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No negative marking for failure in meeting timelines, says environment ministry

ByJayashree Nandi
Jan 25, 2022 11:28 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Days after it issued an office memorandum (OM) on incentives for states based on how quickly they accord environmental clearances to infrastructure and development projects, the Union environment ministry on Monday clarified there will be no negative marking for failure in meeting timelines

NEW DELHI: Days after it issued an office memorandum (OM) on incentives for states based on how quickly they accord environmental clearances to infrastructure and development projects, the Union environment ministry on Monday clarified there will be no negative marking for failure in meeting timelines.

The ministry said state authorities are free to ask for essential or additional details related to a project. (HT Photo/Representative Image)
The ministry said state authorities are free to ask for essential or additional details related to a project. (HT Photo/Representative Image)

The ministry clarified State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SIAA) or expert appraisal panels have the freedom to do all necessary due diligence before making decisions on clearances. It added in case of a deficiency in project proposals, the authorities are free to ask for essential or additional details related to a project.

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The OM dated January 17 said the ministry has taken initiatives for streamlining the environmental clearance process and reducing the time taken to grant clearances. The average time taken to grant environmental clearance has reduced considerably to 75 days against the time stipulated in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, the OM said. It added the Cabinet Secretary cited “ease of doing business” and recommended a ranking of states based on efficiency in granting environmental clearances.

Environmental and legal experts criticised the OM.

In its clarification, the ministry said EIA reports are prepared as per prescribed terms of reference and projects are appraised based on the same. “Therefore, there is no question of EIA report quality being compromised due to ranking system, rather it would encourage the project proponent/ consultants to improve the EIA quality fearing the EDS/ADS or return of proposals.”

The EIA notification of 2006 provides 105 days for granting environmental clearance, which includes 60 days for appraisal and 45 days for decision by the regulatory authority. This criterion was introduced to encourage efficiency and to abide by the timeline given in the notification.

The ministry said marks will not be reduced for SEIAA, which takes decisions in over 120 days, but an extra mark will be granted in case a decision is made between 80-105 days. There is no negative marking proposed for not meeting the criteria, the clarification said.

“The idea is to improve efficiency and ensure there is no wastage of time. State authorities are free to assess every project carefully,” an official said.

Legal experts have said such a ranking system will water down the process of appraising projects and ensuring their ecological footprint is minimal.

“State impact assessment and appraisal authorities are meant to foreground their scientific rigour and technical knowledge to appraise each proposal for its environmental viability and social legitimacy. These are complex subjects, requiring detailed deliberation and seeking clarifications from project proponents. This is especially because EIAs and related studies are designed to secure approvals and not truthfully represent project impacts. Incentivising quicker decisions needs to move away from looking environment clearances in the same vein as booking profits. A hasty appraisal and decisions, when crucial studies are pending, can be a matter of life and death for people living around facilities or working at a project site. It can also seriously put in question the economic futures of projects in case of industrial disasters,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.

Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer, cited the criteria and added a greater weightage was is given for projects where due diligence is less. “Thus, if SEIAA members conduct ‘site visits’ to ascertain the local conditions and ecology, marks are attributed for the same – and ironically the more the members visit the field to see the ecology less marks they get. Thus, if SEIAA members undertake sites to visit in less than 10% of the proposals that come to them for appraisal, they will be given one mark. However, if they do a site visit in more than 20%, SEIAA will get 0 marks.”

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