Under fire from various quarters for holding up clearances to infrastructure projects, the Ministry of Environment has started easing its procedures to shed tag of being obstructionist.
In a flurry of orders in the past month, the Jayanthi Natarajan-led Ministry eased clearance procedures for critical areas like coal mining, to infrastructure projects covering building highways and SEZs.
To start with, the ministry decided to start pruning the lengthy list of held up projects that was hurting its image the most. Currently, close to 500 projects from various sections are awaiting clearances. The Ministry, in its recent meeting, has decided to drop the projects from its list which are pending for want for information from the project promoter for past six months. For the remaining projects, a reminder has again been sent to the project developers to provide information or clarifications sought, within a month, or the project would be dropped from the pendency list.
All the projects, where additional information sought has not been submitted even after six months of expert appraisal committee (EAC) meeting, should be de-listed. These pending files were adding up to the Ministry’s list even though the delay has been from the side of other stakeholders, but the ministry was getting a bad name, sources said.
The impact of this missive will be visible after a few days, when the ministry would again review the pendency list.
The ministry got proactive after Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s proposal to set up a national investment board to grant clearances to projects would have pushed the green ministry into irrelevance.
She even shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying such a board would overturn existing laws and procedures and “it wil) be used for the benefit only of large investors, but not ordinary people, local citizens and stakeholders dedicated to preserving environmental integrity”.
In other two significant orders given earlier this month, the Ministry has decided to waive off the mandatory public hearing component in some aspects of coal mining and SEZs. In case of coal mining projects, where environmental clearance was already taken once, the EAC would consider exempting public hearing in cases where existing projects going in for one time capacity expansion by 25 per cent, the order dated December 19 said.
The Ministry has also decided to give “high priority” to all SEZ projects. Even state governments have been asked to depute an official in their respective pollution control boards to oversee the implementation of existing laws and statues to streamline clearances of projects.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had always blamed the Environment Ministry for slow progress of highways. Ironically, Golden Quadrilateral linking the four metros is running late by almost eight years.
Sources said the Green Ministry had become favourite punching bag for other ministries even though the delays were on their part.
Under pressure, the minister had even come out with a list in October, listing the progress of her ministry, where she even claimed that the forest area diverted to projects in one year was the highest in 30 years.