similar to EIA 2020. However, the lack of accountability afforded to MSMEs in EIA 2020 is astounding considering the environmental impact of exempted projects. The unfettered manufacturing of products like LABSA, acids, paints, and petroleum/ petrochemical derivatives is especially alarming considering many of these processes are listed as generating hazardous waste in Schedule I of the Hazardous Waste Rules 2016. This undetected contamination by environmental pollutants is exacerbated by the fact that violation reporting is no longer the purview of Indian citizenry. 

According to Traverso-Soto, González-Mazo, and Lara-Martín, “the major fraction of synthetic surfactants are disposed down the drain to sewers… and sludges are also a potential source of contamination for soils, groundwater and adjacent rivers as they tend to contain high concentrations of organic contaminants and are often used in agriculture after anaerobic digestion.” Combined with an increase in EIA validity periods and reduced frequency of compliance reporting, the ambiguous jurisprudence of EIA 2020 is debatably unequitable in its attempt at environmental conservation and preservation. Although the shift to renewable energy is evident in the exemption from pEC or pEP for projects like “Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) Power projects, Solar Thermal Power Plants and development of Solar Parks,” the EIA 2020 will have to re-assess its impact on India’s ecological balance even as the country’s aspires for its dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy.

Cover Image: Supriti Malhotra


Capacity Building for India’s Emerging Economy – Jottings From the FICCI-SRMIST Webinar

A five trillion-dollar dream of the world’s sixth largest economy depends on “over 600 million people under the age of 25 years” (Fig. 1). Among these, 300000 students from 3500 educational institutes in India were found to be only 46% employable by the 2020 India Skills Report, an annual skills assessment conducted by Wheebox in collaboration with Taggd, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Association of Indian Universities (AIU), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

Fig. 1: Addition to Working Age Population
Source: K.P. Kannan & G. Raveendran

According to the India Skills Report, “The pitiable figures of India’s formally trained workforce – which stand at merely 2.3% in comparison to economies like South Korea which has a mammoth share of 96% – indicate that the former will have to rethink, redefine, and repaint the entire talent map of the country to stand a fair chance of participating in global jobs market and hence, play a resourceful role in the growing economy.”  A few days before the National Education Policy 2020 was launched, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) collaborated with the SRM Institute of Science & Technology (SRMIST) to bring together policymakers, industry and academia for a discussion on The Emerging Economies: Identify and Create Competencies. 

Held on July 23rd 2020, the webinar played host to diverse stakeholders such as Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry and Railways, OECD’s Andres Schleicher, industry leaders such as Hemal Shah (Dell Technologies), Lokesh Sharma (AWS, Amazon), as well as academic leaders such as Prof. Ramgopal Rao (IIT, Delhi) and as Prof. Tan Eng Chye (President-NUS, Singapore). With Pranjal Sharma and Mohandas Pai moderating panel discussions, the FICCI-SRMIST webinar explored solutions for capacity building through sharing of best practices while considering opportunities for enhanced synthesis between government, industry and academia.

For Piyush Goyal, “Aatmanirbhar Bharat is going to be the defining moment for India’s future.” While the ambition of Aatmanirbhar Bharat remains economic self-reliance, the Covid 19 pandemic has not only thrown global supply chains in disarray, but is altering the way the world works and learns. Ernst and Young’s Workforce Advisor, Anurag Malik said, “Covid has accelerated future trends, and the number one trend is remote working with almost every company” resorting to “95% remote working.” The ‘New Normal’ has altered conventional approaches to employment, and employability (Fig. 2) will increasingly involve each of the “4 skills of business communication, numerical skills, critical thinking skills and computer skills” assessed during the Wheebox National Employability Test survey (WNET) for the 2020 India Skills Report.

