The Union environment ministry has taken another step to ease clearances for development projects. On July 31, the minister of state for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar, in a written response to the Rajya Sabha mentioned that the ministry is working towards streamlining environmental clearance (EC) process by “delegating more powers to the State level Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs) for granting EC
Earlier, the ministry had announced that environmental and forest clearance applications will be accepted online for expediting the clearance process.
India’s environment dealt a double blow by NDA government
The delegation of more powers to state authorities has been effected through the latest amendment to the EIA Notification, 2006, which outlines the process of granting ECs for various development projects. The latest amendment to the notification, as proposed in June this year, involves the inclusion of certain project categories which were earlier not specified under the 2006 Notification schedule. The addition and subsequent categorisation of these new types, placed under category B, and revisions in some of the existing sectors, means the state authorities will now appraise and clear more projects.
New categorisation of projects
According to the EIA Notification 2006, depending on the spatial extent and potential impacts of proposed development projects/ activities, they are broadly categorised into A and B. All category A projects are appraised by the Central expert committee of the Union environment ministry and cleared by the Union ministry, while category B projects are cleared by state authorities—SEIAAs.
The June amendment involves modifications in sectors such as thermal power, river valley, mining and other industrial sectors such as paper and pulp, distilleries and fertilisers.
For example, under the category of thermal power plant, now a new sub-category based on fuel type, has been included. The addition involves "use of municipal solid non-hazardous waste as fuel”, for which projects with more than 20 megawatt (MW) capacity will be cleared by the Centre, and projects between 15-20 MW will be cleared by SEIAAs. All projects with more than 15 MW capacity using biomass fuel also have been put under the state’s command.
The requirement for coal tar processing units has also been specified under the new amendment, where all such units will be appraised and cleared by the state authority. For mineral beneficiation, the state authorities will now be clearing projects of less than 0.5 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity, while the Central ministry will be clearing projects of greater capacity. As per the 2006 Notification, state authorities were entitled to clear projects below 0.1 MTPA capacity only.
One interesting addition is the specification of irrigation projects, which were not clearly distinguished from river valley projects earlier. The 2006 notification had specified that river valley projects greater than or equal to 50 MW hydro power generation capacity are under category A, requiring EC from the Union ministry, and those between 25-50 MW capacity are under category B, to be cleared by the state authorities. Additonally, river valley projects with 10,000 hectare (ha) or more of culturable command area are under category A and those under 10,000 ha are under category B. The new amendments have clearly put the culturable command area under the “irrigation projects” category. The amendment has also specified category B irrigation projects as those involving command area between 2,000 to10,000 ha, doing away with clearances for projects below 2,000 ha. The clearance requirements from the Centre stands slightly modified—Category B river valley projects falling in more than one state shall always be appraised at the Central level.
Less buffer for protected areas
Apart from additions and modifications of various projects, a considerable dilution has been proposed for projects lying in vicinity to protected areas, notified eco-sensitive areas, critically polluted areas and interstate boundaries of river valley projects. Under the EIA 2006 notification, for projects that are otherwise category B, are to be considered as category A if located in whole or partially within 10 km of the boundary of such areas.
The latest amendment has now the reduced the distance, making only projects located within 5 km of such areas to be considered as category A and requiring a clearance from the Central ministry. Further, giving more power to the state for projects involving interstate boundary, the ministry has specified that the requirements for the inter-state boundaries can be “reduced or completely be done away with” by an agreement between the respective states (or Union Territories) sharing the common boundary, for projects which do not also fall within 5 km of protected areas, notified eco-sensitive areas or critically polluted areas.