Govt exempts big realty from green assessment
NEW DELHI: Going against its own orders, issued six months ago, the environment ministry has decided to exempt big buildings and real estate projects from taking environment clearance, a mandatory requirement for over a decade.
The U-turn will take the construction industry out of the environment ministry’s purview and no project could be challenged on environmental grounds before the National Green Tribunal, say experts.
Under the current law, building and township projects of more than 20,000 sq metres are required to carry out an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study before construction.
If the project is considered safe, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA) appointed by the environment ministry give a go ahead.
The ministry, on April 29, issued a draft notification which says states which will integrate environmental conditions in building approvals under their building by-laws will not have to get environment clearance for construction projects.
It replaces area-specific EIA and environment clearance carried out by SEIAA prior to starting of the project with standard conditions like sewage discharge and water harvesting monitored by local urban authorities post construction of the project.
“This will mean, no project can be stopped or rejected on environmental grounds. Since there will be no environment clearance under the Environment Protection Act, the projects could not be challenged before the NGT which doesn’t have its jurisdiction over the state building bylaws,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta.
The environment ministry, itself, reiterated in its order on November 10, 2015 that states should follow the procedure “in letter and spirit.” To cut delays, the order insisted that SEIAA will assess the project only on “thrust environmental areas” while rest of the permissions should be dealt with by local authorities.
The change in the ministry’s stance has come after hectic discussions between the environment ministry, urban development ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, and representatives of construction industry, said an official in the environment ministry.
Documents accessed by HT indicate the environment ministry sent a proposal to the urban development ministry in February “regarding incorporation of environmental guidelines in the building bylaws” and the matter was treated by the two ministries as “urgent and important.”
The environment ministry’s notification stresses upon government’s efforts for “ensuring ease of doing responsible bussiness, and streamlining permissions for buildings and construction sector”, which, it says, is important for providing “affordable housing to weaker section in urban area.” However, rather than making exemptions for affordable houses which are often smaller than 20,000 sq meters, it exempts all construction projects like malls and office complexes.
When asked for the reason of change in the ministry’s stand, Manoj Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary in environment ministry, said in an email reply, “The draft notification dated 29.04.2016 proposes to integrate the standard and objectively monitorable environmental conditions with the building permissions starting from built up area of 5000 sq. mtrs. and above.
The number of buildings in this category and cumulative built up area of such buildings is much larger than buildings of 20,000 sq. mtrs. and more. Here, the idea is to make more buildings follow environmental norms.”
He insisted the proposed notification will not take out these buildings (20,000 sq. mtrs to 1,50,000 sq. mtrs.) from the purview of EIA Notification, 2006 and E (P) Act. “It proposes to integrate these standard environmental conditions with the building permissions,” he added.