The Environment ministry has developed a plan for considering and clearing projects that have started constructions or made expansions without obtaining an environment clearance (EC).
It has issued a draft notification recently on “environmental supplemental plan” that will review and clear these projects that have violated the environment impact assessment (EIA) process by ensuring they mitigate the damage done. This because “the government deems it essential to grant environment clearance to entities which were non-compliant to make them compliant,” the draft read. The notification’s purpose is “remedial” the ministry claims.
In the new plan, the expert appraisal committee or the state expert appraisal committee will refer such cases of violations to an expert group which will be constituted by the environment ministry. The expert group will prepare an ESP for restoration of the damage caused to the environment. If there is no expert group in a state the project will be appraised by the ministry. The ministry describes the ESP as “an environmentally beneficial project that is not required by law but that an alleged violator of EIA notification 2006 agrees to undertake as part of the process of environmental clearance.”
Legal and environmental experts are not impressed. Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon of Centre for Policy Research and Namati Environment Justice Program have sent their comments on the draft notification to the secretary, MoEFCC recently. They pointed that the draft notification “lays out a process, which legally allows for a violator to damage the environment and subsequently obtain an ESP to compensate for the damage. The idea of the ESP is an undue favour to a violator. It will not act as a deterrent, but will encourage the practice of non-compliance as the project proponent is at no point under scrutiny for an “illegal act,” In their mail that lists a number of issues with the notification, they also flagged that the notification negates the purpose of EIAs.
“The practice of EIA internationally has been to help make environmentally sound decisions on development. It draws upon strong environmental baselines, good science and informed appraisal so that decisions for economic growth take into account socio-environmental concerns.” The draft notification proposes the “thorough assessment of pecuniary benefits” so that damage to the environment can be restored. “As you are aware, in many instances construction activities that involve felling of trees, blocking of water bodies or restriction of local livelihoods can have irreversible damage and restoration, if even possible, could take decades. Release of toxic materials and activities such blasting can also have long-term impacts on both local livelihoods as well as the ecology. Pecuniary benefits can only calculate the damage in monetary terms, which is an extremely limited form of valuation of environmental loss,” they added.
Summing up they said the notification “goes against the logic of assessing impacts before undertaking environmentally damaging activities. It puts faith in a party which has already violated the law assuming that the same will not happen again if an ESP is prepared as per the proposed procedure.”