New Delhi: In order to facilitate faster green clearances for linear projects like roads, railway tracks, pipelines, transmission lines and canals in wildlife habitats and avoid project delays at later stages, the Union environment ministry is developing a standard set of mitigation measures.
The issue will be discussed at a meeting of forest secretaries of all states, organized by Anil Madhav Dave-led Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), on 21-22 October.
At present, there are 733 protected areas—wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, conservation and community reserves—across the length and breadth of the country covering around 4.89% of the total geographical area of India.
Many times infrastructure projects passing through these areas get stuck for want of environment, forest or wildlife clearances, in view of the danger to the protected wildlife habitat.
For instance, a long legal battle has been going on in Bombay high court around mitigation measures to be taken by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on NH-7 in Maharashtra.
Even though the Central government claims that as a policy it tries to avoid any new project of any kind within or near wildlife areas, but location specificity or inevitability sometimes warrants appropriate mitigation measures for counter-balancing the probable negative impact on habitats.
To overcome such problems, facilitate ease of business and avoid disputes, the environment ministry is working on a standard set of mitigation measures that could be taken up by companies for their projects in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
The environment ministry had asked the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to “compile a set of details on the mitigation measures which are practices around the world in such circumstances, in linear projects—road, railway tracks, transmissions lines and canals".
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“WII will present the work compiled at the two day meeting. It will be helpful for the state forest departments and governments for consideration and counselling the project proponents at the project formulation stage itself to avoid environmental complexities in the regulatory process and for facilitating faster decision-making," said a senior environment ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.
“The meeting will help in developing a consensus around the issue. Soon a final decision will be taken as the government is very serious towards facilitating ease of business and minimizing court cases," the official added.
The ministry believes standard mitigation measures will help avoid legal conflict and push for better wildlife conservation measures.
This is not the first time that the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government is trying to create a standard set of instructions. In April last year, MoEFCC issued standardized guidelines for environmental impact studies of industrial and infrastructure projects — a move that accelerated project timelines and brought down the time for environmental clearances by nearly two years.
Also, this is not the first push for linear projects. During the first year of Modi’s rule, the MoEFCC, under Prakash Javadekar’s tenure as environment minister, relaxed green norms for linear projects.