The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi through its judgement passed on 30.06.2020 directed the Central Government to publish the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020 in all 22 official languages.

The judgement was pronounced in response to a writ petition filed by Vikrant Tongad, an environmentalist seeking the Hon’ble High Court to issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate order to thereby direct the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to extend the notice period to the public, in the draft EIA notification 2020 until 30.09.2020 or till the COVID-19 pandemic subsists.

The Petitioner sought from the Hon’ble High Court to direct the Respondent to publish the translated copies of the draft notification across the country in the official vernacular languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution and upload the same on all its websites including those of the Environment Ministries of all the States as well as those of the State Pollution Control Boards.

It was further prayed to direct the Respondent to conduct consultations with various stakeholders and concerned persons across the country through its State Pollution Control Boards, as a precondition in considering the draft notification.

The Central Government had issued the draft notification dated 23.03.2020 for imposing certain restrictions and prohibition on the undertaking of some projects or expansion or modernisation of such existing projects.

The notification was issued to invite any objections or suggestions by the public on the proposal contained in the draft notification in writing for consideration of the Central Government.

The original notification was published on 11.04.2020 under Rule 5(3)(c) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 read with Section 3 of Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the time to file objections was granted for sixty days, i.e. until 11.06.2020. Another notification dated 08.05.2020 was issued again extending the said period by another 60 days, i.e. by 11.08.2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic followed by the nationwide lockdown.

It was held by the Hon’ble High Court that although the time period to file the objections was extended for a further period of 60 days as per the notification dated 08.05.2020, the last date/cut-off date mentioned therein was 30th June, 2020, making the error apparent on the face of the record.

Considering the above issue, the Hon’ble High Court directed the Respondent to resolve the said ambiguity in favour of the public, which would thereby aid the process of effective public consultation, which is built into the statutory scheme, and for which purpose the extension notification dated 08.05.2020 was issued.

Taking note of the issue regarding the languages in which the draft notification dated 23.03.2020 (published in the Gazette of India on 11.04.2020) has been made available to the public, the bench comprising of Chief Justice Dhirubhai Naranbhai Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan directed the for translation of the said EIA notification into all the 22 vernacular languages present in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, and stated that the same may be undertaken by the Government of India itself, or with the assistance of the State Governments.

Permitting the translation of the said notification, the bench held as follows, “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 the States as well as those of State Pollution Control Boards, within ten days from today. This would further enable the public to respond to the draft within the period stipulated in this judgment”.

The present petition was therefore allowed to the aforesaid extent and disposed of in terms of the directions passed.