Saturday, 20 September 2014 – 5:35am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Since coming into power, the NDA government has been diligently working to simplify and ease green clearance norms and in its latest move the Union ministry of environment and forests is trying to specify building, construction and township projects that could be considered for prior environmental clearance. Its draft notification is also specifying the projects that would not require prior environmental clearance and that is where environmentalists and activists, however, allege that move is a ploy to dilute environmental laws while stating that they would do everything to oppose it.

What is environment ministry proposing to do?
The September 2006 EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) notification clarifies rules and procedures to be adopted for seeking environmental clearance from either the environment ministry of thecentral government or State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) prior to companies starting work on various kind of projects including highways, mining and others. MoEF is proposing to amend the sections of EIA notification which deals regarding building projects, construction projects and townships and area development projects

If approved, what will it result in?
At present the notification in the list of projects or activities that require prior environmental clearance in case of building and construction activities only mentions that projects that involve built up area of over 20,000 square metres and less than 150,000 square metres, townships and area developmental projects covering an area greater than 50 hectae or built up area greater than 150,000 square metres require environmental clearance.
In the new draft notification published on September 11, 2014, MoEF is specifying the building and construction projects that would require prior environmental clearance. It proposes that from now on projects like “residential buildings, commercial buildings, hotels, hospitals, hostels, office blocks and information technology / software development units/parks” would be covered under this section. And that “General Conditions” will not be applicable to them.

Why is environment ministry doing it?
“Till now the kind of projects in the building a category were not mentioned in the notification which used to delay a lot of projects as it used to depend on interpretation of law by experts in the committees dealing with clearances whether at central government level or state level. It used to delay in lot of projects but this amendment would solve all such issues and smoothen the environmental clearance work while bringing much needed clarity,” explained a senior MOEF official to dna.

Why are activists against it?
“While we welcome the move to bring clarity but in its garb the environmental law is definitely being diluted. But a closer scrutiny of the draft notification reveals that host of other building and construction activities have now been kept out of it. Grey areas in notification should have been improved but this move is regressive and that is why we are opposed to it,” noted environmentalist and activist Manoj Misra told dna.

He questioned that with proposed amendment “is MoEF trying to say that buildings like educational institutions (for instance big colleges), social (raised by Trusts, societies with no residential or commercial angle), sports infrastructure (like stadiums), religious, industrial building and public utilities (bus terminals, metro stations or depot and others) would have no environmental impacts?”

“It is all when on other hand structures like barrages, bridges and embankments on rivers and the entire ‘railways’ sector, with huge environmental impacts, continues to remain unaddressed by the EIA notification. Clearly the amendment as proposed has been made in some kind of a hurry to meet some deadline. What is great hurry? We will oppose it for sure,” said Misra, who is also the convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

MoEF’s draft notification is open for all stakeholders including general public for comments and suggestions for 60 days starting from September 11 after which the NDA government would take a final call on it.