Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) had started oil and gas exploration in the controversial Krishna Godavari basin (KG Basin) without obtaining mandatory environment clearance (EC), according to crucial documents in HT’s possession. Despite knowing this, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) gave them post facto clearance.
The clearances were given by the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government in 2002. RIL and MoEF did not respond to detailed queries sent by HT despite several reminders.
A year later, RIL proposed to change the number of wells to be drilled in each of the five blocks and even this was accepted by the ministry. As per the environment clearance issued to them, “a fresh reference should have been made to the ministry to assess the adequacy of conditions imposed and to add additional environmental protection measures required, if any.”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has been raising uncomfortable questions regarding the favouritism shown to RIL on the issue of gas pricing. Post facto environmental clearances are a second case in point.
According to the letter in HT’s possession, GV Subrahmanyam, the then director, MoEF wrote to group vice president, RIL, on October 28, 2002, giving post facto environmental clearance.
The letter says, “…MoEF has carefully examined your application. It is noted that it is envisaged to carry out exploratory/ appraisal drilling of 28 wells in the five blocks of the coast of Andhra Pradesh viz KG-0SN-97/3 (KG-19), KG-05N-97/2 (KG-20), KG-OSN- 97/4 (KG-18), KG-DWN-98/1 (KG-D4) and KG-DWN-98/3 (KG-D6).”
“It had come to the notice of the ministry that RIL has started drilling operations without prior environment clearances,” the letter says.
The letter further states, “The ministry of petroleum vide their letter dated Sept 12, 2002 informed the environment ministry that RIL vide its letter dated August 2002 has indicated to director general of hydrocarbons (DGH) that two wells have been drilled and a third well is under drilling in KG-DWN-98/3 (KG-D6).”
RIL sought clearance in December 2001, but began work without getting the certificate and had even completed drilling in two wells by August 2002. Its clearance, however, came only in October 2002.
Former secretary and planning commission advisor, EAS Sarma told Hindustan Times, “From the correspondence between the above ministries, it is clear that RIL started drilling three wells even before obtaining the mandatory clearances. The company made it a fait accompli by resorting to this. The fact that the ministries concerned acquiesced in this shows that they were under pressure”
One year after it got post facto clearance in October 2002, RIL changed the number of wells to be drilled in each of the five blocks in KG basin. In October 2002, RIL had taken clearance for eight wells for KGD6 block, which it changed to 18 in September 2003. Similarly, for KG20, the proposed wells changed from six wells earlier to two wells in September 2003. The basin is divided into geographical areas and is termed as blocks.
MoEF accepted this and in letter to the then RIL group vice-president AN Sethuraman on November 6, 2003, PL Ahujaral, additional director, said, “…ministry coveys its permission for drilling of 28 wells as per the revised numbers of each of the block within the same block….”
Environmentalists object to the change in number of wells. “Every block has different dynamics and should have been reassessed. A fresh proposal should have been given and based on that, fresh environment clearances should have been given,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, Centre for Science and Environment.
According to the environment clearance issued in October 2002, “...In case of deviations or alterations in the project proposal from those submitted to this ministry for clearance, a fresh reference should be made to the ministry to assess the adequacy of conditions imposed and to add additional environmental protection measures required, if any.”
The ministry did not respond to whether any fresh assessment was made, based on the changes proposed by RIL.