The files are finally moving in the Environment Ministry, and fast. After Veerappa Moily took charge of the beleaguered Ministry from Jayanthi Natarajan, who had been sitting on clearances for months on end, held up projects appear back on track.
And to make the process smoother, the Prime Minister’s Project Monitoring Group (PMG) has come up with a mechanism whereby the industry can track project status and green clearances on a regular basis. And delays would invite censure for those responsible.
The moves comes after the PMG, set up under the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) in June, cleared around 137 projects held up in the Ministry, worth `4 lakh crore in the last six months. However, it may be all too late in the day and would only benefit the next government’s functioning and bottom line.
The PMG, along with the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the industry, is working on understanding environment clearance processes and see if timelines can be fixed at each level for monitoring. It will also look into fixing responsibility for inordinate delay in clearances.
The PMG has set up a small group under a joint secretary level officer, which met for the first time on January 9, to work out clear-cut timelines for each stage of environment and forest clearance at the state and Centre level. CII and FICCI officials are also part of the group. “The idea came during discussions with the industry as they were of the view that since the CCI came into existence, things have started moving and projects are cleared fast. But problems in the environment clearance processes continue to remain and why don’t we set up a technical group with the MoEF and industry to rationalise the process and fix timelines?” an official said. As of now, the project proponent only comes to know about the status of the project once it is cleared or rejected by the MoEF, but with the new mechanism, they can track the movement of a file on a regular basis.
“Once the mechanism has been defined, the group will define how much time should be taken at each stage and the third and ultimate objective of the exercise is to see if this could be put on the portal so that we could track each stage and know where the delay is happening,” the official said.
The CCI has asked the MoEF to identify by themselves the time needed for carrying out clearance processes. “The MoEF has been asked to define timeframes like for how long a particular file should be with one official and that should become the time taken. Anything beyond that, they are answerable about why it is getting late,” the official said.
Several infrastructure ministries, including power and coal, and private companies had complained to the CCI that the MoEF has been sitting on their files for no valid reason.
“The status at present is that industry people are chasing files and that needs to be changed. There has to be some transparent mechanism to monitor where the proposals are pending and for how long and that is what we are trying to do now,” the official said.
The issue of fixing timelines for environment clearances have been raised from time to time at various levels, but the MoEF, on several occasions, have laid the blame on State Governments, for not coming back with the details sought for clearing the projects. In such cases, the project remains in limbo. Five big states which have been aggressively pursuing investments have also sought the CCI’s help for creating a similar system at the state level. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are in the process of having similar committees to expedite project clearances.