New Delhi: The environment ministry may change its mind after first having stalled a power project being set up by a company run by the family of ruling Congress party member of Parliament Naveen Jindal.
The expert appraisal committee may recommend the approval of Jindal Power Ltd’s (JPL) 2,400MW power project at Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, marking the reversal of an earlier stand taken by its parent, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), according to two officials familiar with the decision.
The expert appraisal committee is mandated to set the terms of reference (ToR) for environment impact assessment (EIA) reports. It recommends whether MoEF approve a project or turn it down based on the reports and on public hearings.
The latest development comes after MoEF had asked the Chhattisgarh government to “take action” against JPL for starting construction of the 2,400MW plant (comprising four units of 600MW each) at a site that had received environmental clearance for a 1,000MW project (four units of 250MW each). JPL is a Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) subsidiary.
The expert appraisal committee on thermal power projects had considered the project on 9 August.
While environment minister Jairam Ramesh did not respond to phone calls or text messages, an expert appraisal committee member said: “Overall, the committee had agreed to recommend the project for a go-ahead, but the minutes of the meeting are yet to be finalized and circulated.”
The official did not want to be identified.
Opposition parties have accused the environment ministry of favouring Congress-ruled states when it comes to environmental clearances. Orissa’s ruling Biju Janata Dal said the ministry was biased in denying approval to projects in the state being set up by Posco and Vedanta Resources Plc, while clearing the Andhra Pradesh Polavaram dam project.
JSPL said it was not aware of any decision by the committee.
“Our company had made a presentation before the expert appraisal committee on August 10 2010, for restoration of ToR issues on March 31 2010. We are hopeful of a positive outcome. However, we have not received any written communication so far,” said a JSPL spokesperson in an email reply.
MoEF had issued ToR for the EIA report to JPL for the study of the project involving four units of 600MW each in Tanmar.
On 18 June, P.L. Ahujarai, the ministry scientist in charge of environmental clearance, made his views clear to the environment secretary of Chhattisgarh.
“Construction of the power project without obtaining prior environmental clearance is in violation of the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006,” Ahujarai said in his note to the state government.
MoEF had received a complaint regarding JPL starting construction of the 2,400MW plant without obtaining environmental clearance, following which an inspection was carried out.
In another communication to JPL on the same date, Ahujarai stated: “It has been found out that M/S JPL have started construction of 4x600MW power plant in the area of 62ha, where the existing power plant 4x250MW was (to be) set up for which environmental clearance was accorded.”
It also added that MoEF had not been informed about any change in the location of the new project and asked JPL to submit a “clear proposal” in accordance with the provisions of the EIA notification “in case they want to pursue this project”.
A senior JSPL executive, who did not want to be identified, said the earlier decision was incorrect.
“They did that in a jiffy. They gave ToR and a public hearing took place. You don’t take away the driving licence if one crosses a red light—they took away ToR. Projects should not be delayed due to undue reasons,” he said. “The minutes will go to MoEF and the ministry will then take a view.”
The executive denied that any reappraisal was because of Jindal’s political connections.
“It is based on merit and not on political affiliation,” he said. “Had it been political affiliation, why did it get cancelled” at first.
A top Chhattisgarh state government official was critical of what he perceived to be a flip-flop.
“If they wanted to clear it, why did they oppose it first. That means the ministry did not do its homework properly before raising objections,” he said. “It will be an unnecessary turnaround.”
He maintained, however, that the state government would not have any objection if the company was given clearance.