Backdoor opened for green norm violators?

Govt issues fresh draft notifications a year after NGT quashed two office memoranda on projects flouting norms

Published: 03rd June 2016 07:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd June 2016 07:05 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: Within a year after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) quashed two office memoranda on projects flouting environmental norms while hearing a case involving seven reputed builders from Tamil Nadu, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has opened a new backdoor and issued a fresh draft notification offering to regularise the violators.

The draft notification, now open for public scrutiny, talks about an Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) to discourage violation of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. However, environmentalists feel it will be another gateway for big violators to find relief. They call this notification new wine in old bottle and say this is an attempt to safeguard violators in a ‘most bizarre manner’. The draft, if notified, will reverse the NGT’s good work so far, they fear.

The worrying aspect is that notification is silent on the quantum of penalty when the ‘polluter pays’ norm is invoked. The seven-page notification, a copy of which is with Express, says the Expert Appraisal Committee will refer the project proponents who didn’t get mandatory prior environment clearance to the Expert Group formed by the environment ministry under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for making an objective and thorough assessment of the pecuniary benefit of non-compliance and damage caused to the environment.

The Expert Group will prepare an Environmental Supplemental Plan for restoration of the damage caused and for further improvement of the environment.

A ministry official told Express that the ministry was receiving certain proposals from violators under the EIA Notification, 2006 for Terms of References and Environmental Clearance. “The decision was mooted after hundreds of builders across the country felt suffocated after the NGT in its July 7, 2015 order condoned the post-facto clearance for the projects. This has put a lid on several under-construction residential projects and thousands of crores of investment. We felt it is necessary to bring these violators under the purview of EIA Notification, 2006 early rather than leave them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” official said.

Ajit Kumar Chordia, president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), Chennai chapter, welcomed the move and said the industry would be benefited.

Only recently the ministry brought in another draft notification that proposed to do away with the current environmental regime where builders had to obtain prior environment clearance from the Union government for projects exceeding 20,000 square metres of built-up area. Once these amendments are notified, the builders need not obtain EC for projects whose build-up area was up to 1.5 lakh sqm.

What is ESP?

An Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that an alleged violator of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 agrees to do to be eligible for environmental clearance.

Eligibility for ESP

The proposed ESP should be consistent with all statutory and Constitutional requirements. All projects must have sufficient interrelation between the violation and the proposed project. Besides, the project should not be inconsistent with any provision of the underlying statutes that prompted the action for violation.

TN builders not hopeful

More builders from Tamil Nadu are willing to pay 5% of their total project cost as ‘polluter pays’ to get the environment clearance. Three builders ETI Star, VGN and Shivani Constructions have come forward to pay the price to get NGT’s nod to proceed with the construction and sale.

Senior counsel Saravana Kumar, who represents all three builders, said ETI Star has already paid `3.8 crore as environment compensation. The other two moved NGT two days ago. “Since the court is on vacation, we have to wait till July. The new draft will most likely be stalled by the NGT as soon as someone files an objection,” Kumar said.


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