New Delhi: An expert panel of the Union environment ministry will no longer consider representations made by “anti-development" civil society groups against projects which are under the final stage of consideration. Stalling projects at that stage has financial implications for the developers and the nation, the panel decided.
At the 30 December meeting of the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) for river valley and hydroelectric projects, some members pointed out to the panel’s chairman that, “just a few days before the meeting, chairman and members are receiving e-mails from some civil action groups and individuals which try to highlight some lacuna in a particular project that is likely to come before the EAC".
“Frequently, these mails make sweeping statements, e.g. “there is not enough water in the river", without any supporting calculations or basis. It was opined that it is not appropriate for the EAC to entertain such representations," noted the EAC as per the minutes of its meeting seen by Mint.
EAC noted that the process of environment clearance has four distinct steps: screening, scoping, public consultations and appraisal.
It said rules allow for inputs from the public, for which an opportunity is provided by way of public consultations and “any stakeholder, who wishes to make a representation, has to do so at the time of public consultations stage".
“It was also felt that many of the objections raised are repetitive and these may have been addressed in the past... Many such kind of representations have an anti-development attitude so that the projects are kept on hold or delayed. This has financial implications to the developers in particular and to the nation in general," the committee observed.
Thus, EAC decided that it “should not take any cognizance of such representations received from any civil action group during final appraisal".
“An exception can be made to this, when a representation contains some new point, which has not been raised earlier, and which is so important that it may have grave consequences. In such case, the (environment) ministry may place the representation before the EAC meeting, and if agreed by the EAC, only then, the comments from project proponent may be sought," it added.
The EAC recommends or rejects environment clearance to a developmental project after which the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) grants or denies clearance to the project. Most of the time, MoEFCC accepts the recommendations of the expert panel.
It was the first meeting of this EAC which was recently reconstituted. The decision, however, may have set EAC on a war path with various civil society groups.
“This was the first meeting of the reconstituted EAC and it has clearly shown its anti-environment, anti-democracy and anti-people attitude by this decision. It also shows that it does not understand the basic environment governance process of this country. It is a very serious charge that they are levelling that the submissions make unsubstantiated statements and that too without any substantiation. It is actually showing their bias against NGOs, civil society and environment. They should look at whatever is submitted to the submissions on merit and then decide to consider it or not," said Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).
SANDRP is a network of organizations and individuals working on issues related to water sector with special focus on large dams. It has sent such representations to EAC several times, highlighting problems in the projects that reach the committee for appraisal.
He said EAC should reverse its decision and open up its meetings to civil society groups rather than making the whole process opaque and open only to project developers.