The Supreme Court has urged legislators and policy experts to ensure that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies are done before giving the green signal for urban development projects in India’s cities.
In a judgment, a Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna referred to media reports of how haphazard urban development has ruined the ‘Garden City’ of Bengaluru as witnessed during a major spell of rain in September 2022. The court said that the city struggled for drinking water while it lay submerged after the downpour.
The judgment came in regard to a proposal to convert independent residential units into apartments in Chandigarh Phase 1. The court prohibited the move in order to protect the heritage status of ‘Corbusian’ Chandigarh.
“It is high time that the legislature, the executive and policymakers at the Centre as well as at the State levels take note of the damage to the environment on account of haphazard developments and take a call to take necessary measures to ensure that the development does not damage the environment. It is necessary that a proper balance is struck between sustainable development and environmental protection,” the court observed.
It said that the legislature, the governments and experts should put their heads together “to make necessary provisions for carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies before permitting urban development”.
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The apex court directed the copies of the judgment to be forwarded to the Cabinet Secretary to the Union of India and to the Chief Secretaries of all the States to take note of it. “We hope that the Union of India as well as the State governments will take earnest steps in that regard,” the court said.
The judgment referred to a publication by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which underscored that more than half of the world’s population was now living in urban areas. The publication further noted that by the year 2050, more than half of Africa and Asia’s population would live in towns and cities.
“It recognised that City Development Strategies (CDSs) have shown how to integrate environmental concerns in long-term city visioning exercises... The publication defines EIA to be an analytical process or procedure that systematically examines the possible environmental consequences of the implementation of a given activity (project). It is aimed to ensure that the environmental implications of decisions related to a given activity are taken into account before the decisions are made,” the court explained.