Delays in timely forest and environmental clearances for 30 thermal power projects, with a combined generation capacity of around 22,000MW, may make it difficult for India to meet its already ambitious power generation targets.
Worried about such delays, the government has decided to appoint nodal officers in the ministries of power as well environment and forests to expedite these clearances. According to two officials familiar with the development but who did not wish to be identified, the government may also ask the secretaries, the bureaucratic heads, of these two ministries to meet every fortnight to evaluate progress.
“There are inordinate delays in getting environment and forest clearance for these projects, some of which are expected to come up during the 12th Plan period (2012-17). Advance action is required for them. These 30 projects require expeditious clearance,” said a senior government official.
India has a power generation capacity of 140,000MW and plans to add 78,577MW by 2012; of this, only 7,263MW has been commissioned. Work is on to add another 60,214MW.
The delays have become a cause of worry as they might impact the overall economy, which grew by 9.4% last year and is expected to grow by 8.7% this fiscal.
It takes around 540 days for getting final clearance for a power project developer.
“We are concerned regarding the delays in power project implementation and are looking for ways and means in reducing it. The delays in the forest clearances are primarily happening at the states level where these projects will be located,” another senior government official said.
The decision to appoint nodal officers was taken after a recent meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to review power sector discussed these concerns in detail.
The panel comprising of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission, finance minister P. Chidambaram, Rakesh Nath, chairman, Central Electricity Authority and B.K. Chaturvedi, member, power, Planning Commission, was of the view that “an unduly long time was being taken for environment and forest clearances and there was a need to shorten the time frame for grant of the clearance.”
For instance, the delay in forest clearance for the 4,000MW ultra mega power project at Sasan, being developed by Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group’s Reliance Power Ltd, has impacted a related transmission project to be built by Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd, as reported by Mint on 13 February.
In the case of delays in awarding clearances to the coal blocks linked to power projects, the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) is of the opinion that “the information submitted by the coal companies (is) not complete and, in some cases, they were not allotted blocks for which clearance was sought.”
“In such a situation, it is not possible to appraise the proposal and take a decision,” said a ministry official.
“One way to look at is we cannot overlook environment issues and relax standards for fast-track approvals. However, there is an efficiency issue on the part of MoEF as they are short-staffed,” says Shubhranshu Patnaik of audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.