Time for reform
India needs to reinvent the way it manages green clearances
ONMAY16, as India was anticipating a new government the stock market hit a record high. The unbridled optimism of industry that the bjp-led government will rev up the economy is apparent. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India has already prepared an agenda for the new government to achieve 10 per cent economic growth. Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, indicated in an article that the government should re-start stalled projects.
Industry lobby portrays green clearances as impediments to growth.But facts wspeak otherwise. The government had planned to increase the country’s thermal power capacity by 78,700 MW during the 11th Five Year Plan that ended in 2012,but only 53,000 MW was installed. This is when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef ) cleared plants of 217,794 MW.The 12th Plan, ending 2017,promises another 88,000 MW to cater to the future demand. While the target can be met without further clearances, moef has cleared an additional 36,000 MW since April 2012.
Similar is the case with coal. India’s current production of coal is 557.7 million tonnes per annum (mtpa). By 2017,coal demand will rise to 980.50 MT, which can be met by realising the 589 mtpa potential of mines cleared during the 11th Plan period. Yet moef has cleared additional 67 projects with capacity of 216 mtpa since 2012.
The fact is very few projects get rejected on environmental grounds. In fact, projects are cleared with full knowledge that the government has little capacity to monitor whether developers are complying with environment clearance conditions. This allows developers to pollute. Protests against such projects make clearances contentious. This affects industries. Clearly, the current system is not working. The new government must reform and strengthen the environment management system and green clearances to safeguard people’s concerns.
1. Consolidate all green clearances, be it related to environment, forests, wildlife or coastal zone, so that decisions can be taken understanding the overall impact of projects. 2. Instead of several regulators, set up an independent body to grant all green clearances. The body should be given enough power and resources to do proper assessment and impose fines and sanctions. It must be transparent and accountable and encourage public participation in green clearances.
3.State pollution control boards (spcbs), the country’s largest environment regulators, monitor projects for compliance under environmental laws. moef should utilise the resources of spcbs to monitor compliance with clearance conditions.
4.The government must provide resources, build capacity and reform institutions for better implementation of regulations.It must urgently strengthen spcbs as they are the regulators on the ground.
5.All information related to green clearances should be put in the public domain.The process of public hearings must be strengthened and made more transparent.
It’s a myth that environmental clearances are impeding growth