7 PROPOSED WAYS TO EASE ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE FOR INDUSTRY
Environmental Impact Assessment ("EIA") is the study that attempts to calculate the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment of a particular area/region. The central government released the first ever EIA notification in 1994, laying down the framework for assessment and to regulate environmental impact of industrial activity.
Environmental Clearance (EC) was made compulsory for projects, through the 1994 notification.
In 2006, the central government notified that the state government was responsible for clearing projects. This was the framework:
In March 2020 the central government released latest draft EIA notification. The government intends to increase transparency and digitization in the EC process, through this notification. It is open to the public for comment.
|The last point up to which it was possible to
obtain EC was "before" a project starts, under the
earlier EIA notifications.
Under the March 2020 notification, projects that have come up illegally, that is, projects without EC can be legalized. A committee is going to appraise the project and they may recommend it or they may close it down.
Violations can only be reported by a government representative or the project proponent, not citizens.
TIME FOR PUBLIC COMMENT
|Any EIA is presented for a public hearing. It
apprises the public what the project is going to do, how much waste
it'll produce, what they'll do to mitigate the waste, and
then the authorities record what the public has to say.
Currently, people have 30 days to respond.
That will be cut down to 20.
|Not every six months - as in the 2006 notification
To be submitted once per year.
|A significant change which the Draft Notification
brings is giving the power to Central Government to categorize a
project into strategic project.
Once a project has been categorized into a strategic project, no information related to such project can be published in public domain.
Draft Notification also provides a list of specific projects in terms of paragraph 40 which would be completely exempted from obtaining any clearances.
|EIA rules violation by any entity does not
automatically debar it from constructing/operating its project.
The committee has the power to evaluate the permissibility of construction or expansion subject to prevailing laws of that particular area.
Any action against the violating entity will be subject to the findings/ report of the Appraisal Committee.
Irrespective of the findings in the report of the Appraisal Committee, the State Government or SPCB may initiate action against the violating entity under Section 19 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Moreover, if the construction/expansion of the project have begun without obtaining the clearance certificate, then the violator entity shall also be liable to pay the late fees.
|Entities can appeal to the National Green Tribunal
(NGT) within 30 days of their EC certificated being rejected.
This provision was absent in earlier notifications.
The manner of appeal is prescribed in Section 16 of the NGT Act.
|TECHNICAL EXPERT COMMITTEE||For categorization of projects on scientific basis.
POTENTIAL LEGAL CHALLENGES TO THE NOTIFICATION AND TO PROJECTS CLEARED AS PER THE NOTIFICATION
- Reducing the time for public consultation or the time granted for people to submit their response to a specific project may lead to unawareness among the public in the particular area of a project as they would not have ample time to study the impact of the project on environment in their area. The government should focus on increasing the awareness about the impact on environment by a specific project.
- The discretionary power granted to government for by-passing the EIA process for many projects by categorizing them as Strategic Project. This could potentially be challenged for violating the principles of natural justice as there would be no checks and balances on the power exercised by the Government.
- Another major concern raised by various stakeholders is that no project should be permitted to function unless it has environmental clearance certificate as it would defeat the sole purpose and objective with which the EIA Notification was promulgated on the very first place.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.