Matters concerned with Environment

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Projects getting faster clearance in Jairam's tenure

Mail Today Science Bureau  | New Delhi, February 3, 2011 | 08:35

If you believe that Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has made life difficult for industry and project promoters by making environmental clearances as a stumbling block, you may be in for a surprise. Projects during his tenure are getting cleared much faster and just a handful of them are rejected.

Environmental clearance for just six projects was rejected during August 2009 and July 2010, compared to 14 projects rejected during 2006-07 to 2007-08.

The conditional approval granted to the steel project of Korean giant Posco and to several such high-profile projects including the Navi Mumbai airport show that projects continue to be approved with the same speed even after July 2010. The mining project of Vedanta is the only notable rejection. Eight river valley hydro-electric projects were submitted for environment clearance and all were approved in the one-year period. As many as 49 thermal power projects were approved with just one rejection during 2009-10.

Of 120 projects under the category of 'infrastructure and miscellaneous projects' that came up for approval, 112 were approved and none was rejected. As many as 31 coal mining projects were approved with not a single one being rejected. Only two of 'new construction and industrial estates' projects were rejected.

In all, 769 projects were received and 535 were approved and six were rejected. The rest are pending for more information and queries.

The rate of approving projects during the tenure of Ramesh remains unhealthy, says the EIA Resource and Response Centre which obtained the data under RTI. "Despite the claim of greater scrutiny, projects continue to be approved and the rate of approval appears to be getting worse. If one compares with the data of approval from 2006 to 2008 it is clear that the rate of rejection and approval remains the same," said Ritwick Dutta of EIA centre.

In a move designed to facilitate faster clearances, Ramesh appointed power sector experts to key panels tasked with approval of power projects. Rakesh Nath, former chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, was made chairperson of the expert appraisal committee on river valley projects, while V. P. Raja, chairman of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission, was appointed to head the expert appraisal committee on thermal power and coal mine projects. "How can a power regulatory body chief preside over environment clearance of power projects?" questions Dutta.

While projects are being approved with alacrity, Ramesh has closed all avenues for those who want to appeal against such approvals. He has dismantled the only existing grievance redressal mechanism that existed in the form of the National Environment Appellate Authority. The authority was wound up in October 2010 even before the National Green Tribunal, which was supposed to replace it, came into being. The tribunal has not been set up despite Parliament approving the law for its establishment. As a result, persons aggrieved by the grant of clearance have no statutory forum for appeal.

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