Six of nine members of the state expert appraisal committee (SEAC1) sent their resignations to the environment ministry earlier this month to protest interference and overruling of their recommendations.
Last month, the state environment department had shot down the committee’s recommendations by according environment clearances to 90 of 153 stone quarries in Wardha and 300 of 500 quarries in Pune districts due to “extreme urgency expressed by the district mining officer”.
Maharashtra is the only state with two such green panels, with SEAC2 formed to clear construction projects in the Mumbai metropolitan region.
“SEAC1 has been referring to ED [environment department] all the cases of violations after thorough appraisal of the documents submitted. Most of the referred cases are later cleared by ED… the reasons for clearing violation cases are not detailed by ED,” read the letter by committee chairperson Sukumar Devotta.
The Maharashtra SEAC1 started functioning from October 2011 and its members are mostly experts in their respected fields.
According to the committee members, efforts to bring “order and improvement in the quality of the environment impact assessment reports and remove inconsistencies in decision making was not liked by project proponents and EIA consultants”.
What made matters worse for them was appraising projects dealing with minor minerals, after the apex court order in February that stated extracting them from land admeasuring less than five hectare needed a green nod.
“The ED was blindly passing sand mining and quarrying projects on the pretext that small industries were in danger,” said a member. “These decisions are dangerous for the environment, especially because no data is submitted. We couldn’t approve of them and the pressure was mounting on us,” he added.
“The agenda is prepared entirely by the ED and is issued only about a day or two before the meeting. Some cases are included out of turn with no details of the project. The whole process has become a farce,” the letter states.