Forest ministry greenlights faster, simpler clearances; defence, roads get priority

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 20 2014, 06:17am hrs
Prakash JavadekarJavadekar said wherever required, the powers to grant clearances would be devolved to the local authorities.
The Narendra Modi government would augment the administrative support to expert committees on environment, ensure that approvals take virtually no time once due diligence is done and attempt to converge the process of environmental and forest clearances (ECs and FCs), environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Express Groups Idea Exchange programme, Javadekar said wherever required, the powers to grant clearances would be devolved to the local authorities to avoid a backlog of applications at the national level. The entire process for environmental clearance application, scrutiny and grant of approval would be facilitated online from July 1 and that for forest clearances from August 1, the minister said, adding that this would allow monitoring of whether timelines are adhered to at every stage.

Indicating that all projects for which the due diligence has already been completed would soon be cleared, the minister said top priority would be given to defence and other state-sector projects and national highways. Amending the relevant laws with a view to removing hassles of investors were also on the agenda, the minister said, adding discussions for review of the laws had just begun.

Asked whether the processes for environmental and forest clearances could be streamlined for faster decision-making, the minister said, The processes can be simultaneous... At one point, they can converge.

Why cant these (EC and FC) be given on the same day the minister asked.

The minister said he was in dialogue with the coal, mines and steel ministers for fast-tracking the environmental clearances of stalled projects. We (he and the power, mines and steel ministries) will have a meeting on Monday. We will review the pending projects, he said.

Already, the environment ministry has given clearance to the township project for the naval base in Karwar, which was stuck for three years, the minister said, illustrating how decision-making had been expedited. Efforts, he said, were on to fast-track clearances for about 6,000 km of roads near the Indo-China border and allow the setting up of coast guard chowkies.

The roads and defence ministries have been asked to sort out issues that were coming in the way of building roads and bridges over defence land, he said. FE had reported earlier that the defence and road ministries have coordinated to facilitate speedy transfer of certain land parcels currently with the three armed forces to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) so that a host of large highway projects can take off.

Some of these projects have been stuck for want of defence ministry clearances (for land transfer) for up to five years, taking a toll on highway construction, which is also reeling from the hit taken from the economic slowdown and low investor interest.

Delays in clearances from the environment, mining and defence ministries along with problems in land acquisition had stalled 439 projects involving investment worth close to R20 lakh crore.

Since 2013, the Cabinet and project monitoring group under the Cabinet secretariat has cleared close to 150 projects of these projects entailing investments of R5.3 lakh crore, but some projects are reportedly still stuck at the state level.

The Narendra Modi government now faces an uphill task to clear around 289 projects including Poscos R54,000-crore steel project (which has got the green clearances but is still awaiting mining-related nods), and Tata-Sasols R60,000-crore coal-to-liquid project. Speedy green clearance is vital for the economy to turn around from the below 5% growth posted in 2012-13 and 2013-14.