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Of 118, just one Indian project denied coastal clearance; where's the need to dilute environmental law?: Expert

By Our Representative
A right to information (RTI) plea has revealed that of the 118 projects which had sought environmental clearance from the the Committee for CRZ and Miscellaneous Projects of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and and Climate Change (MoEFCC), just four were challenged in the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Filed by the the Environmental Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the reply further reveals that just one project, i.e. KGS Aranmula Airport in Kerala, was revoked by the NGT, while the rest were allowed a go ahead. The RTI reply is for 2013-15.
Revealing this, well-known environmentalist and earth scientist R Sreedhar of the NGO Environics Trust, Delhi, in a letter to the MoEFCC, has said that this suggests the Government of India is “obsessed” with “ease of doing business”, and it is "falsely targeting"  various environmental safeguards built over the years.
Especially giving the example of the Environmental Law (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Sreedhar says, “The effective deterrent is as regressive as the position of the Government in the case of nuclear liability. Just as it restricts the liability of the project entity to Rs 500 crore in case of a nuclear disaster, this bill envisages a maximum fine of Rs 20 crore for a polluting industry.”
Objecting to this, Sreedhar says, “If a mine-dump or ash-dam breach regular in mining areas and coal-fired thermal power plants, the impact has to be beyond 10 km for evoking the maximum fine.” And if a Bhopal type tragedy happens, the “law would mean that the company pays Rs 20 crore and remains in business.”
Pointing out that the bill seeks to restrain the role of the NGT, Sreedhar says, “Many of existing laws have been diluted through executive action. For instance, projects which have a capacity expansion of 25 per cent do not have to go through a process of fresh environmental assessment process and public hearing.”
The senior expert believes, this is not the only dilution; it also includes provisions “in the name of decentralisation and cooperative federalism”, with several state governments being allowed to “keep the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in abeyance in areas where they want to grant mining leases, promote hydropower projects or industries.”
In this context, the expert says, “The most recent is the proposal to establish a District Environmental Impact Assessment Committee and Authority to grant clearance to mining projects of up to five hectares of lease area. The Irrigation Engineer is nominated as the head of this authority.”
He adds, “Everyone knows that he has a conflict of interest if it involves materials for irrigation projects. Further, when even the National and State level formations are so bereft of knowledge and courage to undertake unbiased and technical evaluations, this authority will only be a 'rubber-stamp' and a new opportunity for rent-seeking.”
The expert says, the attempt to to bring about a wholesale dilution in a range of environmental legislation began after the NDA came to power in Delhi with the formation of a High Level Committee (HCL). Made in August 2014 to “review”, its recommendations include “a ‘single window’ approval process, a fast track treatment for linear and power and coal projects, ‘a special procedure’ for ‘strategic’ and ‘national projects’.”
The expert adds, “There is also an introduction of what can be termed as the ‘private trust’ doctrine as opposed to the ‘public trust’ doctrine. Under this ‘private trust’, there is implicit trust in whatever information is submitted by the private business entities under the concept of ‘utmost good faith’.”

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