New Delhi: The union environment ministry has proposed to transfer some of its powers to state-level bodies while deciding on green clearances to projects related to non-coal mining, irrigation and townships.
Environmentalists slammed the proposal as an abdication of responsibility by the environment ministry which would lead to arbitrary decisions making by state-level bodies, potentially weakening environmental regulations.
Under the draft notification published on Monday, the Harsh Vardhan-led ministry proposes to amend Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2006 regulations to transfer its powers to grant environment clearances to non-coal mines, river valley and irrigation projects and townships till a certain threshold to the state-level environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA).
The draft notification proposes that in the case of non-coal mines, the environmental clearance will need to be taken from the environment ministry for mining lease of an area spread over more than 100 hectare. But cases involving area less than 100 hectare in non-coal mines will be appraised by SEIAAs.
At present, all cases of mining lease for areas more than 50 hectare have to seek environment clearance (EC) from the union environment ministry.
As far as irrigation projects are concerned, the notification proposes that irrigation projects involving culturable command area (CCA) of more than 50,000 hectare will need EC from the environment ministry compared to the existing provision where irrigation projects of CCA more than 10,000 hectares require clearance from the ministry.
Under the existing requirements, irrigation projects having CCA of less than 10,000 hectare requires permission from SEIAA. But it is proposed to be changed under the draft notification which said that irrigation projects that have CCA between 5000-50,000 hectares will now need permission from SEIAA.
Interestingly, irrigation projects of less than 5,000 hectare CCA will not require EC even from the state level authorities. At present, the limit for such projects 2,000 hectare. The ministry has invited objections and suggestions from all stakeholders within 60 days.
Environmentalists are concerned that project developers could break big projects in phases to avoid scrutiny at central level.
“This is bad news for the environment and a community since there is always more pressure on SEIAAs to clear projects than even MoEFCC. Many SEIAAs also do not have the required capacities to appraise projects, this could lead more arbitrary decision making," said Nandikesh Sivalingam, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.
“It is a huge step and the environment ministry is doing nothing but abdicating its responsibilities and that is going to hamper environment regulation in long run. With this notification, the ministry is shifting its powers to state level bodies where they will be weakened to a great extent, if track record of state level bodies are anything to go by," said environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta.