Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Delay expected in eco-clearance of 3,500 Gujarat cases as Modi's Man Friday joins Prime Minister's Office

PK Misra
By Rajiv Shah
With Dr PK Misra, who was principal secretary to chief minister Narendra Modi during the 2002 riots, having left to Delhi as Prime Minister Modi’s additional principal secretary, Gujarat’s “industry-friendly” babus and small entrepreneurs are keeping their fingers crossed: What will happen to a whopping nearly 3,500 applications, said to be pending before the State-level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), which he had just come to chair after the post remained vacant for nearly a year?
The Gujarat government failed to send names of chairman and other members of SEIAA to the Government of India for forming the new authority after July 2013, which, environmentalists say, was a major reasons for the failure to “clear” so many applications. Well-placed sources in the Gujarat government told Counterview that Misra, who is known to be perhaps the closest IAS bureaucrat to Modi, had worked a “complete time table” to clear huge backlog of applications pending before the powerful authority for environmental clearance.
The number of not cleared cases was just 1,700 in December 2013, and these have now more than doubled, as even mining cases were also brought before the authority for clearance because of a Supreme Court order. Most of those who applied are small entrepreneurs who may have taken huge debts for setting up units were feeling “cheated in a state known for its industry-friendly approach”. With Misra in, a ray of hope had come about that he would “clear” all the cases within six months, “but things seem again gloomy”, an official conceded.
An IAS bureaucrat, Misra was Modi’s principal secretary between 2001 and 2004, when he went to Delhi on deputation. He was Union agriculture secretary for two years, and was made secretary, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) till his retirement in 2008. On his return to Gujarat, Misra was promptly appointed as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC), responsible for fixing electricity tariffs for various categories of consumers as a “reward” for his support to Modi all through.
Expectation was particularly high from Misra because, as chairman of GERC, he assiduously favoured power tariff hike for the consumers, even as favouring the case of industrialists. In fact, he went so far as to reject the Gujarat government plea to the GERC for bringing down the rate at which solar power was being bought from solar power producers -- Rs 15 per unit. The state government argument was that the rate fixed a few years ago under an agreement was too high, and solar equipment and installation costs had actually fallen drastically to Rs 7 per unit.
In fact, officials say, it is difficult to understand why Misra accepted becoming chairman of the authority even when he was “sounded” (read HERE) by Modi personally that he would be taken to Delhi. “The plan worked out by Misra required clearance of 20-30 cases on a daily basis, with the authority sitting for the whole day”, the official said, adding, “As for mining cases, which have piled up lately, the industries and mines department was asked to assist the process of environmental clearance to quicken the process.”
Gujarat environmentalists dubbed failure to clear so many cases by the Gujarat government as “Modi tax” (click HERE) – a direct allusion to the “Jayanthi tax” remark by Modi ahead of the Lok Sabha elections against the backdrop of large number of cases pending for environmental clearance under the then Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan. Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra particularly said, on the basis of facts obtained under the Right to Information Act, that Gujarat’s pending cases were a direct result of failure to appoint the new SEIAA.

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