Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has responded to the Union Cabinet’s approval of a renamed and watered down version of the National Investment Board (NIB) with caution. “We must ensure that the newly approved body does not start bulldozing environmental governance systems in the country,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general.
Yesterday, the Union Cabinet had approved the creation of a new Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) in the place of the proposed NIB. The NIB had been proposed by the finance ministry as a new super-clearance agency to quickly grant all clearances, especially green clearances, to large infrastructure projects.
Some time back, CSE had strongly rebutted the ministry’s claim that green clearances are leading to inordinate delays in infrastructure projects. CSE had also rejected the proposal to set up the NIB, which was expected to dismantle the regulatory systems for green clearances.
CSE has recently released data on the scale and pace of environment and forest clearances given during the 11th Five Year Plan (April 2007-March 2012). The study looks at four key sectors – thermal power, cement, iron and steel and mining – and comes out with hard data to prove that the scale of clearances has been nothing less than “unprecedented”.
CSE director general Sunita Narain had commented: “The analysis of this data clearly shows that the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has not been an impediment to infrastructure development. Instead, it has granted massive numbers of clearances, which are today jeopardizing environmental security. This is also making a complete mockery of our regulatory systems. Why, therefore, do we need the NIB?”
Keeping the latest development in mind, Chandra Bhushan points out that “there is now a greater need to make the environment ministry stronger, to make its clearance and monitoring systems more transparent and effective”.
What needs to be done: the CSE agenda
CSE has proposed a detailed reform agenda to strengthen the green clearance system so that it can work for people and the environment. “We believe this reform will not only reduce the high transaction costs and delays being caused to the industry, but will also make industries more accountable. It is not in the interest of the environment to perpetuate a corrupt system,” said Narain.
Reform the system:
§ Consolidate all clearances – environment, forest, wildlife, coastal — so that project impact is fully understood and decisions taken. Fragmentation is not only adding to delays, but also to poor decision-making.
§ Prepare one comprehensive impact assessment document covering all aspects for all clearances.
§ Track projects through one unique number so that all clearances are linked and impacts considered.
§ Make project appraisal committees accountable for their decisions. Bad decisions must lead to consequences.
§ Integrate the processes and procedures followed by the State Pollution Control Boards and the MoEF. Synchronise resources of all agencies; make local agencies responsible for monitoring and compliance.
§ Put all project documents in the public domain; transparency is crucial.
Says Narain: “The present system of granting forest clearance is clearly not working. Forest clearances are being granted without considering the impact of forest diversion on forests, wildlife, water and the community.”
She adds: “No impact assessment reports are prepared, nor is the ecological and economic value of forests evaluated. In fact, there is no system in place to check the veracity of information based on which forest clearances are granted. There is a need for fundamental reform in the forest clearance process if we want to safeguard the ecological integrity of the country.”
CSE has, therefore, recommended a complete stop to this process until a transparent and effective system is put in place.
- Ensure the EIA report is complete and correct. This will bring down the delays.
- Reject the project if the EIA is inadequate or wrong – a zero tolerance policy must be in place. Also, blacklist the EIA consultant.
- Move towards cumulative EIA so that projects are cleared on the basis of their carrying capacity.
- Track all projects in terms of district pollution load and river-basin impacts.
- Revise the MoEF’s EIA notification to stipulate that it will only clear projects after considering the cumulative impact.
- Ensure cumulative EIA by an independent agency, paid through cess or other public funds and not by industry.
- Deepen the process of public assessment and scrutiny by putting all data in the public domain.
- Strengthen the public hearing process.
- Set up systems for community monitoring and periodic reporting on the clearance conditions.