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Green Clearance: Must Be Solution-Oriented Rather Than Problem-Creating Approach

Green Clearance: Must Be Solution-Oriented Rather Than Problem-Creating Approach
07 Mar 2018
Green Clearance: Must Be Solution-Oriented Rather Than Problem-Creating Approach By /

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP) is part of EC process. EIA and EMP is normally necessary for obtaining EC for:

  1. those projects which can significantly alter the landscape, land use pattern and lead to concentration of working and service population,
  2. those projects which need upstream development activity like assured supply of mineral products supply or downstream industrial process development,
  3. those projects which involve manufacture, handling and use of hazardous materials, and
  4. those projects which are located near ecologically sensitive areas, urban centers, hill resorts, and places of scientific and religious importance.

The process of granting ECs by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) includes grant of terms of reference (ToRs), public consultations and environment impact assessment (EIA).

As per the report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in a report released on 11th March, 2017, India’s environment ministry and its offices have failed at every step in ensuring the environment is protected, and conditions on which projects are cleared are not monitored at all. The report criticized delays at every step in projects getting environment clearances (ECs). It said the ministry had not penalized even a single project for violation of EC conditions. As per the report, out of 216 projects sampled by CAG, only in 14% of the projects were ToRs granted within the prescribed time limit of 60 days; in others there were delays of up to 365 days. Only in 11% of the cases were the ECs granted within the prescribed time limit of 105 days. In a Kerala-based construction project a delay of 944 days was noted. There were delays at each stage of the EIA process. Each project is treated as a single project for EIA but cumulative EIA, which is critical in evaluating impact on environment, was found to be lacking.

While giving environment clearance to projects, there were delays at various stages like scrutiny of the final EIA reports, appraisal of the application by the expert appraisal committee (EAC), placing the recommendations of the EAC before the competent authority (the environment minister) and conveying the recommendations of EAC and the decision of MoEFCC to the project proponent.

Regional offices of the ministry don’t have enough staff and they have not submitted half-yearly reports. The ministry agrees that there are huge gaps in monitoring whether project proponents are complying with conditions set during grant of environmental clearance. The ministry was also asked about penalties imposed on project proponents for violating environmental clearance conditions, but ministry did not reply definitively.

Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan last month wrote to top officials of his ministry to clear projects “on war footing basis” and set a strict time-line. The minister’s 18-point directive, issued after a detailed review meeting that was also attended by the environment secretary and director general (forest), called for a solution-oriented and not problem-creating approach. These include:

  1. Decide all pending 340 TOR (Term of Reference — the first stage of environmental clearance) cases as of August 5 by September 1.
  2. Decide all 598 pending EC (environmental clearance) cases at the earliest on war-footing and finalize pendency of all cases received before August 5 by September 26.
  3. Additional/joint secretaries will take meetings with all members of all Environment Appraisal Committees (EACs) to ensure that the “tendency of raising new queries again and again is changed”.
  4. Inform project proponents about the outcome of EAC meeting immediately after their case is heard so that there is no surprise to them when they receive the minutes.
  5. Once a file is approved, joint secretaries must ensure that a clearance letter is issued immediately “without any delay of even one day”.
  6. Review pendency at the joint/additional secretary level and submit weekly reports to the PS of the minister “without fail”.
  7. Drop old cases where information is not furnished from the pendency list after issuing reminders.
  8. Ensure very high level of transparency.
  9. Provide latest computers and scanners to the IA division, and tablets with data card facility to EAC members to enable them to scrutinise the cases well in advance.
  10. On e-governance, implement suggestions given in the last three months immediately and take action against those responsible for delay.