The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has put in place a plan to mitigate potential corruption in awarding forest and environmental licences, to hasten the entire process.
The plan aims opening of regional offices, creation of a decision-support database and formulation of a policy to monitor compliance. It also aims at elimination of discretion in the processing of forest clearance proposals and post-project monitoring of forestry clearance conditions.
In the case of environment clearance, MoEF proposes to include a third party and other institutions, such as the Central Pollution Control Board and the relevant State Pollution Control Board for effective and reliable monitoring results. It also focuses on improvement in quality of documentation and decision making.
MoEF’s move comes at a time when project developers have repeatedly taken up issues relating to the inordinate delays due to rampant corruption at various levels.
A senior official of a state power generation company, who did not want to be identified, told Business Standard: “Despite being a government company, demand for money is being made from concerned staff at various levels. However, we cannot speak openly about instances of graft. The ministry’s move is welcome, as it should pave way for a transparent system of granting forest and environment clearances.”
MOEF, in the action plan, said new regional offices would be opened in six months to eliminate reasons for delay in processing forest clearance. Besides, e-filing of forest clearance applications would be launched in 18 months. It would also provide adequate support staff and infrastructure support in a month.
Forest clearance proposals, especially from strategic public utilities such as drinking water projects, would be cleared in two months.
The proposed decision support database, containing information on qualitative, quantitative and administrative attributes of forests and external factors, will be organised in geo-referenced platforms.
As far as streamlining of the environment clearance process, MoEF plans to scrutinise projects based on technical analysis and take up proposals in chronological order.
Shantanu Dixit, coordinator at Prayas Energy Group, said: “It’s a welcome step that MoEF has decided to revamp the environment clearance and monitoring processes. However, people affected by various projects and researchers and independent experts need to be involved in the entire revamping process to achieve the greater objective of bringing in complete objectivity, transparency and accountability of clearance and monitoring process.”
MoEF’s move is also significant when the state-run Coal India had recently sought the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office for expediting the forest and environment clearances for several of its mines as they have been hanging fire for several months.