The government should reform the environment clearance process and make it more transparent rather than take over the powers of the environment ministry and vesting it with 'super daddy', the National Investment Board (NIB), Delhi based advocacy group the Centre for Science and Environment said on Saturday.
The CSE’s strong opposition to NIB comes after Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing the NIB raising fundamental questions about would be responsible for clearing projects, the PMO or the ministry.
Through NIB, the government aims to change business of transaction rules so that statutory powers under various environmental laws are vested with the board, instead of the ministry. It says that the ministry will have to clear the projects in a given time-frame or else the board will take the decision. In case a project is rejected by the environment ministry, the board will have powers to overturn the ministry’s decision, the NIB Cabinet note states.
The note on NIB had provided data on coal and road projects to justify constitution of the board under Prime Minister and having law and finance minister as its members. "The NIB will turn into big daddy for giving clearances and will reduce accountable for the clearance mechanism," CSE director general Sunita Narain said, while releasing new data to show the green clearances were not delaying infrastructure projects.
In the 11th five year plan (2007-12), the environment ministry gave forest clearance to 8,734 projects diverting 1.98 lakh hectares of forestland, highest ever.
"This diversion is about 25% of all forest land diverted for development projects since 1981," said CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan.
It means that the government every year diverts forest land equivalent to a tiger reserve and of this, 34% is for mining and power projects. Only for coal, 31,500 hectares of forestland was diverted in the 11th plan. The environment ministry in the 11th plan cleared thermal power plants that can generate 2.17 lakh MW of power, which is more the cumulative generation for 11th and 12th plan periods, the CSE said.
Narain said the clearances by the ministry were becoming a joke and was a fraud, while seeking a total reform in the clearance process. "Consolidate all clearances --- environment, forest, wildlife and coastal --- so that project impact is fully understood and there is transparency and accountability," the CSE said.
She also sought a unique number for each project so that it can be tracked while seeking different approvals. As of now, it is difficult to find out whether a project with environment clearance has got other approvals such as forest, coastal and wildlife. CSE also sought evaluation of forest resources so that impact of a project can be judged in economic values.