Environment ministry plans draft to regulate green norm violations
The environment ministry has published a draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification 2020 that proposes to bring projects that have violated or will violate the environment clearance process “under the regulations in the interest of environment.”
The draft, published on Wednesday, was criticised by environmental experts for attempting to regularise large-scale environmental violations.
“Dealing with violation cases” is a new section in the draft notification compared to the EIA notification 2006. The draft states that violations can be reported by the project proponent themselves, by a government authority, or by a committee appraising the projects. The appraisal committee will assess whether the construction or expansion carried out in violation of the norms can “run sustainably” with “environmental safeguards.”
If the assessment is negative, the project will be directed to shut down. If not, it will be appraised for ecological damage, remediation plan and so on in addition to the standard terms of reference, which outline the scope of the project. The committee will also stipulate an environment management plan for remediation of the violation and such projects will have to pay a late fee depending on the size of the project. For example, if the project suo moto plans to regularise the violation from the day of the violation, it can do so by paying a late fee of ₹1,000 per day for small projects, ₹2,000 per day for intermediate level projects, and ₹5,000 per day for large projects with a big environmental footprint.
The company will also have to submit a bank guarantee valid for five years, equivalent to the amount of remediation plan with the state pollution control board.
The draft also lays out a procedure for dealing with non-compliance with conditions stipulated in the environmental clearance by projects. In cases of non-compliance, again project proponents can report it suo moto or government committees can do sot. The expert appraisal committee will discuss such non-compliance and make recommendations for a time-bound action plan to comply with the conditions and determine a bank guarantee to ensure compliance.
“The notification on violations was meant to be short-term one-time amnesty scheme and it is now in the skin of the notification. This means that appraising violations will be a routine exercise carried out under the environment clearance process. The does not encourage deterrence,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.
“It is important that the ministry has brought in clarity through definitions and pooling together all the amendments carried out so far. However, while doing that the notifications includes new exemptions, reduced scope of public hearings, yearly monitoring instead of six monthly and institutionalising appraisal for projects that initiated construction without approvals,” she added.
Geeta Menon, joint secretary in the ministry of environment, said: “This is entirely procedural. We are rationalising all the changes made in the past ten years in a piecemeal manner through this draft.” The ministry had released a compendium of gazette notification and office memoranda on the EIA notification in 2014 but these changes have not been introduced in the notification itself till now.
The draft notification 2020 explains that “such violations being recurring in nature may come to the notice in future during the process of appraisal or monitoring or inspection by Regulatory Authorities. Therefore, the Ministry deems it necessary to lay down the procedure to bring such violation projects under the regulations in the interest of environment at the earliest point of time rather than leaving them unregulated.”