Green move

Or political manoeuvre?

Published: Sunday 30 November 2003

the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) has initiated the process for bringing a huge chunk of the concrete jungle -- commercial and office complexes, industrial townships, hospitals, schools, and settlement colonies -- under the purview of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

According to a recent draft notification, an environmental impact assessment (eia) as well as the moef's clearance will be compulsory for new projects catering to 1,000 people and above. Structures discharging 50,000 litres per day or more of sewage will also be covered by the proposed law. The rules are meant for buildings with an investment of Rs 50 crore and above, and new industrial estates whose area is 50 hectares or more, too. All new projects that fall into the categories mentioned above, and in which construction work has not reached the plinth level would have to follow the guidelines.

The groundwork for the rules was laid in 1982, when the moef had set up an expert group for the purpose. The panel submitted its report in 1989. Ministry sources claim that the draft notification was necessitated because of the sharp rise in river pollution, primarily due to waste and sewage. This, in turn, was due to "indiscriminate clearance" being granted to shopping malls and apartment blocks without taking into account the strain on the sewerage.

But it is widely felt that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government's move -- particularly its timing -- has been guided by political considerations. This is because it will reportedly bring under the scanner Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi's plans to build a new capital and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa's proposed secretariat project.

While Jogi is a member of the Congress, Jayalalithaa belongs to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Doubts have also been raised about the efficacy of guidelines, since they are coming into force almost 15 years after being recommended.

Town planners have welcomed the draft notification. They, however, fear that bureaucratic delays could hamper project clearance. The need for such a set of rules arose in December 2001 when the Supreme Court directed the Centre to accommodate eia into town planning.

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