Fig. 2: India’s Workforce Employability 2014-2020
Source: India Skills Report 2020 (Wheebox)

The digital economy, which was largely a consumer-driven marketplace, is being formally disrupted by the implications of social distancing caused by Covid 19. According to Amazon’s Lokesh Sharma, “3.7 billion are connected to the internet, 50% of which are Asians, and 24% are Indians. Disruption is happening in work (Gig economy), worker (Type of job), and workplace (Remote Working).” Even as governments and corporates strive towards mitigating the negative impact of Covid 19 worldwide, the dynamics of the global workforce is in flux. According to Gartner’s report, Future of Work Trends Post Covid 19, 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.”  Combined with India’s 15 million freelancers currently accounting for USD 1 billion of the USD 2-3 billion global freelancer market,” strategic interventions in the global gig economy require capacity building for “talent liquidity” and a course correction for the “disproportionate value” represented by income inequality worldwide.

Fig. 3: Gender-Wise Workforce Participation and Employability in India 2014-2020
Source: India Skills Report 2020 (Wheebox)

For Reliance’s Bijoy Sahoo, “In 1980, China and India GDP were same. But in 2020, China’s GDP is 3 times of India’s GDP.” According to the Economic Survey 2019-20, “80% of India’s workforce is employed in the unorganised sector, and only 23% of India’s 48.1% population (women)” participate in country’s workforce (Fig. 3) in 2018. Although 20th century’stalent migration with value migration” has caused the Indo-China GDP difference, capacity building of India’s working age population will require increased gender parity and apposite skill development. While the Government of India’s Skill India Mission aims to impart employable skills to a minimum of 300 million by 2022,  Sahoo questioned the difference in the “capacity building of the SRM graduate and the migrant worker?” As K.P. Kannan suggests, the “informality of employment of the majority of the Indian workers characterised by insecurity and low earnings is closely linked to their levels of education, initial conditions of poverty, and rural residence (Fig. 4).”

Fig. 4: Percentage of Workers with Secondary Level and Above Education
Source: K.P. Kannan & G. Raveendran

Arun Jain of Intellect Design suggests “design thinking for sharp identification of opportunities…to harness the potential of 900 remote working million farmers” or the unorganized workforce. Jain expounded on the elements of the design thinking framework which includes “a system of knowledge cataloguing; a system of dialoguing (Circle time is an example of dialoguing); and a system for asking questions (instead of the hierarchical parent-child relationship that exists in India).” However, as Sharma suggests, “the value of skills is a 5-year threshold.” Andres Schleicher, Director, Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD, stresses that it is important to “extract value from skills,” citing the example that despite “Japan having a very strong skill distribution system, few people get the opportunity to use their skills to productive use.” As Goyal asserts, “With 1 in 4 graduating in 2030 expected to be from Indian educational institutes, the future of mankind is going to look to you (educationists).”

For Prof. Ramagopal Rao, IIT, Delhi, “Bringing industry brings relevance in research and delivery gets strengthened.” As Director of India’s “oldest incubation platform,” Rao suggests “generating patent portfolio and start up culture in Higher Educational Institutes (HEIs), with HEI equity for incubation” similar to Stanford’s investment in Google. Of course, the fact that “11 of 21 unicorns (Fig. 5) founded in India or by Indians abroad, are founded by IIT Delhi alumni” is evidence of “inception to impact.” However, IIM’s business-minded Rishikesha Krishnan urges that, “If industry can absorb at TRL level (Technology Readiness Level), then academic research and institutional start-ups will make a greater difference to industry.”

Fig. 5: Indian Start-ups
Source: Tracxn (Mint)

Prof. Tan Eng Chye (NUS Singapore) agrees that strengths of education include internships/industry practise and promoting entrepreneurship. Prof. Chye provides the example of “corporate labs with 1/3 cost share between government, industry and HEI with IP (Intellectual Property) shared between the company and educational institute” with NUS students participating in these corporate labs “in 14 cities around the world including in Silicon Vallay, Tel Aviv, Jakarta, Europe and China.” Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and “after the program, 100 companies by graduates raised approx. USD 600 million in funds.” As Dell’s Hemal Shah says, “Don’t just embrace change, lead it with passion.” With Covid 19 changing the dynamics of the global economy, technological adoption is increasingly influencing the world’s way of life including workforce management and knowledge acquisition. Ajit Ranade, Aditya Birla, asserts that “What Covid 19 has achieved for Digital India, even demonetization couldn’t manage.” Goyal agrees that while “industry may have to be re-oriented, production centres may shift,”… it is important to “democratise development, progress and prosperity.”