In the last year-and-a-half, India’s growth story, to say the least, has been on a downward spiral. Coming as it did after years of strong growth, analysts have been busy giving out various reasons for the slowdown; the one that has been on everyone’s list is the green barrier (read: legal requirements for getting environment and forest clearances) for development projects.
So to ensure that India continues to be seen as ‘investor friendly’, the UPA has begun to move the pieces frantically: at every possible forum, the prime minister has been assuring the world that there is nothing to worry about and then as if to drive home the point that the UPA means business, he replaced Jayanthi Natarajan, who was criticised for delaying environmental clearances for crucial industry projects, with oil minister Veerappa Moily even as the green lobby screamed “conflict of interest”.
Mr Moily’s new job comes with one big responsibility: to assure industry and infrastructure developers that the UPA will walk the talk when it comes to clearance of projects. The fact that such confidence-building measures are being rolled out because the national elections are around the corner is not lost on anyone.
In an interview to Mint, Mr Moily said it very clearly: “If life is simple, then why should rules and regulations be different? You should not create barriers...don’t make life difficult. And if necessary we will amend these [green laws]”. You get the drift.
But then the government has now been caught on the wrong foot because the Supreme Court recently directed the Union ministry of environment and forests to appoint within three months a national regulator for appraising projects and regulating their clearances, putting a spanner in the UPA’s recent moves to ease environment clearance processes for development projects. The ministry, understandably, has been opposing the appointment of such a regulator.
The ruling, if anything, is a strong indictment of the way things were being run by the ministry at present and its rent-seeking mentality. An independent regulator will hopefully make the process more time-bound, transparent and the ministry more accountable. This will benefit all stakeholders.