The high level committee on environmental and forest laws has recommended return of “no go” policy for projects in bio-diversity rich areas and recommended a legally backed independent “single window” approval process outside the environment ministry’s purview.
The committee headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanium has recommended a complete overhaul of the environment approval process and suggested creation of 15-member National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) at Central level and equivalent body at the states for giving approvals to projects and monitoring enforcement of environmental laws. It also suggested that the new bodies should subsume the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards.
In a report leaked to media on Saturday, the committee has admitted that the present regulatory framework was “process” oriented with “insufficient” focus on environmental protection and recommended setting up of an authority --- a body of professionals --- for creating a single window approval mechanism.
The authority was first mooted by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh but was buried subsequently as the then Prime Minister’s Office was not keen on the independent body. Subramanium committee has also revived Ramesh’s no-go policy that said no project in forest areas with canopy cover of more than 70% and protect areas should be allowed without the Union Cabinet’s approval.
The committee has also recommended formulation of a new umbrella law --- Environmental Laws (Management) Act for creation of NEMA and state bodies that will also curtail “inspector raj” system in environmental regulation. It also said that NEMA should prescribe “monitorable” conditions for compliance and submit its recommendation with 24 hours of finality.
The committee also wants that the new law should provide jail term of up to seven years for project proponents for concealing information while seeking approval or degrading environment. It also suggested creation of special courts to look into complaints of environmental degradation by companies and recovering three times the cost of environmental loss from the accused.
Other prominent recommendations are creation of Indian Environmental Service, revamping Environment Protection Act by including relevant provisions of the Water and Air Acts and creation of Environment Restoration Fund for research in the area of environmental protection. It also wants use of satellite for monitoring of environment protection.