Illegal withdrawal of ground water, cutting trees without permission, and discharge of untreated waste water were some of the green norm violations by project proponents detected by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
“Environment clearances were granted to project proponents without checking compliance of conditions mentioned in previous environment clearances and recommendations of regional offices,” said the report tabled in Parliament on Friday.
Depicting several loopholes in the ministry’s approval process, the report, based on approval given to 4,534 projects between 2008 and 2015, accused the ministry of failing to monitor its own approvals conditions to protect the environment.
More than half of the requisites for approval termed as general and specific conditions were not met by project implementers and the ministry failed to take strict action against them, the report said, naming several public enterprises such as the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) as violators.
“No penalty has been imposed on even a single violator in the last two years,” was the stark remark of the government’s auditor in its first appraisal of the ministry’s environmental clearance process. It hauled the ministry up for failing to delegate penalty powers to its regional offices that monitor implementation of approval conditions.
Under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), the ministry is mandated to appraise and approve infrastructure projects and ensure that conditions imposed on project proponents to protect environment are met.
The National Democratic Alliance government has amended the green norms over a hundred times over the last two years in the name of ease of doing business for faster clearance. The process had caused heartburn within the government, with economic ministries blaming the environment ministry of blocking growth through a “long drawn” and “cumbersome” approval mechanism.
The CAG found that the environment had suffered at the cost of faster clearances, with several project proponents not implementing basic conditions such as not discharging waste water without treatment, replenishing ground water, and having adequate green belt around project sites.
The CAG also said the ministry had failed to appoint a national regulator to oversee the environmental clearance process as directed by the Supreme Court in 2011.