Veerappa Moily may be required to take a quick call for clearing projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore stuck with the environment ministry in the next few days while trying to strike a delicate balance between economic growth and protecting the ecology.
The new minister, who will take charge on Tuesday after he was given additional charge on Saturday, told Hindustan Times that he would take all aspects on environment into consideration after consulting his officials and will do what is best for environment and growth.
“I am not going to dramatically change the environment policy. I will first understand the regulations and then take appropriate action,” he said.
The minister refused to delve into the controversial issue of streamlining processes for clearing projects as the industry had been seeking for a long time. He wanted to ensure that the project approvals are given in a time-bound manner as stipulated under statutory regulations and fasten the file clearing process.
“Jayanthi Natarajan (his predecessor) did a lot of intelligent and good work and I will like to continue with the good work,” he said. However, the former environment minister Natarajan had come received a lot of flak from the industry for slowing down the environment clearance process.
The task ahead for Moily will not be easy as on one side there is proactive industry seeking quick clearances for projects and on the other is civil society with a hawk eye keeping vigil on every approval granted. This becomes more precarious in absence of adequate scientific studies on how to strike the balance between environment and growth and arbitrary powers granted to the minister in project approval.
The minister will also have to deal with judiciary which had questioned many environment ministry decisions on approvals. Off late, the ministry has been at a receiving end from National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving approvals without proper appraisal.
Moily would be expected to have a re-look at the environment ministry’s decision to declare 37% of the area of Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive zone prohibiting some economic activities, for which it has received brickbats from Congress-ruled states like Kerala and Maharashtra. Already, chief ministers of the Western Ghats states have sought review of the regulation issued under pressure from the NGT.
An issue highlighted by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on making environment approval transparent would also be high on Moily’s agenda. A proposal to set up an independent project approval appraisal and approval body for transparency and participatory approach is pending in the ministry for the last three years.