Govt looks to extend validity of green clearance for nuclear, hydro projects

Updated on Apr 15, 2022 05:03 AM IST

The Union environment ministry is planning to extend the validity of green clearances granted to nuclear projects, hydro power projects and mines by several years.

The environmental clearances given to nuclear projects will last for 15 years and for mining projects, upto 50 years. (HT file photo)
The environmental clearances given to nuclear projects will last for 15 years and for mining projects, upto 50 years. (HT file photo)
ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

The Union environment ministry is planning to extend the validity of green clearances granted to nuclear projects, hydro power projects and mines by several years, people familiar with the matter said, triggering concerns among experts about the environmental and social impacts of such a move.

A draft notification issued by the ministry on April 12 said environmental clearances granted to hydro projects will be valid for 13 years. The clearances given to nuclear projects will last for 15 years and for mining projects, upto 50 years.

Under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, the validity of prior environmental clearance granted to a river valley project or activity is 10 years, a maximum of 30 years for mining projects and seven years for other projects and activities.

“Based on the past experiences, it is noted that nuclear power projects and hydro power projects have high gestation period due to various issues such as geological surprises, delay in forest clearance, land acquisition, local issues, rehabilitation and resettlement, etc., which are often beyond the control of project proponents and in this context, the Central Government deems it necessary to extend the validity of Environmental Clearance (EC) for such projects,” the draft notification, seen by HT, said.

“...and whereas, for other projects also, considering the time taken for addressing local concerns including environmental issues related to the implementation of such projects, the Central Government deems it necessary to extend the validity of such ECs.”

As per provisions of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 on and from the date of commencement of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, all leases for mining projects will be granted for a period of 50 years, the notification said.

In a separate office memorandum issued on April 11, the environment ministry said the validity of the green nod granted to infrastructure or other projects which involve forest land and stage I and stage II forest clearance can be extended by two years.

This decision was taken as projects involving a large forest area require time to obtain the stage II forest clearance and because of this, the project proponent may not be able to implement the project within the validity period of the clearance.

“Validity of environmental approvals need to be understood from financial, social and regulatory dimensions and linked with the conversation on economic crisis. An increase in the number of years within which projects come into operations indicates that environment clearances are not the reason for delays as signaled for over a decade. In fact, pre-existing environmental clearances are an asset for project developers to secure finances. At the same time, there are social factors, including land acquisition and loss of forests, that have to be factored in economic policy and project design. Rendering these concerns as roadblocks only lead to making environment regulation less democratic, without necessarily ensuring sound investments,” Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, said.

“Finally, long gestation environmental clearances can allow project proponents to secure and fence off land in their possession for over a decade, without any assurance of the project being set up. This is neither economically rational nor socio-ecologically desirable,” she added.

HT on Thursday reported that the Union environment ministry is planning to exempt highway projects near the country’s borders that are critical to the country’s defence or are of strategic importance from the requirement of prior environment clearance – a move that environmentalists fear could lead to environmental degradation in ecologically fragile and biodiversity-rich areas.

In a draft notification on April 11, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) said some highway projects near the borders are sensitive in nature and hence, need to be exempted from the requirement of seeking an environment clearance. The draft prescribed environmental safeguards for self-compliance by project developers.

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