In a boost to the real estate sector, the environment ministry may soon allow state governments to take a call on setting up new townships and information technology and developmental parks near tiger reserves, national parks, eco-sensitive zones and critically polluted areas.
The ministry has already issued draft rules proposing delegation of its power to decide on construction projects within 10 kms of wildlife areas and critically polluted areas to the state governments.
Till now, the central government used to examine such projects to consider its impact on wildlife and critically polluted areas identified by the Central Pollution Control Board before giving a go-ahead.
All other construction projects were allowed to be approved by the state governments as they did not have significant environmental impacts.
But now the ministry has proposed the "general condition" for construction projects including information technology parks, hotels and offices will "not" apply.
The environment impact assessment notification of 2006 said projects identified under the "general condition" - those coming up within 10 kms of a protected wildlife area, critically polluted areas, inter-state boundaries and international boundaries - will be examined by the central government.
The proposal, once notified, would mean that in future real estate projects such as the one coming up near the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Delhi will require only the state government's approval.
The Centre will have no role to play unlike in the Okhla case where the ministry was directed by the National Green Tribunal to earmark an eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary. The ministry is proposing 100 sq meters as eco-sensitive zone.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar has termed such moves as "cooperative federalism" of the Narendra Modi government, saying it would reduce the approval burden on his ministry by 90%.
Sunita Narian, director-general of Centre for Science and Environment, had questioned this, saying that the states do not have capacity to appraise the projects on environmental aspects.
The draft notification comes days after the ministry de-linked forest and wildlife approvals — meaning that a project within 10 sq km of a wildlife area can be approved by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) without being considered by the National Board for Wildlife.
Earlier, FAC could examine a project for forest diversion within 10 kms of a national park or sanctuary only after it was approved by the standing committee of the wildlife board whose recent re-constitution has run into a controversy.
The ministry had filled the board with retired experts from government institutions, leading to an outcry that "independent" wildlife experts were not there.
These are a slew of changes made by the ministry in environmental regulations for faster project approvals since Javadekar has taken over.