Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Jadavekar has begun on a promising note with his plan to introduce a system of online environmental clearance. It is all the more heartening that he has promised to fructify his plan in a few months. Those seeking his ministry’s nod will have to apply online and there would be time-bound clearance. They will also be able to monitor the progress of the application with a password that will be made available to them. At every stage, the officials concerned will have to mention why the project should or should not be given clearance. Under no circumstances can they delay their decisions.
Apart from speeding up clearance, the new system will introduce greater transparency. As of now, there is no certainty when a project will get clearance once the proposal is submitted. It can take many years before the green signal is given. As many as 285 projects have been awaiting the ministry’s clearance for years, only because the UPA government had no clear environment policy to pursue. It did not bother the ministry that projects worth billions of rupees were getting delayed, sending wrong signals to investors particularly from abroad. One of prime minister Narendra Modi’s first directives was to take a call on all the pending proposals within a fortnight.
It is nobody’s case that every project proposal should be accepted, irrespective of the damage it would cause to the environment. Those which are harmful to the ecosystem need to be rejected out of hand. At the same time, the government has a duty to tell the applicants why their proposals were rejected and that too within a specified time-limit. Wherever online systems have been introduced, as in the processing of passport applications, it has generated public confidence. Jadavekar has hinted at the possibility of introducing a similar system for forest clearances too. In fact, there is a strong case for introducing technology-based systems to fight red-tapism, corruption and partisanship in government functioning.