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MoEF sits on cleared projects, while pushes for investments

All that is required in many a case is final letter from ministry which is not being given, govt sources say.

Sreelatha Menon & Shine Jacob  |  New Delhi 

Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram try to boost investments in the face of the economic slowdown, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is sitting on projects worth crores of rupees. This is despite the fact that these projects have secured the approvals of the ministry’s authorised entities.

In many cases, all that is required is a final letter from the ministry, government sources say. Questioned about these projects at various inter-ministerial meetings, the ministry has responded with a stock reply — “the file is still under submission”. Projects worth Rs 20,000 crore stuck with the ministry fall in this category. These are among the 200-odd projects queued up before the Cabinet secretariat and the Cabinet Committee on Investment. MoEF is under pressure to explain the delays in these projects.

This year, Meenakshi Energy’s 1,000-Mw coal-based power project in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, had applied for the renewal of a clearance for its project and secured an approval from the expert appraisal committee (EAC). But the file is still pending with the ministry. To the power ministry’s queries on this, the MoEF again responded, “The file is still under submission.” This is just one of the projects for which all the clearances are in place and the file has been submitted to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan for her signature.

Another instance is that of the liquefied natural gas terminal at Mundra in Gujarat, which is scheduled to supply 18 million standard cubic metres per day of natural gas. Other examples are the multi-product special economic zone (SEZ) at Mundra and Adani Ports and SEZ. It has been claimed the Mundra SEZ would generate about 3,00,000 jobs.

While projects with EAC clearances are gathering dust in the ministry, many projects are held up because the ministry has not set up an EAC to assess the environmental suitability of these projects, for about three months.

In this case, the affected are Hindalco Industries’ Aditya Aluminium smelter in Odisha, a 1,200-Mw thermal power plant in Chhattisgarh, the 1,980-Mw Sagar Super Thermal Power Project in West Bengal and the Rs 7,200-crore Kapurdi Lignite Mine pithead thermal power project.

Expansion of India’s largest open cast mine at Gevra is also awaiting the formation of an EAC. Coal India officials confirmed the expansion of the mine was waiting for the ministry’s clearance.

Some projects have also been delayed due to indecisiveness, for instance the Rs 30,000-crore Paradip oil refinery. Though the refinery has secured clearances and is ready to be commissioned, a pipeline that would make the refinery functional has been denied a clearance. “About 93 per cent of the 15-million-tonne project is complete and we are getting ready to commission it by this December. If we are unable to get the environment clearances for the pipeline, the refinery will not be able to record 100 per cent capacity utilisation,” said M M Vijaywargiya, executive director, Indian Oil Corporation.

In the case of Haldia Dock-II, the delay is due to a 2009 MoEF ban on expansion of projects in the area, owing to pollution concerns. “The major problem with Haldia Dock-II and Haldia Dock-II (south), which would see an investment of about Rs 1,800 crore is the ban by MoEF. We are unable to go ahead with the project unless it comes up with some solution on this,” says Kolkata Port Trust Chairman R P S Kahlon.

Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan did not respond to emailed queries and phone calls by Business Standard.

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First Published: Sat, August 31 2013. 22:19 IST