Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has expressed its concern over the recent statements and insinuations over the issue of environmental clearances. Sunita Narain, CSE’s Director General expressed her concern over the tone and tenor of the debate on green clearances.
"We are very worried about the tone and tenor of the debate on green clearances. It is clear that this is an orchestrated campaign to dismantle green regulatory controls in the name of growth. Our assessment shows while countless projects have been given environmental clearance, they have not been implemented. The problem lies elsewhere. We need to reform and strengthen green clearances to safeguard people’s concerns, not destroy regulatory oversight, said Sunita Narain
CSE's deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said that the CSE had been saying that the system of green clearances is not working to protect the environment.
“We have put forward a list of what needs to be done to ensure that the system works for environmental integrity and yet is streamlined and does not lead to more corruption and high transaction costs. But instead of focusing on strengthening the system, the government seems to be hell-bent on destroying it completely,” adds Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, CSE.
Let’s look at the figures of two controversial sectors:
Coal: Since 2007, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has cleared 227 coal-mining projects with a capacity of 500 million tonne per annum (MTPA), which is equivalent to India’s current production. In 2013, alone, MoEF has granted clearance for 134 MPTA.
Thermal Power: In the thermal power sector, the MoEF has cleared 320 plants since 2007: the capacity accounted for is 245,944 megawatt (MW) -- this is double of what the country has installed in past 60 years.
The pace of forest clearance has also been unprecedented. The CSE analysis has found from 2007 onwards, 8,734 projects were granted forest clearance and 1.98 lakh hectares (ha) of forest land was diverted. This diversion was about 25 per cent of all forest land diverted for development projects since 1981. The pace of forest land diversion, therefore, had doubled during 11th FYP.
Streamline and strengthen the system CSE researchers say there are major problems with the clearance system - the biggest is that “it is not working for the environment”, says Bhushan. The EIA reports are poor and the quality of decision making is extremely lackadaisical. The worst part is that though clearances are being granted to projects with many conditions, there is no agency to monitor the implementation of these conditions. No data is available on the compliance to conditions.
Bhushan added, “Nobody knows how this monitoring system works. In the case of forests, there is some compiled information. But this only proves that monitoring is poor and worse, what little is monitored is found not to meet conditions.”
CSE researchers say major reforms are required to streamline the clearance system, which will reduce arbitrariness and the time it takes to give clearances, and increase transparency and accountability at the same time. In the past, CSE had made several recommendations to the government, which have remained studiously ignored. Some of these recommendations were:
Consolidate all clearances (environment, forests, wildlife and coastal). The fragmentation is not only adding to delays but also to poor decision-making. Make one comprehensive impact assessment document covering all aspects for all clearances and one unique number to link and track all clearances.
Bring integration into processes and procedures followed by the state pollution control boards and the MoEF. Develop an integrated system in which resources of all agencies are synchronised and local agencies are made responsible for monitoring and compliance.
Increase transparency by putting all project documents in public domain, including videos and proceedings of public hearings.
Reform the process of forest clearance. Currently, clearances are being granted without considering the impact of forest diversion on forests, wildlife, water and the community, and without evaluating the ecological and economic value of forests. There is no system in place to check the veracity of information based on which forest clearances are granted.
“We know that the system is not working, but we also know that without safeguards and regulatory oversight, environmental degradation will increase and this in turn will have consequences for India’s growth story,” says Narain.