After the government ended multiple green approvals for the high “air pollution contributor” real estate sector, it now needs only clearance from a state environment authority, mostly headed by a retired bureaucrat. The sector has been exempted from appraisal under the Air and Water laws.
The government move is part of its initiative to ease norms for business and reviving the demonetisation-hit sector. A 2015 report by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has termed the sector as the second biggest contributor to air pollution in the plains of India as environment-friendly dust trapping measures are not installed.
In a recent communiqué, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the real estate sector no more requires “consent to establish” from the state pollution control boards.
“The environment clearance will suffice subject to the condition that there is a member from the state pollution board in the state-level EIA (environment impact assessment) authority,” CPCB told all pollution control boards a day after the Union budget was presented on February 1.
A CPCB official explained that the change was to end duplicity of work and to simplify green approval process.
“Now, the entire appraisal will be done by the state environment impact appraisal authority (SIEAA) which will have a state pollution control board nominee. I don’t think there will be any compromise on norms,” said the CPCB member secretary AB Akolkar.
Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, however, differed and said the government has given a “free-way” to the sector by exempting them from appraisal by experts (read state pollution control boards).
“The CPCB has issued the order at the time when the green tribunal is deliberating on the Centre delegating its appraisal power to the state governments. We know very well that the state doesn’t have capacity to appraise such big dimension projects,” he added.
The Centre in December 2016 had delegated its power to appraise real estate projects to the state-level EIAs to foster “cooperative federalism” and to promote “housing for all”.
An analysis of the green approvals to the sector by the non-government EIA Resource Centre in 2016 showed around 98% of the projects got approval and the delay in its execution was more because of project proponents than the green norms.