New Delhi: The government sets various conditions while giving environmental clearance (EC) to projects, but there is little monitoring of whether these conditions are actually met, an independent study found, among various other shortcomings.
The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) assesses upcoming industrial projects and makes recommendations to the ministry, which may accept or reject it.
According to the study conducted by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, an independent think tank, the environment ministry explicitly imposed monitoring requirements only in 44% of cases that came before it for clearance. In 27% of the cases, there was some ambiguity regarding monitoring requirements.
For its report, titled “Environmental clearances and monitoring in India—report card for the ministry of environment, forest and climate change", Vidhi analysed 560 projects between 1 June 2014 and 25 May 2016 which were considered by the EAC and which were given environmental clearance later.
The report studied the proportion of instances in which the ministry imposed monitoring requirements on its regional offices while granting ECs.
“There was a stark difference in the imposition of monitoring requirements across sectors. The non-coal mining and coal mining categories demonstrate a very high proportion of monitoring requirements (98% and 93% respectively), while the Industrial-2 and Infrastructure categories display very low proportions (19% and 4% respectively)," the report said.
The report also revealed that there is a “steady decline in the number of monitoring reports being uploaded" by the ministry’s regional offices over 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The maximum number of monitoring reports were uploaded for the Industrial-1 category (1,100 over three years) while the lowest number of monitoring reports was recorded for the Industrial-2 category (17 over three years).
There are seven sector-specific EACs under the ministry, which appraise projects on environmental parameters before recommending or rejecting EC.
Industrial-1 category includes projects related to metallurgical industries, cement plants, asbestos products, leather skin hide processing industry and the pulp and paper industry. Industrial-2 category includes projects related to offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration, development and production, petroleum refining industry, soda ash industry, chemicals fertilizers, pesticide industry, petrochemical complexes, petrochemical-based processing, synthetic organic chemical industry, distilleries, man-made fibre manufacturing and others.
Other sector-specific EACs are related to coal mining, non-coal mining, nuclear projects and thermal power projects.
The report also analysed whether project proponents adhered to the environmental clearance norms to submit half-yearly self-compliance reports.
“In 6 out of 10 regional offices (Bangalore, Lucknow, Bhopal, Nagpur, Chandigarh and Shillong), less than 5% of the self-compliance reports were uploaded. The Ranchi regional office showed the highest proportion of self-compliance reports that were uploaded, although even this was only 13%," the report said.
The ministry has 10 regional offices across the country, and one of their tasks is monitoring the implementation of conditions and safeguards stipulated in green clearances.
The report said a total of 555 projects were granted EC during the study period. It highlighted that in some cases, a project got EC within a few days of the EAC recommending it, while some waited for over 16 months.
For instance, the proposal for a new international airport at Mopa in Goa got EC from the ministry within eight days of the EAC recommending it, while the Samarnaka quartz and feldspar mining project in Rajasthan got it after 503 days.
The report highlighted a “lowering of the quality of environmental appraisal", something environmentalists and activists have repeatedly pointed out.
“What this report has said is a reiteration of the fact that once developers gets a piece of paper (environment clearance) everyone forgets about it. But environment ministry is not to forget about it as giving clearance is just the first part of their job. There is a lot of scope for improvement. All environment clearance process should be stopped forthwith unless a robust monitoring process is in place otherwise it’s a mockery and joke on the system," said Manoj Misra, convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, an organization that has been working to clean and revitalize river Yamuna river for nearly a decade.
He added that EC is seen today as an “avoidable but necessary piece of paper" as “industry believes that they can do whatever they want after that".
“Monitoring has been one of ministry’s week areas. But now there is a lot of thrust on online monitoring and use of technology for monitoring. We have been taking various steps to improve on it and we will continue to do so," said a senior official of the environment ministry, while wishing anonymity.