MoEF categorises offences relating to environmental clearances

Not complying with conditions of clearance can be a serious offence

By Ishikaa Sharma
Published: Friday 04 November 2011

A committee set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has issued a first of its kind of guidelines which differentiate between offences. These guidelines seek to categorise offences relating to non-compliance  with conditions attached to environmental clearances (EC), which the ministry grants to infrastructure and development projects.

The committee, headed by B Sengupta, former member-secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, was asked to categorise non-compliant actions as serious and non serious. The panel completed the task after four meetings. The aim behind developing these guildeines is that it would enable monitoring of conditions attached to EC more effectively.

The committee was formed consequent to the recommendations of another expert committee formed in 2009, headed by J M Mauskar, special secretary with MoEF. The guidelines have been uploaded on the ministry's website for comments.

Guidelines cover 26 sectors

The report, released on October 31, categorises non-compliant actions as serious and non serious for 26 sectors. These include mining, thermal power plants, cement and iron and steel. To identify non-compliance and the subsequent categorisation of these, the committee referred to EC letters. A serious offence, according to the report, is non-installation of pollution abatement equipment like an electrostatic precipitator for  curbing particulate emissions.

What constitutes serious offences  

  • Non-installation of pollution abatement equipment. An electrostatic precipitator for curbing particulate emissions, for instance
  • Non-compliance with conditions specific to an EC. Non utilisation of flyash by a coal-based thermal power plant, for instance
  • Non-implementation of provisions like Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) and Command Area Development (CAD) by the state
  • Non-compliance with any process related to conditions
  • Not complying with study requirements on ecology, wildlife and pollution management
Non-compliance with conditions specific to an EC will also be considered serious.  For example, in the case of a coal-based thermal power plant, non-utilisation of flyash will be a serious offence. Not complying with some other conditions of ECs, the implementation of which is the responsibility of the state, like Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) and Command Area Development (CAD), will also fall in the serious category. As will non-compliance with any process-related conditions. Not complying with study requirements on ecology, wildlife and pollution management may also put the project proponent in the serious offender category.

Violations of a similar nature can be treated as serious or non-serious. For instance, greenbelt development is suppossed to be in 33 per cent of the project area; if this condition is not complied with, it will be treated as a serious offence. At the same time, if the greenbelt comprises scattered trees around the project area in the form of block plantations, it will be considered a non-serious offence even if it meets the 33 per cent norm.

Non-serious offences have been defined for each of the 26 sectors separately. All the non-serious category conditions will become serious in case they are not complied with or rectified within six months.  

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general of Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says this exercise will not be of much use, “This will give even more leeway to industries to further commit non-compliance without fear.” Also, this will not address the fundamental problem of inadequate capacity with regional offices of MoEF who are the ones responsible for monitoring, he adds.  
The punishment

The committee has also put forth actions that need to be taken in case of violations in these two categories which are essentially the same as the already existing actions. In case of non-compliance, the governments (Central or state) may serve a show-cause notice under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. In case of immediate danger to public life and property, direct closure order for the industry may be issued. In case of non-serious violation, a letter would be written to the project proponent and action will depend on the industry's response. Repeated failure to comply will be considered a serious violation.

The committee has also given suggestions for improvement in the EC conditions. These include good waste management practices, urgent development of sulphur-dioxide standards for thermal power plants and development of coal reject management guidelines.

The committee has some suggestions for the ministry, too. These include pollution boards measuring ambient air quality and project-specific standards after commissioning of a project, instead of leaving it to the project proponent. For this, the EC itself should contain information about the number of stations and frequency of monitoring.

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