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Above 1,700 projects remain pending because of failure to form Gujarat environmental clearance body

Mahatma Mandir under construction
By Our Representative
A Right to Information (RTI) application, filed by senior activist Kirit Rathod, has revealed that the Gujarat government has refused to form a State-level Environmental Appraisal Committee (SEAC), which is supposed to provide environmental clearance to Category B projects not requiring Government of India nod, for the last six months. The result is, if the reply to the application is any guide, exactly 1,739 projects, most of them of the small entrepreneurs, have remained without being cleared since July 2013, when the former SEAC’s three-year term expired. The SEAC mainly consists of ex-bureaucrats and experts, who look into environmental issues, and examine whether a particular project would require to undergo public hearing or not.
The first SEAC of Gujarat was formed, under Central environmental laws, in June 2007, whose term ended in June 2010. In July 2010, the second SEAC was formed. Ever since it was formed, according to environmental experts, Gujarat government considered it as a “convenient body”, which could ensure clearances at the prompting of the government. “The situation reached such a point that the Gujarat government asked SEAC to provide environmental clearance to the Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar after it began being implemented”, Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra told Counterview.
Failure to form SEAC, it is suspected, happened because the Gujarat government refused to send its letter to the Government of India for its new SEAC team on time. Official sources in the Gujarat government admitted, instead of sending application early last year, it sent application only in November 2013, four months after the former SEAC team’s term ended. “The result was, formal applications for SEAC clearance from small entrepreneurs kept piling up, and the state officialdom just didn’t care”, Pandya, who has seen Rathod’s RTI plea, said.
“What an irony”, said Pandya. “BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi, in Goa in January second week sharply attacked what he called ‘Jayanthi tax’, saying former Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan was refusing to clear files unless she was ‘paid’ a sum. Now, what do you call the refusal to form SEAC – Modi tax? Small scale industrialists are angry. They do not understand why such a delay. Officials merely tell them that the Government of India has not cleared the new SEAC team, without knowing that the state application itself went late – it should have been send in January last year, instead it was sent in November!”
How lightly does the Gujarat government treat SEAC is clear from the fact that the state government has been wanting it to clear several – and not just one – projects “post factor”. “The eight malls in Ahmedabad were all provided post-factor environmental clearance by the SEAC in the same way as the Mahatma Mandir, the place where Vibrant Gujarat business summits and other Modi meetings are held”, Pandya said, adding, Then there are several projects for which the Gujarat government believes they don’t need any environmental clearance – such as Sabarmati River Front or the Sardar Statue in the Narmada river”.

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