Green clearance test for NDA

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Environmentalists are rightly alarmed that the NDA government is busy dismantling the environmental regulatory system in the country. Over the past two months, the media has reported that clearances for projects, from mining to roads, have been fast-tracked. While the web¬site of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has not been updated in August, in the two months till July end, forest clearance was granted to over 92 pro¬jects, which will divert some 1,600 hectares of forest. More recently, it was reported that the National Board for Wildlife has processed many projects located near or in sanctuaries and national parks.

imageAdditionally, rules are being changed, purportedly to speed up the process. This is being done in mainly two ways. One, as much as possible, MOEF is push¬ing decision-making to the states in the name of streamlining the process. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA ) notification has been amended to dele¬gate powers to clear certain projects to the state-level EIA authorities. This is being done with the full knowledge that the state agencies lack capacity and accountability. So, the effort is not to take informed de¬cisions about adverse impacts of projects. The effort is to get rid of the clearance system or at least to push it as far away as possible.

Two, wherever possible the provision of holding public hearings or taking gram sabhas’ consent is being diluted or even removed. For example, small coal mines—classified as producing 8 million tonnes annually—have been allowed to double their capacity without holding the mandatory public hearing. Other changes are also in the offing that will further chip away at this condition, which makes it necessary to get the consent of the affect¬ed communities or at least to hear and heed their concerns. Clearly, listening to people is not convenient for industry.

This said, it is important to note that the environ¬ment was not safeguarded during the previous UPA government as well. Very few (less than 3 per cent) projects were rejected because of environmental concerns; at the most sanction was delayed. The system was designed to obstruct and prevaricate, not to scrutinise and assess environmental damage. The rules were made so convo¬luted that they became meaningless. The process was so complex that the same project had to be cleared by five to seven agencies, which had no interest in compliance of the conditions they would set.

In some ways NDA is doing what the UPA did but without any pretence. The last government killed the en¬vironmental clearance system by making it so convoluted that it stopped functioning. It was not interested in reform or strengthening the capacity of its regulatory agencies. The pollution control boards remain understaffed and grossly neglected. The last government was certainly not interested in monitoring the performance of the project to ensure that environmen¬tal damage was mitigated. There is no capacity to assess compliance and the laws to enforce compliance are weak. It is a sad reality that previous ministers refused to reform the system because it was easier to control, thus, perpetuate power.

This, then, is the real test for the current NDA government. The need for regulatory oversight cannot be questioned. The environmental clearance system is a prerequisite for efficient and sustainable management of natural resources and, more importantly, for ensuring that adverse impacts of economic growth are mitigated and managed. Besides, an effective system helps industry to manage future risks of its investment. It cannot be done away with. What the NDA government is doing now with the changes it is bringing, is to continue to distort and dismember the system, making it even more farcical and ineffective and, consequently, more corrupt. The question is will this change? Will new minister Prakash Javadekar keep perpetuating a bad system or make a real difference for real change?

Forest and Environment Clearances: Problems for economic growth or problems for environmental protection

System of green clearances not working for environment and people and clearances not the impediment to growth, says CSE’s new study

Consideration of proposals for TORs/Environment Clearance/CRZ Clearance involving violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 19861, Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 / Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011

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  • Government must scrutinize

    Government must scrutinize the adverse impact on environment and the cost of recovery must be made on the project itself through an independent body. Then only Government will realize the value of environment.
    Nature gives us everything to fulfill our needs but has no place for anybody's greed.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent piece Madam. I

    Excellent piece Madam. I totally agree with you.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Even the central and state

    Even the central and state pollution control officials are corrupt, where data is manipulated and twisted in such a manner so that it can presented within regulatory standards of MoEF.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Indeed true. What is

    Indeed true. What is happening at a hastening pace is that scrutiny will be done by spin doctors at the state -level and manufactured EIA reports will be generated. Certainly the system of obstruction and prevarication gets decentralised and supposedly devalued to local level players. The piece is certainly begging us to ask why knowledge domain and capacity enhancement and updating issues get short shrift no matter what the political arrangments.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • There is strong need for

    There is strong need for simplification of the procedure ,not at the cost of Environment .
    But due to circular from MOEF , the public hearing has been made compulsory for proposed Industries in Industrial areas also , which was not the case earlier .Hence the time required for Environmental Clearance for these industries will increase by at least 2-3 months.Hence I do not agree that process is simplified .
    There is a need for simplification of procedure along with strict compliance monitoring .


    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Green Test for CSE Dear Ms.

    Green Test for CSE

    Dear Ms. Sunita Narain;

    Greetings to your article!

    However the title needs a major change. It is a ÔÇ£green test for CSEÔÇØ to continue to promote sound environment management while adapting to the needs of fast-industrializing India.

    Good to know that IndiaÔÇÖs GDP rose 5.7 % in April-June, fastest growth in 9 quarters but it seems CSE is not able to accept this fact straight and came up with this article.

    Japan is full of mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests and if we go by CSE standard of environmental activism, Japan would not have achieved what it is today!! In 50s and 60s, Japan was polluted and today it is one of the most industrialized, technologically advanced, and clean countries!! And surprisingly they did it without CSE!!

