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Government of India all set to further relax environmental clearance norms, give more power to states

By Our Representative
The Government of India is on way to take more steps towards “easing” hurdles on way to environmental clearance for developmental projects. Minister of state for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar has already said he is working for “streamlining” environmental clearance (EC) process by delegating more powers to the State level Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs). Meanwhile, officials under him are seeking to categorise anew the type of projects to be cleared in states, adding several sectors whose authority for environmental clearance is with the Government of India.
Reports say, Jevdekar’s recent announcement for online application of projects for “expediting the process of environmental clearance” is only the first step, and he said this during a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on July 31. Officials have now prepared a detailed outline amending the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, which outline a new process for granting ECs for various development projects.
The 2006 notification had categorized all projects into A and B. Category A projects were to be appraised by the Union ministry of forests and environment, while category B projects were cleared by SEIAAs. The proposed amendments want such sectors like thermal power, river valley, mining and other industrial sectors such as paper and pulp, distilleries and fertilizers to be included in the state’s purview.  
“Under the category of thermal power plant, now a new sub-category based on fuel type, has been included. The addition involves ‘use of municipal solid non-hazardous waste as fuel’, for which projects with more than 20 megawatt (MW) capacity will be cleared by the Centre, and projects between 15-20 MW will be cleared by SEIAAs. All projects with more than 15 MW capacity using biomass fuel also have been put under the state’s command”, Down To Earth, India’s environmental journal, reports
“The requirement for coal tar processing units has also been specified under the new amendment, where all such units will be appraised and cleared by the state authority. For mineral beneficiation, the state authorities will now be clearing projects of less than 0.5 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity, while the Central ministry will be clearing projects of greater capacity. As per the 2006 Notification, state authorities were entitled to clear projects below 0.1 MTPA capacity only”, the report says. 
Then, there is “considerable dilution” for projects lying in the vicinity of protected areas, notified eco-sensitive areas, critically polluted areas and interstate boundaries of river valley projects. The report says, “Under the EIA 2006 notification, for projects that are otherwise category B, are to be considered as category A if located in whole or partially within 10 km of the boundary of such areas. The latest amendment has now the reduced the distance, making only projects located within 5 km of such areas to be considered as category A.”

It may be noted that the Gujarat government has been for long of view that environmental clearance issues have created unprecedented hurdle on way to industrial development in the state. The coastal regulatory zone (CRZ), for instance, alone had put to question the future of Rs 40,000 crore worth of projects about two years ago. In fact, Narendra Modi, before he became Prime Minister, had sharply criticized the previous UPA government for refusing to clear environmental projects online – he said it was a means for corruption.

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