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The Indian Express: The missing green| The Indian Express
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The Indian Express: The missing green| The Indian Express

Environmentalists have been claiming for decades that large numbers of infrastructure projects are being implemented without due diligence. Green clearance procedures are often fraught with irregularities. Since successive governments have relaxed ecological safeguards, such as the requirement for public hearings within the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, critics have become more vocal. Two years ago, India was ranked 168 in the list of 220 countries by Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index. This newspaper has now revealed that six mega-initiatives, which were cleared between 2004 to 2020, include the Mopa International Airport (Goa), the Dibang Hydel Project (Arunachal), Kulda Coal Mine (Odisha) and Tamnar Thermal Project (Chhattisgarh), and the Subansiri Hydel Project near the Assam Arunachal frontier. These projects have not fulfilled their green commitments. These omissions are especially shocking considering that experts have questioned the sustainability of these projects from their inception.

The lack of an effective mechanism to enforce environmental compliance is at root of everything that has gone wrong. According to a newspaper investigation, the Ministry of Environment and Forests does not have more than 80 field officers. The state pollution control boards, and the environmental tribunals, are almost always short of staff. Instead of strengthening the monitoring mechanism governments at the Centre and the states have been relying upon procedures such as post-facto approvals and trying to get project developers to comply with Supreme Court strictures by giving them subsidies. For example, in 2020, a Court two-judge bench criticized the practice of permitting project managers to report a violation retrospectively, as it was a violation the fundamental principle of environmental law. Ex-post facto clearance would essentially permit industrial activities to continue unassisted without the need for an environmental clearance (EC). The court pointed out that without an EC, there would not be conditions to protect the environment.

India’s goal to become a $5 trillion economy is evident in the budget presented last week by the finance minister. It talks about rapid infrastructural developments. However, policymakers must ensure that this prosperity does not come at the expense of the environment. This is particularly important as many sites of development projects are found in ecologically fragile regions. Corridors connecting coal mines and thermal power plants, such as that between Kulda, Tamnar, have been known to be full of pollutants that can cause harm to people’s health, contaminate the water bodies, and reduce farm productivity. To avoid these hazards, there must be strong checks and balances. Environmental experts have complained that institutions that are mandated to protect the environment in the nation are often given too little attention. The government must show the will to correct.

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