Experts slam government move, stating it would short-change the importance of appraisal and detailed scrutiny in the environment clearance process
All Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) for granting Environmental Clearances (ECs) under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, have to meet twice every month now, to fast-track the process of granting approvals.
The decision was taken by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on November 18, through an Office Memorandum (OM) sent to all EACs, State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities and State Expert Appraisal Committees.
“All EAC meetings shall be held at least twice a month to cut down the period of EC approval. There shall not be a gap of more than 15 days between two EAC meetings,” the OM said.
The OM was a result of the review of the EC process by the ministry.
“During the review meetings held for streamlining the EC process, it has come to notice that the grant of EC is delayed due to various reasons that could be avoided,” the OM added.
Even those EC proposals that had been submitted 10 days before the EAC meetings, would have to be appraised, the OM said.
This deadline was 15 days earlier. Projects that submit the information sought by the EAC even two days before the meetings will have to be appraised.
The OM also said that projects whose proponents were absent in the meetings would be considered in absentia by the EAC, with a clarification sought from the proponent or the consultant for the absence.
“The move to make EACs meet twice a month, reducing the interval between submission of proposals and their being considered in the EAC is absolutely retrograde,” Sharachchandra Lele, distinguished fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance Centre for Environment and Development, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and a former member of the EAC on coal mining.
“This makes EAC meetings more of a farce. The amount of material that is submitted per proposal is massive (EIA / Environmental Management Plan reports, public hearing reports, videos, submissions from the public),” Lele added.
“Each meeting considers several such proposals, thus requiring several days of homework if due diligence has to be done. This was difficult even with once-a-month meetings, because most of the independent experts have full-time jobs elsewhere and do EAC work as an additional public service. The ministry might as well now shut down the EACs and just clear all the proposals,” he said.
Kanchi Kohli, from the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based research organisation said the OM continued to perpetrate a false premise.
That premise was that fast-tracking environmental approvals by short changing scrutiny or appraisal would ensure that projects would be able to run smoothly.
“It tries to divert attention away from the fact that despite 100 per cent approval rates according to the ministry’s own admissions, projects have not been able to sustain construction or operations,” Kohli noted.
The OM also short-changed the importance of appraisal and detailed scrutiny in the environment clearance process, Kohli added.
“It is here that expert knowledge needs to assess both, the EIA and the concerns raised at public hearings to enable environmentally sound decisions,” she said.
The new OM, she said, did the reverse. It made EAC members complicit in poor and hasty recommendations that were not just illegal but also defied the precautionary principle which was to safeguard both, the economy and the environment.
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