NGO Centre for Science and Environment has strongly rebutted the Union ministry of finance’s claim that green clearances are leading to inordinate delays in infrastructure projects.
CSE has also rejected the proposal to set up a National Investment Board (NIB), which it says will dismantle the regulatory systems for green clearances.
In a statement today, it said that "industry, government and regulatory agencies have been persistently talking about how environmental regulations have throttled the country’s growth and how the system of forest and environment clearances has forced India’s credit ratings to its nadir. And they have bitterly complained about how environmentalists were holding the country and its people to ransom."
This has prompted the Union ministry of finance to propose a new super-clearance agency – the National Investment Board – to grant all clearances, especially green clearances, to large infrastructure projects.
The ministry has proposed to “amend the business of transaction rules so that statutory clearances under various acts are given by the board”, CSE said.
It released data today on the scale and pace of environment and forest clearances given during the 11th Five Year Plan (April 2007-March 2012). The study looks at five key sectors – thermal power, hydropower, cement, iron and steel and mining – and said it proved that the scale of clearances has been nothing less than “unprecedented”.
Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said, “The analysis of this data clearly shows that the Ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has not been an impediment to infrastructure development. Instead, it has granted massive numbers of clearances, which are today jeopardising environmental security. This is also making a complete mockery of our regulatory systems. Why, therefore, do we need the NIB?”
CSE has proposed a detailed reform agenda to strengthen the green clearance system so that it can work for people and the environment.
“We believe this reform will not only reduce the high transaction costs and delays being caused to the industry, but will also make industries more accountable. It is not in the interest of the environment to perpetuate a corrupt system,” said Narain.
CSE proposed consolidation of all clearances – environment, forest, wildlife, coastal - so that project impact is fully understood and decisions taken. Fragmentation is not only adding to delays, but also to poor decision-making, it said.
It proposed preparation of one comprehensive impact assessment document covering all aspects for all clearances; tracking projects through one unique number so that all clearances are linked and impacts considered; making project appraisal committees accountable for their decisions; integration of the processes and procedures followed by the State Pollution Control Boards and the MoEF; synchronising resources of all agencies; making local agencies responsible for monitoring and compliance and putting all project documents in the public domain.
On Environment clearances, it advocated a zero tolerance policy, which would reject a project if the EIA is inadequate or wrong.
CSE also called for cumulative EIA so that projects are cleared on the basis of their carrying capacity. It said that all projects should be tracked in terms of district pollution load and river-basin impacts. It also called for a stop to EIA by industry and said it should be done through cess or other public funds.