By Express News Service

BANGALORE: Industrial, infrastructure, mining and biotech projects can now be approved without any review of their environmental impact, activists fear, as the Karnataka government has scrapped the State Environmental Clearance Committee (SCEE).

In a February order, the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment (DFEE) decided to discontinue the SECC, according to a report leaked by the Environmental Support Group (ESG).

“We consider the decision … legally infirm and illogical,” declared the ESG, which had assisted the Environment Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) in a state-sponsored evaluation of the SECC.

The SECC was first constituted in 1985 as a mechanism to issue environmental clearances to new projects with an investment of below Rs 100 crore but above Rs. 5 crore.

It was also to clear projects in the red category (in the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board’s ranking) with an investment of more than Rs 5 crore and located inside industrial areas.  “We are confident … this regressive decision of the government can be reversed if the wide public and elected representatives so desire. We have therefore decided suo moto to make public the complete report,” said a statement by activists Abhayraj Naik, Bhargavi S Rao and Leo F Saldanha.

The report can be accessed on website

It was in March last year that the DFEE asked the EMPRI to conduct an evaluation of the SECC. The EMPRI roped in ESG and developed a framework to assess and analyse its working, reviewing 447 clearances accorded between 2002 and 2012 to dams, industries, mining projects, infrastructure projects, biotech firms, and radiation processing units. Field visits were made to assess the extent of compliance.

The team arrived at a method to grade the quality of environmental clearances (EC) accorded by the SECC based on a set of ten universally accepted criteria. The total points each EC got were computed and graded into A (9-10 conditions addressed), B (7-8 addressed), C (5-6 addressed), D (3-4 addressed) and E (less than two).

Shockingly, 334 of the 447 clearances made were given D for “weak provision of information with gaps and weaknesses,” while 49 got E, “with major gaps.” The remaining 50 were given C for adequate compliance. Not a single project was graded A or B.

No Records

The study team faced significant challenges during field visits as it had no prior information on the project, its location, impact, and compliance.

Despite repeated attempts, Forest Minister B Ramanath Rai was unavailable for comment.

‘Hush it Up’

According to the ESG statement, a meeting of the EMPRI Board on April 2, chaired by DFEE Principal Secretary M Madan Gopal, decided that “only a limited number of copies of the report may be printed and used for academic purposes”.

The board decided not to conduct workshops or publish the report on the EMPRI website.

This was done on the advice of Ramachandra, Secretary (Environment and Ecology), the ESG alleges.

Alarming Findings

Based on a review of environmental clearances for 447 projects, the report lists the following concerns:

■  No review of compliance.

■  No site-specific or rational criteria employed to accord clearances.

■  Lack of independent assessment of project impact.

■  Lack of rigorous review of project proponent claims.

■  Project expansion without prior consent.

■  Radioactive facilities cleared.


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