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Industry friendly move?: Govt of India to provide green nod to projects begun without environmental nod

By Our Representative
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India, is all set to go even more industry-friendly. A draft notification, uploaded by the MoEFCC for “feedback”, on its website has said that industrial projects which have gone ahead with implementation without environmental clearance would be provided green nod under certain "conditions".
Dated May 10, the notification, interestingly, does qualify as “violations” the “projects or activities requiring prior environmental clearance under Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006”, and yet have gone ahead with “construction work, or have undertaken expansion, modernization, and change in product mix.”
Even then, it underlines, if the developers approach the the “concerned regulatory authority” as an after thought, ahd seeks EC “without prior environmental clearance”, their projects shall be “treated as cases of violations and shall be appraised for grant of EC.”
The previous Manmohan Singh government, too, came up with a retrospective clearance procedure in the form of an office order, but it was rejected by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Insiders in the MoEFCC have been quoted as saying that the number of projects that may have come up without clearances are “around 400.”
Only, the notification says, the project proponent would have to “compensate” and would have to “implement the Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) to remediate the damage caused or likely to be caused, and take out the undue economic gain due to non-compliance and violation”.
The notification doesn't stop here. It says, the MoEFCC's ’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) or the state EAC, as the came may be, would have to refer such cases to an expert group, which would “assess” the monetary gain a developer may have derived and the damage caused to the environment because of non-compliance.
The expert group, the notification says, would “prepare an ESP for restoration of the damage caused to the environment and for further improvement of the environment.” As for the project proponent, he or she would have to “give the consent for implementation of the ESP”, which would be monitored by the expert group to ensure “satisfactory implementation of the ESP.”
Officially, the intention of the MoEFCC reportedly is to “help” make proponents to kick-start their projects which have gone ahead with implementation without EC to “ensure” that they comply by rules, rather than leaving them “unregulated” and “unchecked”.
Officials in the MoEFCC claim, this would not “encourage violations”, instead it it would such projects that violate environmental laws under “environmental regulations”, insisting that the notification is “in the interest of the country.”
Meanwhile, senior activists have taken strong exception to such a notification. Kanchi Kohli, legal research director at the Namati Environmental Justice Programme of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, has been quoted as wondering, “If the construction activity has taken place in violation of the notification, does this imply that the entire process of screening, scoping, public consultation and appraisal can be done post facto?”
According to her, “The outcomes of this process would be unduly favourable to the violator, encourage fait accompli and allow for the continuation of project activities unabated. Rather than being a deterrent, such a practice will encourage illegality”.

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