New Delhi: Consultants who carry out studies on the impact of an industrial or infrastructure project on the environment will now need to be registered and accredited with the ministry of environment.
The move is aimed at improving the quality and integrity of so-called environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports and the ministry has said that after June, it will not accept reports from unaccredited consultants.
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In a series of articles, Mint had written about consultants passing off environmental impact reports of industrial projects in the US and Russia as those specifically created for projects in India. In some cases, the consultants had not even bothered to change minor details, such as the kind of flora and fauna found in the area near the project.
“The Quality Council of India (QCI) and the National Accreditation Board of Education and Training (Nabet) will undertake the process (of accreditation). Consultants, in the past, have written these reports without adequate expertise,” said a senior official, who did not want to be identified.
Apart from cut-and-paste, some of the reports are guilty of inadequacy.
Projects above a specified size, including those in areas such as mining, thermal and hydroelectric power generation, infrastructure, and roads have to mandatorily go through the environmental clearance process, which is based on EIA reports and a public hearing for affected people. The clearances are given either by the state or the Union government depending on the size of the project.
The accreditation scheme isn’t entirely new. It existed earlier although as a voluntary measure.
“As this is now a requirement, we have been getting a lot of calls,” said Vipin Sahni, director of Nabet. The voluntary accreditation scheme saw just around 10 companies getting themselves registered in the last two years.
“There are an estimated 400-450 consultants operating in this area. But the majority of projects (80% of reports) are done by the top-most organizations, which may number between 60 and 70,” added Sahni.
According to Nabet guidelines, a consultant seeking accreditation needs a minimum experience of seven years in the relevant sector and should have been involved in preparing at least three EIA reports in the sector.
Tapan Chakrabarti, acting director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in Nagpur, one of the biggest consultants in the area and which authors approximately 40 such reports a year across sectors, welcomed the ministry’s move. “There are certain fly-by-night organizations in India, who have done such studies without even field visits. I have seen reports like these. For instance, one such report said that the river water was free from any bacteria or coliform. River water cannot be like bottled mineral water.”
Chakrabarti added that accreditation is required as the number of consultants in the business is increasing rapidly.
“This time we will get feedback from stakeholders and the MoEF (ministry of environment and forests). We are trying to make it transparent and it will be faster, as the accreditation process will be online,” said Sahni.
Nabet and QCI will also conduct an annual review of the consultants to verify compliance and reserve the right to suspend the accreditation.
Activists, however, aren’t happy with just the accreditation. They want defaulters to be permanently blacklisted.
“Consistently, consultants have produced shoddy EIA reports. For a very long time, people have asked for blacklisting of such organizations, but this hasn’t been included,” said Kanchi Kohli, member of Kalpvriksh Environment Support Group, an activist organization.
The story so far
18 July 2009: Port projects to undertake cumulative impact study
7 May 2009: Citizens have right to participate in public hearing: HC
9 September 2008: Ground zero of the fight between conservationists, forest dwellers
4 August 2008: Forest?ministry rebuts coal claims; says shoddy reports delay approval
11 February 2008: Public hearing: a mere formality?
1 January 2008: Govt rejects Balco expansion plans
27 December 2007: Are the govt’s green clearances a farce?