There are two types of projects that require environment clearance – category A and category B that are divided on the basis of the potential impact of construction on the environment. Most housing projects fall under category B. Building and construction projects that exceed 20,000 sq mt built-up area and are less than 1,50,000 sq mt of built-up area need clearance from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) along with all other permissions from the local authorities and service providers.
Built-up area here is defined as the built-up or covered area on all floors put together, including basements and other service areas planned in the building or construction projects. Townships and area development projects covering an area of more than 50 hectares and or built-up area of more than 1,50,000 sq mt also require an environment clearance.
Developers have found a way to avoid the need to get an environment clearance altogether. “There have been cases where developers have found a way to circumvent the more than 20,000 sq m environment clearance rule. By constructing two areas of 19,999 sq m in two buildings in one project they make sure they are out of the environment clearance net as they are not constructing on an area of 20,000 sq m,” says Ritwick Dutta, environment lawyer.
There have been cases where a builder may have built an aesthetically-pleasing skywalk connecting the two buildings of 19,999 sq m in an attempt to circumvent environment approvals, he adds.
Developers are generally required to fill form 1 and form 1A. The application for environmental impact assessment essentially has to have details of the project like the manner of procurement of materials, usage of water and energy during construction, debris removal plan, impact on water and air, solid waste and its mitigation steps, health and well-being of construction workers etc.
As part of form 1 (A) builders are required to submit information regarding the type of vegetation in the area, conduct scientific studies, provide information about how much water they will be using, how many trees will be chopped, amount of ground water that will be wasted. It is the responsibility of the builder to ensure that ground water is judiciously used and that the project does not destroy the green belt, explains Pushp Jain, director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC).
Once the application is submitted, the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) does its due diligence, lists shortfalls if any and procures additional information and finally makes appropriate recommendations to the SEIAA. SEIAA goes through the data presented and SEAC recommendations before issuing an Environment Clearance (EC).
Environment assessment is not concerned about the ownership of the property but the activity or the consequence to which the land is put to, explains Dutta. As far as approvals go, the rate as of date is almost 100% approvals given by authorities for environment clearance. Majority of them are cleared by the state government unless all the required papers such as maps or seasonal studies have not been submitted, information on where the developer will be sourcing the bricks etc.
“There are few rejections and absolutely no punishment. As of now there is only a `1 lakh fine but no major deterrents and hence there is not much seriousness on the part of the developers. Since they create third party rights by involving homebuyers, the legislature is then forced to take a sympathetic view about the violations,” he says.
For Getamber Anand, president, confederation of real estate developers’ association of India, however, the biggest challenge is the time taken to constitute a state committee to clear the environment applications. “Constituting state committee itself takes months. Another challenge is to do with the fact that the committee sits just about once in a month and one case is heard at least three to four times. In a place where there are hundreds of ongoing projects, permissions are granted after at least eight to 10 months. Ideally, applications should be cleared in a time-bound manner and if that is not done, the committee should be made answerable,” he says.