Our immediate priority will be to streamline approval processes: RP Gupta

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByJayashree Nandi
Jun 29, 2020 02:00 AM IST

We should keep the environment and pollution in mind [and] that there shall be no compromise as far as environmental clarity and pollution is concerned, the environment secretary said.

The Union environment ministry is set to make significant revisions to the environment clearance process as the economy is gradually emerging from the impact of a two-month Covid-19 lockdown and the pandemic. It plans to do away with conditions for environmental clearances that cannot be monitored and make the approval time for projects as short as possible. RP Gupta, who took over as the environment secretary this month, spoke to Jayashree Nandi about issues like the ministry’s priorities and forest loss associated with coal auctions. Edited excerpts:

took over as the environment secretary this month(HT File)
took over as the environment secretary this month(HT File)

You have taken charge at a difficult time amid the pandemic and an economic slowdown. What are the ministry’s immediate priorities?

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Our priorities are to streamline our approval processes. We should keep the environment and pollution in mind [and] that there shall be no compromise as far as environmental clarity and pollution is concerned. But undue processes which have no meaning should be cut down. Processes of giving approvals can be simplified. We should save time and focus more on the enforcement of environmental regulations. We should not keep holding approvals for 4 to 5 years. If a project is not environmentally-friendly and cannot be given permission, we must say it within a short time. Similarly, approvals should also be given in a short time. Giving approvals with conditions we are unable to monitor is not required. Have only those conditions which are relevant. Generally, try to avoid putting conditions just for the sake of putting them.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, is being debated widely. Will you extend the deadline for people to submit their comments on it?

We are not simply because rules provide for 60 days to send objections... We have already got 30,000 comments. The request for extending the timeline started 2 to 3 days after the draft notification was published [in March] which means people were more interested in seeking extension rather than submitting objections and remarks. Some people are not interested in seeing an appropriate notification.

There have been concerns about regularising environmental violations by projects through EIA 2020...

It will be premature for me to comment on these aspects. These are objections we have received and we will be taking a well-considered view on each of these. So, what will be the final notification, the final decision cannot be commented upon now.

A number of coal mines being auctioned have large forest covers and have a rich biodiversity. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have objected to the auctions. How will forests be impacted?

Auction is not the environment ministry’s concern. Coal mine auction is done by the ministry of coal. All I can assure is that we will see to it that our regulations and laws are complied with. Most of the blocks being auctioned are out of those 204 blocks, which were allotted earlier and but were cancelled by Supreme Court for irregularities and corruption. The process is much more transparent...We are importing about 250 million tonnes of coal every year despite having one of the largest reserves. ...why not have it [coal] from our country...

We have a commitment under the Paris Agreement to increase the share of clean energy. Do you think the coal auctions are sending out a message of continuing to be majorly invested in fossil fuels?

We are using coal. The use has been considered in our climate commitment. We will be only substituting imported coal. I do not find any contradiction. We will overshoot our climate commitments. I want to assure people of this. We will not only achieve our nationally determined contribution but also much earlier.

Scientists and UN bodies have said the pandemic is linked to large scale biodiversity loss. How will India protect its biodiversity hotspots?

Biodiversity or food habits? We are committed to preserving our biodiversity. The pandemic is linked to biodiversity loss and food habits that are unnatural to an extent which leads to nature taking its revenge.

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