NEW DELHI:The Union environment ministry clarified Monday that there will not be any negative marking for states who fail to meet the timelines, just days after issuing an office memo (OM) on incentives for States based on how fast they grant environmental clearances to infrastructure projects.
The ministry clarified that State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities or expert appraisal panels can do all the necessary due diligence before making clearance decisions. The ministry clarified that authorities can ask for any additional information or details about a project if there is a discrepancy in project proposals.
The January 17 OM stated that the ministry has taken measures to streamline the environmental clearance process, and reduce the time required to grant clearances. According to the OM, the average time it takes to grant environmental clearance has fallen to 75 days, compared to the notification for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2006 It said that the Cabinet Secretary had cited ease of doing businesses and recommended a ranking of states according to efficiency in granting environmental permits.
The OM was criticized by legal and environmental experts.
The ministry clarified that EIA reports are prepared according to prescribed terms of reference, and projects are evaluated based on these terms. There is no doubt that EIA report quality will not be compromised by ranking system. However, it would encourage project pros/consultants to improve EIA quality in fear of the EDS/ADS and return of proposals.
The 2006 EIA notification provides 105 days to grant environmental clearance. This includes 60 days for appraisals and 45 days for the regulatory authority to make a decision. This criterion was established to encourage efficiency and adhere to the notification’s timeline.
The ministry stated that marks will not be reduced in SEIAA. This agency takes decisions in more than 120 days. However, an additional mark will be granted if a decision is made in between 80 and 105 days. According to clarification, there is no negative marking for not meeting the criteria.
The idea is to increase efficiency and prevent time wastage. An official stated that the state authorities can evaluate every project in their sole discretion.
Experts in legal law claim that such a ranking system would slow down the process of appraising projects, and ensure that their ecological footprint is minimal.
Appraisal and state impact authorities are intended to bring to the forefront their scientific rigour as well as technical knowledge in order to evaluate each proposal for its environmental viability. These are complex subjects that require careful deliberation and clarifications by project proponents. EIAs and other studies are not intended to accurately reflect project impacts, but are designed to get approvals. Incentives that encourage quicker decisions should be changed to not look at environment clearances the same way as booking profits. When crucial studies are still pending, a hasty appraisal or decision can mean the difference between life and death for those who live near facilities or work at a project site. Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, stated that it can also seriously impact the economic future of projects in case industrial disasters.
Ritwick Dutta (an environmental lawyer) cited the criteria and added that a greater weightage is given to projects where less diligence is required. SEIAA members who visit a site to assess the ecology and local conditions will be given the same marks. Ironically, the more members visit the field to observe the ecology, the less marks they receive. SEIAA members will get one mark if they visit sites in less than 10% percent of the proposals that are sent to them for appraisal. SEIAA will receive 0 marks for site visits that are more than 20%.