New Delhi: Moves to set up the nation’s first independent environment regulator gathered momentum after the environment ministry said on Tuesday it has no plans to file a review petition on the matter.
“We have had a round of internal discussions on how to implement the order of the Supreme Court. The focus of the ministry now is on implementing it," said V. Rajagopalan, environment secretary. His comments came after the apex court on Monday directed the government to establish an independent environment regulator at the national and state levels to oversee implementation of the national forest policy and to appraise industrial projects in terms of their impact on the environment.
The present mechanism under the EIA (environmental impact assessment) notification of 2006, which deals with processing appraisals and approval of projects for environmental clearance, is deficient in many respects, the court held.
It said a regulator was needed to carry out an independent, objective and transparent appraisal; approve projects for environmental clearance; and to monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down for such clearances.
Rajagopalan said improving the system of regulatory clearances is an ongoing process and that the ministry keeps streamlining the process from time to time. “There is scope to improve the 2006 EIA notification in terms of both appraisal and monitoring," he said.
The environment secretary said the regulatory body will have two tracks: “While the first track will be responsible for improvement of the national forest policy, the second track will focus on improving the appraisal and monitoring of environment clearances."
“The new body will be integrated with the ministry since an existing set-up is in place," Rajagopalan added. The environment ministry has been told to file an affidavit and a notification appointing the regulator by 31 March.
The apex court, in an order in 2011, had directed the central government to appoint a national regulator but the government failed to do so. The regulatory body was to be established on the basis of a 2011 report by Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, on the ‘Scope, structure and processes of National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority’.
“But it is too early to comment on the structure of the regulator," said Rajagopalan.
On the issue of imposing penalties on polluters, he said the regulatory body may not have such powers as even the ministry doesn’t have the power to penalize offenders, having to approach the national green tribunal or civil courts for that.
Parvesh Minocha, group managing director of consulting firm Feedback Infra, said the existence of an independent regulator “will professionalize environment protection. But for the industry, it will add one more layer."