The organisation did not perform due diligence while granting environment clearances and doing post-clearance monitoring between 2012 and 2017
The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) of West Bengal failed to carry out due diligence while granting environmental clearances (ECs) and doing post-clearance monitoring, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has said in a performance audit.
The performance audit on prevention, control and monitoring of industrial pollution in West Bengal with a specific focus on organisations such as SEIAA, State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board was conducted during February and July 2017, by examining records pertaining to the period 2012-2017.
While the draft audit report was shared with Department of Environment in January 2018 and the final report was signed by the CAG in June 2018, the West Bengal state government has delayed presentation of the report by almost 13 months.
It was finally tabled on July 11, 2019, in the West Bengal assembly.
During the period under review, the SEIAA had granted ECs to 64 category B industries, the CAG audit found.
A close scrutiny of records by auditors revealed deviations from the laid-down process in respect of 24 cases.
The audit noticed that for two cement projects under the B1 category, SEIAA had granted EC based on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports prepared by the project proponents itself.
CAG auditors also came across blatant violations, since no EMP or pollution mitigation measures were furnished by project proponents.
While the project proponents were required to conduct public hearings according to Section 7 (III) of the EIA notification, 2006, the CAG audit noticed that going out of its way, SEIAA had exempted them from conducting a public hearing.
It was also found that SEIAA, in disregard of the EIA notification 2006, had granted EC to eight projects which were located within 10 km of the inter-state boundaries.
According to the EIA notification, all projects located within 10 km of inter-state boundaries or critically polluted areas would be characterised as category A projects and were to be granted EC by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change only.
Audit scrutiny also exposed the grave absence of due diligence by SEIAA, since six mining projects that got EC (March 2015 to July 2016) were without valid lease tenure for mining since the respective lease tenure had expired.
According to the EIA notification, if a category B industry is located within a notified industrial area, it would be treated as a ‘category B2 industry’ which is exempted from conducting a public hearing.
The CAG audit observed: "SEIAA exempted six category B projects from conducting public hearing even though the projects were not located in any notified industrial area".
The EIA notification 2006 says cement grinding units would fall under category B2 industry and would be exempted from public hearings, subject to the condition that transportation of raw material and finished products were primarily conducted through the railways.
"SEIAA had granted EC to two cement industries although the concerned projects were not connected through railways," observed the audit.
"These instances of ECs by SEIAA to the private sector industries, without ensuring the fulfillment of stipulated conditions indicate a disregard of the environmental concerns by the authority and a vigilance angle in such favours cannot be ruled out," the audit report stressed.
However, the moot question is will the West Bengal government initiate a vigilance inquiry against errant officers, when it has delayed the presentation of this audit report by almost 13 months?
Failure in Monitoring Compliance
The EIA Notification 2006 stipulates that project proponents would have to submit half-yearly (June and December) compliance reports of the Environmental Clearance to the SEIAA.
EIA Notification also underlined that all such compliance reports would be in the public domain and the SEIAA website would also have to display them so that the general public can also access and verify the same.
In West Bengal, the Department of Environment constituted a committee for monitoring the compliance of conditions imposed by SEIAA while granting environmental clearance.
CAG auditors observed that “out of 64 category B industries which were granted environmental clearance by SEIAA during 2012-17, no industry had ever submitted their compliance reports to it”.
In a most shocking revelation CAG audit further observed that "the monitoring committee had not met even once during 2012-17 to monitor these industries".
During the period under review, the SEIAA and SEAC were constituted three times (August 2010, December 2013 and March 2017).
Environmental organisations in West Bengal need to analyse the role of SEIAA and SEAC members and scrutinise the decisions taken in the 64 meetings convened during the period under review.
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