Don’t dilute green safeguards
Last week, the environment ministry allowed companies in several industries to expand capacity, based on a self-certification that their operations will not increase the pollution load. This is in line with the amendments in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, in 2016 and 2020, which introduced the principles of “no increase in pollution load”, and exemption from seeking environment clearance if the resultant increase of production capacity was less than 50%.
This was expanded in a March 2021 notification, which allowed any amount of expansion — applicable to industries such as coal-washing, mineral processing, pesticides, fertilisers, and synthetic chemicals such as paint, cement, petrochemicals, and sugar, which already have a gigantic environmental footprint. This fast-track clearance can harm the environment as well as lives and livelihoods. Prior to these exemptions, an EIA could systematically examine both beneficial and adverse consequences of the project and plan for mitigation in the project-planning cycle. Importantly, the local communities had a chance to voice their opinions. An example is the Andaman water aerodrome project. The green assessment of this new project has established that the site for the construction of the terminal building and associate infrastructure will impact mangroves, which are natural green barriers, and that the local administration has no mitigation plan. A ministry panel has now raised questions, based on this EIA.
Economic growth is a key national imperative. But it will not be possible to sustain high growth by using short-cuts. The economy and the environment are interlinked in more ways than one.