Environment Ministry Rankings

Context:

  • A proposal by the Union Environment Ministry to “rank” and “incentivize” States on how quickly they could give environmental clearances to proposed infrastructure projects has drawn fire from environmentalists on the grounds that it contravenes basic principles of environmental regulation.

Background:

  • A note to States by the Union Environment Ministry on January 17 spells out seven criteria to rate State Environmental Impact Assessment Agencies (SEIAA) on “transparency, efficiency and accountability”.
  • On a scale of seven, a SEIAA, for instance, gets two marks for granting a clearance in less than 80 days, one mark for within 105 days and no marks for more.
  • If less than 10% of the projects for scrutiny prompted a site visit by committee members, to examine ground conditions, a SEIAA would get one mark. More than 20%, on the other hand, would be a demerit or zero marks. SEIAA with a score of seven or more would be rated ‘five star.’

Opposition:

  • The Legal Initiative for Forest on Environment (LIFE), a prominent environment organisation, described the proposal as “violative” of the Environment (Protection) Act.
  • Environment Ministry officials have informed that the ranking criteria was not intended to accelerate the speed with which clearances were accorded but to encourage the SEIAA to take quicker decisions on approving or rejecting a project, and adhere to timelines already specified by the provisions of the Act.
  • “This system isn’t to reduce the time taken to decide on a project. If a SEIAA demands clarification, the time taken to respond won’t be deducted,” Leena Nandan, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, told The Hindu, “But SEIAA have been told earlier too that whatever clarifications they need must be compiled rather than repeatedly demanding them.”
Way Forward:
  • All proposed infrastructure projects above a certain size with a potential to significantly alter the natural environment must be first approved by an SEIAA, that consists of State officers and independent experts.
  • Projects that are even bigger or involve forest land — called category A must be cleared by a committee of experts constituted by the Centre.
  • SEIAA projects are category B and relatively smaller though they make up the bulk of projects that are presented for approval. ‘B’ category projects include the bulk of building and construction, small mining, and small industry projects and are considered to be ‘less polluting.’
Source: THE HINDU.

Leave a Comment