Green Clearance

As part of its larger ‘ease of doing business’ goal, the
Centre has decided to incentivise states through rating
the respective environment impact assessment
authorities on the basis of their efficiency in granting
faster green clearance to projects. The move is, however,
severely criticized by the environmentalists who sought
its immediate withdrawal, saying the government’s
decision will reduce environmental law compliance to a
mere formality as the role of such body is to give nod
after detailed scrutiny which takes time The Centre’s
decision to rank states according to the speed at which
they issue environmental clearances is ill judged and
short sighted. It undermines the role of regulatory
oversight in environmental protection by incentivising
state environment impact assessment authorities
(SEIAA) to seek “fewer details” from project developers.
There is no denying that clearance procedures are often
riddled with red tapism. And that environmental protection
must be balanced with developmental priorities. These
are complex tasks that require strengthening of
institutions and making regulatory procedures foolproof.
Experts have rightly pointed out that the ranking exercise
will compromise the SEIAAs’ mandate to assess the
impact of industrial, real estate and mining schemes on
the environment and lead to an unhealthy competition
amongst these agencies to swiftly clear projects without
due diligence. In recent times, the MoEF has laid much
store on speedy clearances of projects. In a statement
issued in December last year, it pointed out that the
average time taken to issue environmental clearances
had reduced from 150 days to 90 days in the past two
years and that the clearance time is as low as 60 days
in some sectors. But the ministry has not clarified if this
reduction in time has improved the level of scrutiny of
projects on critical environmental yardsticks. The MoEF’s
self-congratulatory tone about the rate of approval has
been rightly criticised because it has coincided with
moves to chip away at key environmental regulation. Last
year, for instance, it weakened the public hearing
provision for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA),
extended the deadline for compliance with emission
norms for most thermal power plants from 2022 to 2025
and planned to reduce the ecological protection accorded
to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
At a time when climate change is driving home the
ecological fragility of large parts of India and pollution
and water scarcity are taking a serious toll on the wellbeing
of people in cities, towns, and villages, regulatory
bodies require enabling policies to perform their tasks
with rigour. The grading exercise, instead, reduces them
to clearing houses. The Centre must rethink its move.

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