To give clearance over Internet
In an attempt to reduce corruption, bureaucratic delays and long paper trails, the Punjab State Pollution Control board (SPCB), has decided to give clearances online. At present, this facility is available only for big industries with an investment of Rs 15 crore and above, but will soon be extended to other industries.
The system was introduced on December 12 and works like an e-mail account. To apply, an industrialist must register his company. He is then given a log in id and password. This can be used to access or track an application. On an average, the SPCB receives approximately 50 to 60 applications regarding various clearances under like no objection certificates relating to water, air, Environment Protection Act, hazardous waste management, solid waste management and many more.
“The move intends to reduce corruption, increase efficiency and transparency,” says K S Pannu, chairman of Punjab SPCB. He adds that the main function of the pollution board is surveillance and some paper work in the form of documentation. “Earlier, a lot of time was wasted in this. Now officials can clear projects while on the move, while on holiday and when in the field,” he adds.
Though activists are happy with the reduction of paperwork, they fear this system excludes the general public. “If it is meant to increase transparency, the information ought to be made available to the general public,” says Gopal Krishna of Toxicswatch, a research advocacy group. He adds people will no longer know what industries are being established in their backyard.
Under the new system after an industry is registered, the SPCB is required to send the information to the regional offices, which in turn conduct public hearings and verify applicant’s claims and submit their reports online. When asked about physical verification, Pannu says engineers are being hired for the job. He adds that when an industrialist applies for a clearance from the board, the application will be checked by an assistant environmental engineer.But this information is available only to the officials and the industrialist till the project is cleared.
Krishna says it would be a dangerous step if the system becomes a substitute for physical verification. Citing the recent controversy over the Jalandhar waste to energy plant where officials were unable to answer questions posed by affected people during public hearing, he says once the online system is put in place the public has no way of registering their complaints. “Public hearings or official reports are often questionable. The access to company claims and compliances make it possible for people to protest. Putting it all online might make this impossible,” he adds.
But officials refute the claims of a possible nexus between the industrialists and government or the exclusion of public from the process of giving clearances to an industrial unit. “There is a due process which would require the officials to make public their findings and even public hearings on the pollution control website. This may not happen the very next day but all information will be available online in three to four days,” says D Sengupta, former member Secretary Central Pollution Control Board.
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