The Narendra Modi government is planning to dilute two environmental laws that have held up key industrial projects in the past, as part of its attempts to relax green norms for stimulating economic growth, official sources said.
The two UPA-era laws – the National Green Tribunal Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) – have delayed, among others, the Rs. 52,000 crore Posco project — India’s largest foreign direct investment — in Odisha.
While the tribunal act stipulates powers and functions of the green body to review and reject project clearances, the forest law makes it mandatory for the industry to seek prior consent of tribals and jungle dwellers for projects in notified forest areas.
India’s economy grew at its fastest pace in two-and-a-half years in the last quarter, a turnaround credited specifically to business-friendly measures by the NDA regime.
Policy logjams, project delays and a string of corruption scandals during the UPA’s tenure had pulled the economy into its deepest slump in 25 years.
The environment ministry wants the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to just make recommendations to the government instead of issuing directions like a quasi-judicial body. The ministry also wants only the Supreme Court to have the right to reject clearances.
In addition, tribal affairs minister Jual Oram has been asked to bring changes to the forest laws to prevent its “misuse to stall development”, officials said. The amendments will likely be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar, however, denied the government was trying to weaken laws. “We are reviewing these laws to strengthen them. The changes will improve their implementation and protect the rights of the people,” the minister told HT.
Since its inception in 2010, the NGT – headed by a former SC judge -- had stayed green approvals for several projects. In the Posco case, it asked the environment ministry to review green clearances after some local villages refused to consent to the project under the FRA.
The move to amend legislations was initiated by Javadekar himself. A cabinet note – prepared by his ministry – to water down the powers and jurisdiction of the tribunal would be circulated for inter-ministerial discussion soon, sources said.
An official explained that the ministry wants to revert to the old days of the toothless National Environment Appellate Authority, which used to be an attached office of the ministry. The government never expected the tribunal to become so “powerful”, and now wants a “glorified” form of the earlier appellate authority, he added.
The ministry asked the tribunal a year ago to limit its jurisdiction, a proposal that was rejected by the NGT. On the FRA, officials say the requirement of mandatory consent from the gram sabha (a body of villagers) for initiating any project is the biggest hurdle in pushing infrastructure development in mineral-rich poor regions.