The latest notification by the ministry is a step forward in streamlining the process; but some gaps remain
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) released a notification June 14, 2022, detailing a compliance module for projects granted environmental clearance under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006.
The module streamlines the compliance and monitoring process and avoids any delays in submission of the compliance reports to regulatory authorities.
The EIA Notification 2006 requires that projects that cause pollution, displacement, destruction of natural resources, etc, must go through a series of clearance steps according to standards and with the prior consent of a variety of statutory agencies, both at the state and central levels.
A compliance report, under the notification, provides the status of compliance with conditions stipulated in the environmental clearance letter and is to be submitted every six months from the grant of environmental clearance to a project.
However, according to the MoEF&CC notification, project owners often do not adhere to the timeline for the submission of compliance reports under the EIA Notification, 2006.
The ministry’s notification makes it mandatory to submit the compliance report online to bring more efficiency and transparency in the compliance and monitoring regime.
Earlier, the project proponent would submit the compliance report as a hard copy to regulatory agencies and upload the same on MoEF&CC’s environmental clearance portal called ‘Parivesh’. These files were to be in PDF format. Sorting them for information would consume significant manual hours, the ministry said in its notification.
Now, the ministry has made a provision of uploading environmental conditions in an online form against which, compliance status can be submitted by the project proponent. Compliance data from the portal can then be directly used by the regulators for project monitoring.
The compliance reports, even if they were submitted in a timely manner, often did not have the required supporting documents such as air and water quality monitoring results, soil analysis and readings of the piezometer that measures groundwater withdrawn for the project.
Also, since it was manually impossible to check such a large number of incoming files, the proponent was able to escape scrutiny. The ministry, in its new notification, has made it mandatory to submit a ‘self-declaration’ justifying the status for each condition.
The provision ensures that the compliance report is not successfully submitted without the required proof of compliance.
Gaps in the notification
The latest notification by the ministry is a step forward in streamlining the process and avoiding any gaps in the timely submission of compliance reports. However, it is not clear if these reports and supporting documents shall be accessible to the public.
All the information will be uploaded using the project proponent’s unique credentials and therefore, may not be available in the public domain.
Second, the compliance module does ensure that the proof of compliance is available for perusal of the authorities. But there need to be checks and balances to ensure that the proponent submits complete and quality information.
Third, the ministry needs to ensure that this online submission of compliance reports does not end up as another revenue generation model for consultants hired for the work. Rather, the data collated from these reports should actually be used to take strict actions against violators.
Lastly, there needs to be a publicly accessible platform where environmental and social impacts of projects are collated in a singular format to understand the cumulative impact of industrial activity in the region.
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