Big Industries Gets a Hand as Environment Ministry Drags Feet

Environment ministry keeps key political decisions pending to facilitate industrial groups and clear their projects.

Published: 24th April 2016 04:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th April 2016 10:30 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will soon take a call on giving green clearance to the Rs 2,200 crore project, even though the estimated 970 hectares of forest land required are among the most biodiversity rich areas and were earlier out of bounds for mining.

This, however, is a story of a ministry, which has kept key environmental policy decisions pending so as to facilitate ease of business for industry, and clear their projects.

India’s forests are mineral-rich and there is a huge pressure for their diversion for mining and other development activities. A key policy of identifying forests as violate-inviolate is pending for long and once it is finalised by the ministry, certain dense forest areas would not be diverted for any developmental activity like mining. The plan for such policy was first started by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, but was later shelved.

“Final decision on violate-inviolate forest policy has been pending for years. The government is taking it easy and the issue is on backburner. This has ensured that it can take decisions on diversion of such forest areas on case to case basis which is beneficial for industry as otherwise some areas would have been completely out of bounds,” said a senior environment ministry official.

Similarly, the Prakash Javadekar-led ministry has also been dragging its feet on defining forests—an issue that has been pending before the apex court.

The government has also not taken a final call on defining critically polluting industrial areas. In 2009, the government developed a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI), based on the effect of industrial clusters on air, water, land, health and ecology, to assess 88 prominent industrial clusters.

After that exercise, 43 industrial clusters were identified as critically-polluted areas, wherein environment ministry imposed a moratorium on consideration of any developmental project. But over the years, facing huge pressure from industry, moratorium was lifted from more than 70 per cent of those 43 clusters.

Last year, the Central Pollution Control Board started the process of redeveloping the CEPI formula. But till date, it has not been finalised, leading to allegations by environmentalists that ministry is doing that so that it can clear projects in such polluted industrial areas. Similar allegations have been levelled by environmentalists against the ministry for delaying action on Shailesh Nayak committee report.

Another major policy area that ministry is yet to decide is the appointment of CPCB chairman. CPCB, which is India’s apex pollution watchdog, has been headless since February 2012 and has been looked after by MoEF officers as additional charges. Though ministry claims it has not affected the working of CPCB, some experts feel that it has killed CPCB’s autonomy.

Dividends in Delay

12 coal blocks of 20 in Hasdeo Arand coalfields opened for mining, which were banned earlier

Amelia North coal block in Madhya Pradesh mined by Jaiprakash Power Ventures

PEKB coal block to Adani Group and Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd

Dongri Tral coal block to PSUs

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