    How did Japan do it? Most simply, Japan continued to improve their manufacturing processes/practices and technologies becoming highly resource efficient without stopping industrialization and by working as a team. Please visit Japan and study their growth model. The best way for CSE is to help Indian industries and SMEs,team with them, and guide them by reaching out to them and to raise their environmental awareness. I know that this is a hard job to do but thatÔÇÖs the way forward. Please work with them in making India a better place to live. By just keep opposing, maybe CSE can achieve improvement of its premises but not the country!!

    Sincerely yours,

    K D Bhardwaj

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • What is the measure of

    What is the measure of cleanliness. For global warming & climate change purposes we can take amount of co2 in atmosphere. On that score Japan is not at all clean.Its annual emission of co2 is 13.2 billion tons & per capita emission is 1100 k.g.It cannot claim any concession on ground of economic growth for it is 3rd largest economy with gdp $4.9 billion & per capita gdp $41000 . In G8 meeting it had agreed to reduce emission to 75 p.c. of 1990 level by 2020; but actually emission will be above 1990 level in 2020. Bad model for India which seems to be facing climate change fury almost every year. Besides regulatory oversight for a project is needed for resettlement of communities who may be affected. A genuine meeting of Gramsabha is essential.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Ms. Narain is too critical of

    Ms. Narain is too critical of previous UPA Government but her criticism of NDA is very toned down. One is left wondering whether she is looking for a post in the committees of government again as the criticism nothing but a humble prescription which we are assured will go down the drain.

    Down to earth should be louder and not bowed down.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Anonymous: Thanks for

    Dear Anonymous:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Clean is clean. Look into any dictionary !! No dictionary links it with any statistics !!!!

    Coming to climate change, there is no clear concrete agreement and understanding worldwide so far. Why? Science of it is still not understood completely. It is all numbers !!

    Government of India rightly stresses on the principle of "differentiated accountability". Japanese people are enjoying better quality of life due to their economic growth and India has to request Japan for investment. Let's all try to see big picture.

    India has to grow and with growth improvements will come. They always come. It is a proven theory. But growth cannot be hampered for what-so-ever, not-so-fully-understood reasons, and so-called-perceptions.

    Please be part of the growth and not the problem.

    Sincerely yours;

    K D Bhardwaj

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • The steps being taken by the

    The steps being taken by the Govt. are extremely retrogressive. Everyday some announcement is being made w.r.t. Environmental Laws & Regulations. The announcements are always about making the Regulations redundant directly or indirectly. It is not clear why the Govt. is so involved with Environment alone and nothing else. Law and order in the country is in shambles, women and children are being exploited day in and day out, justice system is almost non-functional except for those who can hire prominent lawyers or 'lubricate' the system to deliver. Why the Govt. is not concerned about these and other more important issues but only Environment. Obviously, strong Environmental Regulations are proving obstacle for people who want to make fast money. We need to raise our voice against these moves otherwise whatever 'Green' is left in the country will be converted into 'Brown' by this Govt. in five years.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent article. It is good

    Excellent article. It is good to know that CSE is keeping a watch. The question of course is what are the options that are available. What is the proper model for India.

    Some of the industrialized nations which some of are eager to ape have undergone cycles which are centuries long, and while some have recovered their environmental health with tremendous costs, some others have lost it for ever. Retrospectively such models are considered fallacious today.

    The government should project a long term perspective, even if it is a millennium long, without it is dragging all of us into the dark.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Politicians and Governments

    Politicians and Governments started mouthing the words such as Biodiversity and Environment only very recently. Only because it is fashionable to mouth these words that they are doing it. They have no deep understanding about entire spectrum of environmental issues. Even if they do, the present human-centric development plans have no environment and biodiversity components in them. The "Sab ke sath sab ke vikas" have only humans in the circle. Until it is changed to "Sab ke Vikas environment ke sath" there is no hope for environment and biodiversity.

    Bonny Pilo

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Well said, Bonny

    Well said, Bonny Pilo.
    Inclusive development will be the driver for Sustainable Development. Some Sceptics in our country think "Climate Change" and "Global Warming" are mere jargon phrases used by media and environmental activist hawks. But we have already had several wake-up calls: Uttarakhand disaster last year, the Pune landslide, and now J&K.
    Local town-planners in cities and towns have been busy with development activities without any thought for the future. Cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad have either systematically closed natural lakes and encroached on them, resulting in rapid depletion of ground-water table and inundation of low-lying areas during monsoon.
    Development without foresight is a recipe for disaster and organisations like TERI and CSE should continuously highlight them to the governments and the public alike.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Fully agree. Perhaps the most

    Fully agree. Perhaps the most significant indicator of civilization's 'reach' is what it does and the way it treats its voiceless and the most voiceless of all, its WILDLIFE. India barely has 5% of its area under the Protected Area Network. Of this, hardly two percent is actually teeming with forests and wildlife; a big chunk consisting of deserts (hot and cold) or otherwise degraded areas. Now in the story of our development, if we are unable to leave alone (as we have yet to learn how to effectively manage these)this miniscule PAN, then I am afraid there is a basic "civilizational" malfunction which is being further aggravated by the growth obsessed policies of so called 'enlightened' leaders. And please do not blame Mr Javadekar; he is only following "His Master's Voice"!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Fully agree.

    Fully agree.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply