Under attack for delays in environment clearances and dilly-dallying over issues like the no-go area for mining, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has planned various changes.
It wishes to strengthen infrastructure for better management of environmental and forest clearance systems, decentralise its monitoring to regional offices and amend the the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 to raise penalties for non-compliance. Its strategic plan for 2012-13 to 2016-17 (aligned with the 12th Five-Year Plan) proposes to strengthen technical manpower and upgrade laboratories, including those of the central and state pollution control boards.
It is to set up a National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA), a multi-disciplinary autonomous body for impact assessment, coastal zone management and monitoring of clearance conditions. The ministry has also mooted more vigorous criminal prosecution of environmental offenders.
|SWOT ANALYSIS - A SNAPSHOT
|* A robust regulatory framework
||* Inadequate enforcement
|* Institutional structure
||* Inadequate institutional
|* Mainstreaming of sustainability concerns
||* Inadequate finance
|* Creation of conservation, pollution abatement infra
||* Low priority at states and
at local level
|* Successful implementation
||* Shortcomings in implementation of plans
|* Raise environmental awareness, civil society involvement
A ministry official, who did not want to be identified, told Business Standard the clearance regime was well established but there was clearly a trade-off between economic development and checking environmental degradation, between exploitation of natural resources and conservation. “However, this trade-off is not intractable and can be resolved, striking the right balance, by making the project proponents amenable to regulation, through additional costs and use of superior technology. In the case of mining, for example, the experience in advanced economies demonstrates that modern mining techniques and regulatory obligations can ensure the environment is restored to its original state or even better. With increasing gross domestic product growth and new challenges, the present institutional infrastructure in the MoEF, however, is somewhat inadequate and could impact the compliance and monitoring of the new notifications’ objectives, and its full environmental benefits.”
He said new notifications had brought in more projects within the purview of appraisal. While the number and complexity of the projects being processed for environmental clearance had increased manifold, the capacity and resources with MoEF and its agencies had not.
Also, the ministry admits environmental management is over-centralised.
States, even some of the bigger districts, were larger than many countries in the world. The ministry wants to put in place something like a decentralised Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process, as several countries have. “In the United Kingdom, the EIA is conducted by local planning authorities.
In Australia, each state has its own EIA process for major projects. Only projects of national environmental significance, which are defined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, are considered at the commonwealth (federal, in Australia) level,” the ministry has said in its strategic plan.
It has also pitched for higher allocation of funds, especially when compared with other countries. “Though environmental concerns are being given greater importance at the national level, the commensurate investment is hardly evident. The total annual plan of the MoEF is currently Rs 2,000 crore, about 0.25 per cent of the Government of India’s plan budget. The expenditure on environment protection in India is a very small fraction of the GDP, much below most developed and emerging economies. Currently, the percentage of GDP spent on environment in India is 0.012, whereas it is 1.0 in Japan, 0.4 in USA and 0.3 in Netherlands,” the ministry noted.