A notification by the environment ministry gave a chance for violating projects to apply for environment clearance
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC), recently met to give recommendations on clearances for violating industries. This was the first such meeting held to consider environment clearance (EC) for industries that were already in violation, following a notification by the environment ministry. Normally, EC is taken before starting the project, but the ministry’s notification allowed a one-time opportunity to violating projects to apply for clearances. The meeting for violation-appraisal was held on June 22.
What’s the process like?
The projects scrutinised in the meeting spanned multiple industries such as construction, chemical industry, commercial buildings, residential housing, mining, among others. For each case, extent and types of violations were discussed and directions issued.
The companies were given a chance to present their cases using documentary evidences. In cases of observed violations, the EAC gave two kinds of directions—first, asking the project proponent to make monetary commitments towards remediation plans; and second, directing state governments to ensure compliance and take relevant action. For cases where the EAC concluded that no violations happened, the projects were allowed to continue.
The MoEF&CC notification gave a six-month-window, till mid-September, for project proponents to apply for fresh ECs. Cases will first be evaluated by the EAC at the Centre to assess clearance violations, irrespective of size, type or capacity of the project. If the EAC concludes that violation had taken place, it will recommend closure of the projects, along with action against the proponent. The EAC will also direct implementation of the Environmental Management Plan, comprising a remediation plan, as a condition for granting clearance. The project proponent must submit a bank guarantee equivalent to the amount of the remediation plan.
What purpose does this exercise serve?
Involving the EAC to look into cases of violation and compliance is novel. The committee has taken up this additional role following the ministry’s notification in March. Its primary role is to give recommendations to MoEF&CC on project proposals, after weighing the project’s merits and its potential impacts on environment and people.
Manoj Kumar Singh, joint secretary of MoEF&CC clarified that this is only a short-term role. For this period, the EAC will convene two or three times a month for violation appraisal, with a minimum of one meeting per month.
Singh also suggested that “post-facto evaluation of projects for violations and EC considerations should be avoided, as there is already legal procedure in place.” States or their pollution boards can file cases against suspected violators under the Section 19 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Ensuring compliance with conditions of the EC is currently the responsibility of the regional offices of the MoEF&CC.
However, Singh acknowledged the importance of expert involvement. He said that EAC’s involvement in reviewing violations is useful because they were involved in granting ECs in the first place and can offer understanding which another unfamiliar body might not be able to. He also recognized that an independent review by experts can be a crucial intervention to ensure compliance, and hinted at involvement of third-party auditing systems in future moves from the MoEF&CC.
A plasticizer plant owned by Manav Chemicals in Jharkhand’s Palamau district increased production capacity without the necessary clearance. In 2008-09, the plant nearly doubled its production of chlorinated paraffin plasticizer and hydrochloric acid. Observing violation, the Jharkhand pollution control board (PCB) directed the company to take EC, for which it applied in 2015, after operating illegally for about seven years. MoEF&CC directed the company to stop production until it gets a fresh EC, but Manav Chemicals failed to comply.
In the appraisal meeting, the EAC directed the state government to ensure compliance, and take action against the project proponent under section 19 of the Environment Protection Act. This essentially means that Jharkhand PCB can file a complaint report on violation of the project developers, on the basis of which they can be taken to court.
The project proponent was asked to undertake Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and prepare an Environment Management Plan (EMP) for remediation. They have been also asked to submit a bank guarantee equivalent to the amount of the remediation cost, to ensure that the company acts on remedial measures. Granting the EC is subject to submission of these documents.
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