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A costly fraud

A costly fraud
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First Published: Fri, Dec 28 2007. 12 24 AM IST

Updated: Fri, Dec 28 2007. 12 24 AM IST
It is ironical and a grave concern—despite the escalating need to contain the ecological imbalances that arise from rapid economic expansion, the government does not care to do so in reality. Mint’s story on 27 December on the Ratnagiri mining project’s fraudulent EIA (environmental impact assessment) process clearly affirms that both our environmental norms and their implentation are extremely deficient.
And if the regulator itself is so lax as to approve what was (this time) a plagiarised version of a Russian mining project(!), why should the promoters care about any ecological damage from their projects, even the “responsible” publicly listed ones? This, of course, is not the first time an EIA has been found to be plagiarised and inaccurate. Sadly, there has not been enough media attention to similar instances over the years.
One widely-reported instance was the Ernst and Young EIA for the Dandeli mini hydel project in Karnataka in 2000, which had been plagiarised from one for the Tattihalla Augmentation Scheme of Karnataka Power Corp. Ltd. (All that had been changed was the cover.) After this was widely exposed, a hurried, inadequate report was filed by the then Tata Energy Research Institute. Only after much public objection, even as the authorities concerned were going ahead with the clearance procedures, was the project rejected. As reported, had not the EIA fraud been exposed, much of the Dandeli wildlife sanctuary would have been submerged, along with local settlements.
Still, in general, objections from civil society and environmental experts don’t get factored in unless there’s violent outrage by local communities that makes screaming headlines. Public hearings, mandated officially, mostly continue to be formalities at best.
Of course, there’s no disputing that industrial expansion is a necessity for economic growth and enhancing livelihoods and incomes. But the sustainability of such growth is being increasingly recognized as a huge concern, as is the potentially disastrous impact of climate change thanks to environmental degradation.
At a time when the world is discussing how to limit and mitigate such impacts, perhaps, just perhaps, the government ought to wake up to correct all the flaws in its regulation for environmental protection. Of what use is a dedicated ministry if it can neither ensure duly diligent approvals of projects nor genuine monitoring of the mitigating measures that are supposed to arise from honest and explicit EIAs? But complacency is writ large—even among the experts appointed by the government to clear industrial projects. As reported on 27 December, they find the EIAs are “apologies even on the paper they are written on.” Yet they can’t do much—their limited capacities are overburdened with as many as 50 projects every month.
Not only is the clearance process largely mechanical—a euphemism for a sham, actually—but the regulation too is quite deficient. And industrial location decisions continue to be often distorted by perverse political incentives.
As a detailed report in the Economic and Political Weekly in June this year pointed out, the new notification in September 2006—replacing the 1994 version already amended to dilute norms several times —was issued despite severe criticism of its flaws by environmentalists and civil society. For instance, they have objected to the exemption of several potentially damaging activities and the limited say for both local community problems and knowledge. As also that no penalties are ever implemented, and redressal mechanisms are very weak. All this only perpetuates the tendency to file inaccurate and fudged EIA reports.
Again, industrial growth is a must. But so is the need for honesty about its adverse impacts, the efforts to mitigate these and to shape projects to suit the environment—the raison d’etre of EIAs.
Can India afford such environmental frauds? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Dec 28 2007. 12 24 AM IST