The environment ministry has opposed the suggestion of commerce ministry of one time environment clearance to manufacturing zones, proposed in the proposed manufacturing policy, rather than individual industries although it has agreed to fast tracking of the clearance process.
For the environment ministry, which regulates environmental impact of the projects, giving the exemption sought would mean a key change in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006.The EIA notification of 2006 gives power to the state and the central governments to clear individual projects depending on their cost and land area. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh brought a key change in the notification by making seeking approval for expansion mandatory.
But, the commerce ministry wants relaxation in both these norms. It has asked the environment ministry to give environment clearance on basis of a comprehensive EIA for entire manufacturing zone of more than 500 hectares. It also does not want the industry to come back to the ministry in case individual industries want to expand.
The ministry believes that if the exemption sought under the new policy are accepted the EIA notification will have to be changed drastically and can dilute the stringent environmental rule.
In addition, the ministry says that it would become difficult for them to refuse a comprehensive EIA for companies developing different types of projects in one project area.
For example, Posco in Orissa is setting up a steel factory, a captive power plant and a port in close proximity to each other. Instead of giving one environment clearance to all three, each segment got separate clearances. It was because the ministry has separate Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) for different sectors.
The relaxation, if accepted, would also mean restructuring the entire EAC format.
The issue was discussed between environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and commerce minister Anand Sharma last week, in which the ministry agreed to set up a mechanism for fast tracking environment clearance for manufacturing zones. But, on changing the EIA the ministry sought more time to respond.
In a parallel exercise, the Planning Commission is also discussing the ways to dilute the environment clearance process for manufacturing zones. It has constituted a working group having representatives of industry and government officials to suggest mechanism to relax environmental norms for the policy.
A senior commission official said the working group have moved forward on building a consensus on new environmental regime for the manufacturing policy, which can then be extended to other economic growth oriented industry.