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‘Wont dilute safeguards’, Modi govt defends environment clearance ranking system for states

‘Wont dilute safeguards’, Modi govt defends environment clearance ranking system for states

New Delhi: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has said that the new system for rating states on environmental clearance will increase efficiency”, but without diluting any regulatory safeguards”.

Last week, the Environment Ministry issued an office memo to all State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities. (SEIAAs). It announced a star rating system that would rank SEIAAs based in part on the time it took to grant environmental clearance for projects.

According to the office memo, the SEIAAs would undergo seven criteria for an overall of eight marks. These include the average time it took to grant EC, how many times additional information was sought about the project, and how many complaints were addressed by the SEIAA.

Stars would be awarded to the highest scoring states.

This move was met with much criticism by environmentalists as well as researchers who claimed it could lead to hasty clearances that lack proper oversight from SEIAAs.

In a Statement issued Monday, the ministry said the rating system was in line with provisions under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 the law that governs environmental clearance norms and that there is no negative marking proposed for not meeting the criteria for ranking”.

The statement states that the ranking system is based in part on EIA Notification (2006) and other guidelines issued by the ministry from now to time. It is designed to encourage SEIAAs and encourage them to improve their decision-making efficiency strictly in accordance with EIA Notification (2006) without compromising any regulatory safeguards.


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What the ministry says

The ministry said it included the number of days taken to grant EC as a criterion because the EIA notification of 2006 provides a time period of 105 days for granting EC which includes 60 days for appraisal and 45 days for decision by regulatory authority”.

The ranking system awards two points for states that grant it in 80 days or less. One point is given for granting it after 105 days. 0.5 points are awarded for taking longer than 105 days.

The system also grants states that have a higher percentage of Terms of Reference proposals (ToR) and new EC proposal more marks. This is to reduce undue delay in taking a decision on a ToR proposal”.

The SEIAA has issued the ToR, which outlines elements that are required to conduct an environmental impact assessment.

According to the new rating system, states that repeatedly ask project proponents for additional details are awarded fewer points. Environmentalists criticized this criterion because requests for additional information, called Essential details sought or Additional details sought, can help the SEIAA collect enough data to make an informed determination.

Referring to an office memorandum issued in June 2021, the ministry in its statement said this criterion was included to streamline the essential details sought by the committees and to avoid irrelevant details being sought”.

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In case a project proposal isnt thorough enough, state authorities may very well raise Essential Details Sought/Additional Details Sought, and the period for which reply of EDS/ ADS is pending with Project Proponent (PP), shall not be counted for calculating the number of days taken”, the statement says, adding that the SEIAA has complete freedom to do all necessary due diligence before taking decision on project without worrying about the timeline”.

Another criterion was the SEIAAs performing site visits rating system. The system gave the least amount of site visits to state authorities, which was less than 10%, the highest marks, and those who did more than 20% were not given any points.

The statement says that since environmental clearance is granted based on the detailed scrutiny of the application, documents, and public consultation wherever applicable, this criterion has been added to discourage unnecessary site visits”.

(Edited and authored by Neha Mahajan).


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