Bad for people, bad for environment

A new study by Centre for Science and Environment slams system of green clearances

Published: Thursday 22 September 2011

Claims by the government and industry that environmental regulations are throttling India's economic growth are belied by the latest study by Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The assessment which comprehensively analysed forest clearances granted by the Indian government in the 11th Five-Year-Plan—2007 to 2011—shows that rate of granting forest clearances has doubled. In this period diversion of forestland was 25 per cent of all forestland diverted for development projects in the past thirty years. The green clearances are not working to benefit the environment or the people, the study concludes.

“Environmental regulations are seen as impeding growth, but where is the impediment? We are finding that despite all the browbeating, almost every project is getting cleared with frightening consistency, making a complete mockery of our regulatory systems,” says Sunita Narain, CSE director general, while releasing the assessment report here today.

Narain and CSE's deputy director general, Chandra Bhushan, demanded that the process of forest clearances should be stopped immediately until such time that an effective system is put in place.

The study looks at five key sectors—thermal power, hydropower, cement, iron and steel and mining—and comes out with hard data to prove that the scale of clearances has been nothing less than unprecedented.

What the study found
  • In the period between 2007 and August 2011, 8,284 projects were granted forest clearance and 2,03,576 hectare (ha) of forest land was diverted
  • This diversion is about 25 per cent of all forestland diverted for development projects since 1981. The pace of forestland diversion, therefore, has doubled in the past five years
  • The area of forestland diverted is equal to the average area of two tiger reserves, and about four times the area of a Panna or a Tadoba tiger reserve
  • A large proportion of this forestland (50,000 ha) has been diverted for mining and power projects. The maximum amount of forest land diverted for mining in any single year happened in 2010—about 14,500 ha.
  • Coal mining accounted for more than half of all the forestland diverted for mining. As many as 113 coal mining projects were granted forest clearance—the highest number cleared in any five year plan since 1981.
  • 181 coal mines, 267 thermal power plants, 200 coal-based thermal power plants, 188 steel plants and 106 cement units have been accorded clearance. This enormous splurge has led to a doubling of capacity in almost all sectors. However, almost all of this capacity remains unutilised.

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