Pradyut Bordoloi, Lok Sabha MP for Assam, has urged the Environment Minister to repeal the new ranking framework that incentivises state authorities to clear projects without proper environmental compliance.
Bordoloi voiced concern over the recent move to encourage State Environment Impact Assessment Authoritys (SEIAA) through an awarding system that is based on efficiency and speed with which environmental clearances are granted. He wrote to Bhupender Yadav, the Union Minister of Environment and Forest.
The parameters stipulate that state authorities will be ranked higher if they grant clearances in shorter time periods, seek fewer details, and conduct fewer sight-visits. This will allow projects to be cleared without due diligence, at a time when India is experiencing worsening air quality and water quality, an eight year low in forest cover growth according to the government’s records, and a decline of forest cover, as suggested by independent reports.
Bordolois’s letter was in response to the January 18 Office Memo by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). This memo offered incentives to states to rate their respective Environment Impact Assessments authorities (EIA) based on how quickly they grant clearance to projects.
This attempt to speed-track environmental clearances will have devastating impacts, especially in the North-East Region. The region is already experiencing an intensified loss of trees and tree cover as a result of the recently published India State of Forest Report 2021. (ISFR2021). India is home to some the most rich biodiversity in the world. However, the NE states are reporting the highest levels of forest cover decline. According to the Congress leader, this will not only affect biodiversity but also many communities whose livelihoods depend on the environment.
While it is important to balance economic, social and environmental interests, SEIAAs have a mandate to protect the environment. Bordoloi stated that this ranking framework will undermine SEIAAs’ mandate. He added, “Our efforts should instead be directed towards strengthening the mandate for SEIAAs so they can function independently of business interest and concentrate on protecting the environment.”
Assams Nagaon MP appealed that appraisals should be more about quality than quantity and have greater transparency.
The government has already stated that the EIA Notification already provides timelines for all EC processes, and that there is no negative marking to be applied for not meeting the criteria.