The Centre will encourage states to use a star rating system to determine how quickly they give environmental clearances to various infrastructure projects.
The Union environment ministry issued an OM to this effect on January 17. It stated that the ministry had taken many initiatives to streamline the process of environmental clearances and reduce the time it takes to grant clearances.
The OM stated that the average time it takes to grant environmental clearances has decreased to 75 days, compared to the time required by the Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006.
The ministry announced last New Year’s Eve that it had reduced the average time taken to grant environmental clearances to all sectors from more than 150 days in 2019, to less that 90 days in 2021. In some cases, the environmental clearance time was as low at 60 days.
The ministry stated that the Cabinet secretary raised concerns about ease of doing business in its January 17 OM. They also recommended a ranking based on efficiency when granting environmental clearances during a meeting in November 13, 2021.
Independent environmental experts called the OM irresponsible. It would make it even harder to do an environmental assessment of infrastructure projects.
The language used by the OM is alarming. It is essential to efficiently grant environmental clearances without wasting any time. However, the OM does not mention the importance of environmental appraisals to ensure projects have the smallest possible ecological footprint.
State where less than 10% are registered with the state authority are eligible for more points. This is because essential details are often sought multiple times. Star rating states that have less than 10% of all cases visited by the SEIAA or state authorities will receive more points. The rating system encourages poor assessment and pushes states to grant approvals as quickly as possible for infrastructure and real estate projects.
The OM is an example for the environmental appraisal scheme that will soon be in place.
HT On September 11, 2021, the ministry reported that it is currently establishing a single-window process for all clearances pertaining forest, wildlife, and coastal regulation zone.
The ministry issued an OM on September 7 directing all industries, mining companies and infrastructure projects to upload digitised records relating to clearances granted in the past and records proving compliance with the environmental clearance directives. This is primarily to implement the single window clearance system. A single centralised system will be used for all clearances for coastal, forest, and environmental zones. All communications and data are digitally stored and uploaded to the website. Parivesh website. But does this ensure better monitoring and evaluation? If resources are not invested in monitoring compliance of environmental conditions by each project, and every proposal is critically assessed, it will not be.
HTAlso reported in April 2021 was that the environment minister allowed companies working in multiple industries, including polluting ones to expand their capacities on the condition of a self certification that it will not increase the pollution load. This allows for potential misdeclaration and misuse.
Given the severity of climate crisis impacts in different parts, and the pressure on forests/ecosystems that is at an all time high, it is possible to compromise on the environmental appraisal process. This could have disastrous consequences for people.
This is not a technical issue that was discussed and debated only by a few scientists or legal experts. The environmental, coastal, and forests clearances should now be a peoples matter.
From the climate crisis to air pollution, from questions of the development-environment tradeoffs to Indias voice in international negotiations on the environment, HTs Jayashree Nandi brings her deep domain knowledge in a weekly column
These views are my own.