New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government gave environmental clearances to 1,049 projects worth 7.39 trillion in less than 24 months after assuming power.

Data collated by the Union environment ministry also shows there has been a steady rise in the number of projects getting environmental clearances and Terms of References (ToRs) since 2013-14.

ToRs are guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies of projects, based on which the environment ministry grants or rejects green clearance to a project.

Speeding up green clearances was one of the major promises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections.

The data, which has been reviewed by Mint, reveals that a total of 1,049 projects worth 7.39 trillion were given environment clearances between 26 May, 2014 and 31 March 2016. These 1,049 projects have together generated 270,325 jobs.

Sectoral breakup shows 398 of these clearances went to industry (worth 2.31 trillion), 264 to non-coal mining ( 19,714 crore), 255 to infrastructure, coastal and construction projects ( 2.59 trillion), 85 to coal mining ( 57, 541 crore), 27 to thermal power projects ( 96,681 crore), 17 to river valley projects ( 54,657 crore) and three to nuclear and defence projects ( 19,560 crore).

In June 2016, then environment Prakash Javadekar revealed since Modi came to power, his ministry had given environment approvals to 239 public utility projects like mining, airports, ports and defence projects, worth 5.03 trillion across all states which together had the potential to create 164,239 jobs.

The latest data is more comprehensive as it includes details of clearances given for non-public utility projects as well.

The data also reveals that there has been a steady rise in environment nods and ToRs given by the green ministry.

As per the data, 643 environment clearances and 669 ToRs were granted by the environment ministry in 2015-16 compared with 442 environment clearances and 638 ToRs in 2014-15 and 305 environment clearances and 623 ToRs in 2013-14.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Modi highlighted delays in green clearances as one of the major hurdles in India’s growth and promised to make the process transparent, simple and quick.

In the past two years, the environment ministry that was led by Prakash Javadekar made dozens of policy interventions including making the forest, environment, wildlife clearances process online. Javadekar was recently promoted to cabinet minister rank and given charge of the human resource development ministry.

Javadekar has repeatedly highlighted that the average time taken in granting environmental clearance has come down to 192 days from 600 days, and vowed to bring it down to 100 days.

Other major decisions taken by the environment ministry under Prakash Javadekar are to simplify green clearance procedures include decentralizing the clearance process for mining of minor minerals, such as sand, to district level authorities.

The ministry has also standardized 39 sector specific model ToRs which cut down delays in environment clearances by around two years.

Environmentalists, however, point out that the problem lies in the lack of monitoring mechanisms and corrective action.

“As early as February 2014, the environment ministry had initiated the process of evolving a monitoring mechanism by writing to chief secretaries of state governments. But nothing has moved since then," said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court and managing partner of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm, an environmental law firm that also deals with training, education, publishing and outreach work.

“On the one hand, you are not strengthening the monitoring mechanism while on other, you are relaxing provisions of environment clearances and delegating it to municipal and local authorities. This is huge problem as ease of doing business does not come at the cost of environment. Not just monitoring mechanism... who is evaluating the performance of projects that are given environment clearances and recommending corrective action? There is vacuum on that front," he added.

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