Trashing the allegation that environmental considerations are proving to be an impediment in India’s growth, as a recent study has found that the Environment Ministry has cleared an “unprecedented number” of infrastructure projects in the last five years.
In the report, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has analysed environment and forest clearances granted by the ministry in the the 11th Plan. The study looked at five key sectors – thermal power, hydropower, cement, iron and steel and mining. It found that that the period from 2007 till August 2011 saw 8,284 projects being granted forest clearance and 203,576 hectare of forest land diverted for the purpose.
The pace of forest land diversion had doubled in the last five years. In one single year – 2009 – as much as 87,883.67 ha of forest land was granted clearance. A large proportion of this forest land (50,000 ha) has been diverted for mining and power projects. The maximum amount of forest land diverted for mining in any single year happened in 2010 – about 14,500 ha.
A project is required to have forest clearances where there is diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose. “Environmental regulations are seen as impeding growth, but where is the impediment?” asked CSE director-general Sunita Narain. “We find that despite all the browbeating, almost every project is getting cleared with frightening consistency, making a complete mockery of our regulatory systems.”
Her public interest reasearch and advocacy organisation has appealed to the ministry to stop giving forest clearances to any new project until a transparent and effective system was put into place.