Vikrant Tongad v. Union of India, W.P. (C) 3747/2020 & CM APPL. 1342/2020 (30 June 2020)
High Court of Delhi at New Delhi
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Ministry) issued a draft notification in March 2020 that proposed substantial revisions to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. The draft notification indicated that the public would have the opportunity to submit comments for a period of 60 days following publication in the Gazette of India. Publication in the Gazette occurred on April 11, 2020, which set the deadline for comments as June 11, 2020. On May 8, 2020, the Ministry issued a notice declaring that the public comment period on the draft notification would be extended “for a further period of 60 days” due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Para. 5. In the same notice, however, the Ministry stated that comments on the draft notification would be due June 30, 2020. Id.
The petitioner asked the High Court of Delhi to resolve the discrepancy in the notice and consider imposing an even longer public comment period in recognition of the impact that the COVID-19 restrictions have on public participation. The High Court declared that “facial ambiguity in the notification . . . must be resolved in favour of the public whose comments are invited thereby.” Para. 8. The Court set the deadline for comments as August 11, 2020 and declined to extend the period further.
The High Court also addressed the fact that the draft notification was only published in English and Hindi when the impact would be felt across the entire country. Due in part to the “far reaching consequences” of the consultation process, the High Court ordered the 83-page draft notification to be translated into the 22 languages recognized in the Indian Constitution and posted on several government websites within ten days. Para. 10.