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Will state panel save mega projects?

State Environment Minister Suresh Shetty has suggested setting up a panel headed by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to outline ways to reduce pollution in Navi Mumbai and Chembur, after the Centre blocked environmental clearances for major projects in those areas.

mumbai Updated: Jan 17, 2010 01:29 IST
Sayli Udas Mankikar

State Environment Minister Suresh Shetty has suggested setting up a panel headed by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to outline ways to reduce pollution in Navi Mumbai and Chembur, after the Centre blocked environmental clearances for major projects in those areas.

Hindustan Times was the first to report on January 16 that major projects like the Navi Mumbai airport, the Mumbai Metro II line from Charkop to Mankhurd, and the Trans Harbour Link from Sewri to Nhava were in trouble after the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) decided to withhold environmental clearances for development projects in these “polluted” areas.

While clearances for projects in Navi Mumbai, which the MoEF calls “critically polluted”, have been blocked indefinitely, projects in places like Chembur, ranked as “severely polluted,” will not get a nod for the next eight months.

“This (MoEF) directive has forced us to intervene. We’ll involve ministers from all the departments — urban development, transport, energy, industries — that are collectively responsible for the situation, and set up a mechanism to reduce pollution in these areas,” Shetty told Hindustan Times on Saturday, indicating the state’s intent to rescue those big-ticket projects.

The MoEF directive also calls for intervention by state pollution control boards that will, along with the Centre, finalise a time-bound action plan to clean up the environment in the trouble spots.

Mahesh Pathak, member-secretary of the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board, said his agency is looking for more clarity from the Centre:

“We have an action plan ready for Chandrapur and short-term measures for Tarapur, Dombivli and Navi Mumbai. However, to prepare an intervention plan, we’ll need to know the extent of the geographical area that will be covered across the industrial zones,” Pathak said.

Rishi Agarwal, founding trustee of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network, expressed reservations on the directive.

“I don’t think the Centre should have restrictions like this. Instead, it should devise a constructive programme to balance development with the environment. It is for local authorities and the state government to decide on the nature of intervention methods.”