ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cooking Up Environmental Assessments

The system of environmental clearances for developmental and industrial projects needs to be reworked.

India seems to have perfected the art of creating laws and rules that are destined to fail. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of environmental regulations. You have pollution control boards that can do nothing to control pollution. And you have a system of environmental impact assessment (EIA) before a developmental or industrial project can be cleared which assesses little and certainly not the impact on the environment. Recent rulings of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which began functioning in July last year, have reminded us yet again of the urgent need to reassess and rework the entire system of EIAs and environmental clearances.

In just one month, the NGT has given three rulings that seriously question the manner in which EIAs are conducted. The NGT held that data had been “cooked” up to give environmental clearance to the expansion of a sponge iron and captive power plant in Chhattisgarh and that the mandatory public hearing was not held. It commented on the casual approach of the consultant tasked to conduct the EIA and recommended that the environment ministry develop “appropriate mechanism to check the authenticity of environmental data”. It also stayed a 300 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in Kutch on grounds that the EIA had not been properly conducted. And in Uttarakhand, in response to an appeal filed by a local environmental activist, it has put on hold a hydel project on the Alakananda River which was cleared by the environment ministry despite an adverse report by the Forest Advisory Committee. The proposed dam will endanger the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valley of Flowers.

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