Environment ministry considering applications for post facto environmental clearances despite stay order
The HC stayed a notification that gives project developers 6 months to get environmental clearances for projects that are already under construction or undergoing expansion without clearances.health Updated: Jun 22, 2017 13:52 IST
The Madras High Court had passed an interim stay in May on a notification from the Union environment ministry, that allowed projects to obtain environmental clearances post facto. However the ministry is going ahead and holding a meeting Thursday to discuss applications from violators.
“This is a violation of the stay order,” R Kothandaraman, president of Pondicherry Environment Protection Association, the petitioner in the case said, “we will be filing a contempt case against the secretary of the ministry of environment.”
On March 14, the environment ministry had given projects that have violated environmental laws by not obtaining environmental clearances before starting the projects a 6-month window to apply for clearances.
There are over 700 such cases of violations, according to Kothandaraman.
The ministry had earlier tried to effect the same change through Office Memorandas that were quashed by the National Green Tribunal in a July 2015 order. The NGT found the memos to be “contrary to and in contradiction with the provisions of the Notification of 2006.”
The Notification of 2006 refers to the Environment Clearance Regulations of 2006 that lay down provisions for getting prior permissions from central or state governments.
The ministry issued a notification on March 14 that will apply to all projects that are in violation on the date of the notification.
According to ministry release, the move will “take away the economic benefit (if any) derived by the company due to violation and pay for the remediation of damage caused due to violation,” by bringing them under the ambit of environmental regulations.
“A total of 2,306 projects were received by the Ministry during the last three years and the current year,” Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said in a written reply.
However critics argue that this defeats the purpose of an environmental clearance, which according to the Notification of 2006, should be acquired before starting work on the project.
Under normal course there are four stages that projects have to pass through before clearance is granted, which includes screening and public consultation.
In these cases since the construction has already started or is over, it is unclear how the projects will comply with these requirements.
All the projects in violation will be treated as category “A” which means that they would require clearances based on appraisal by the central government. Projects and activities falling under Category ‘B’ require prior permission from the states.
The notification does allow for the closure of such units if the Environment Appraisal Committee finds that the project site does not allow for the activity. However, the EAC can only recommend.
The notification appears to allow units to pay their way out of the provision for getting an environmental clearance. The Madras High Court judgment puts that on hold, for now. Officials at the environment ministry could not be immediately reached for a comment.