New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has “once again" proposed to ease the environment rules for the building and construction sector, stipulating that projects of less than 50,000 square metres size would not require environment clearance (EC).
The projects will be able to commence construction once the local authorities issue the building permission incorporating a series of environmental conditions.
Harsh Vardhan-led Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has sought suggestions and views of all stakeholders within 60 days of the draft notification after it will be finalised.
But the proposal is once again expected to face legal battle as environmental experts said the environment ministry’s proposal was in defiance of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) decision and that it will dilute environmental laws in favour of ease of business.
“This is in defiance of NGT’s decision on the subject while they (environment ministry) have appealed in the Supreme Court... It is rather sad that ease of business that has gone to the level where there is absolutely no sensitivity towards environmental assessment," said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate.
“This move is totally in deference to the principle of non-regression which has been upheld for the first time in India by NGT in its January judgment. Clearly ease of business is paramount to the cost of environment," he added.
The building and construction sector is governed under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 under which any project of more than 20,000 square metres requires EC.
But in December 2016, the Union environment ministry introduced a new system wherein projects up to 300,000 square metres would not need the mandatory EC once state authorities had integrated environmental conditions with their building bye-laws.
However, the notification was challenged in the NGT, which in its January 2018 judgment, called the December 2016 notification of MoEFCC “a ploy to circumvent the provisions of environmental assessment". The tribunal had said that it would “considerably dilute the environmental safeguards" provided under the country’s environmental laws and asked the environment ministry to re-examine the notification.
It also pulled up MoEFCC, stating that it had failed to produce any study, literature, evaluation of the reason for taking the decision to go back to a pre-2004 situation wherein the failure of local bodies was considered the primary reason for bringing building and construction activity within the EIA framework.
Following that, the environment ministry has now come out with the latest draft notification (13 March) which stated that the “central government is streamlining the permissions for buildings and construction sector".
Stating that it is “important to streamline the process to achieve housing for all by 2022 with the objective of making available affordable housing to weaker section in urban areas", the MoEFCC’s draft noted that “on the basis of assessment of large number of cases of environmental clearances of building and construction proposals, objective criteria can be laid down for grant of Environmental Clearances".
The draft said that “the current environmental regime covers buildings and constructions of above 20,000 square meter of built up area" and it is “proposed to increase the threshold value to 50, 0000 square meter of built up area based on objective principles and need for protecting the environment".
It further said that “a self declaration form to comply with the environmental conditions shall be submitted online by the project proponent besides application for building permission to the local authority for building permission to the local authority for the building and construction projects more than 5,000 sq. metres and less than 50,000 sq. metres.
“Thereafter, the local authority may issue the building permission incorporating the environmental conditions and allow the project to commence based on the conditions. The local authority shall ensure the compliance of the environmental conditions through existing mechanism," the draft proposed.
It also held that these permissions would be governed with “environmental conditions" like use of water efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting system, proper waste management system, use of energy efficient system, use of renewable power, measures to tackle pollution, green cover etc.
The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a “Housing for All" programme, which aims to build 12 million affordable housing units in urban areas by 2022. In February, the Union cabinet approved the creation of a Rs60,000-crore National Urban Housing Fund to finance the programme. As per the government, out of the proposed 12 million houses, about 0.5 million have been completed and a further 1.7 million houses have been launched.