The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday sought the environment ministry’s explanation for exempting construction projects, except townships, from environment appraisal and said it will scrutinise all projects approved under the new rule.
The ministry amended its environment appraisal rules on December 9, allowing building of residential complexes without any environment impact assessment in the name of “ease of doing business” and providing “housing for all”. The rules provided for integrating the green norms, especially on water harvesting, waste segregation and planting of trees in the building bye-laws of the municipal bodies, thereby exempting home projects having built up area of up to 1,50,000 sq meters from any environment appraisal process, called environment impact assessment (EIA). These projects were earlier approved by the state environmental appraisal authorities.
The builders would have to get a certificate from an environment auditor that all environmental conditions stipulated in by-laws have been met. The new rule provides for an inspection by a municipal officer before issuing a completion or occupancy certificate to the builder.
The logic for issuing the rule put forth by the ministry was that environment appraisal of building projects consumed a lot of time, leading to inordinate delay in execution of the project and litigation. The government also believes that the rule change will give impetus to the real estate sector, which has witnessed a slowdown in recent years.
With this, the onus of ensuring that the construction sector — considered the biggest contributor to air pollution — meets the environment norms now rests with the municipal bodies, said to be ill-equipped to assess environment impact of such projects.
Taking note of the concern raised by green activists, a bench headed by NGT chairman justice (retd) Swatanter Kumar asked additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta about the “rationale” behind the exemptions. Kumar also said all projects approved under the new rule would be open for its scrutiny. Mehta had told the tribunal that the exemption was given to speed up construction of housing projects for the poor and the middle class in the urban areas. He, however, was not able to provide answers to the questions raised on impact on environment because of the new norms.
The petitioner, however, said that the notification to exempt the construction projects from the State Pollution Control Board for residential projects up to 1,50,000 sq mts under the Water and Air Act was bad in law.